CALABOGIE, ONTARIO — Every so often, a new car comes along that offers so much bang for the buck, it’s scarcely believable. The 2013 Ford Focus ST, a high-performance version of the manufacturer’s popular compact hatchback, is just such a car. They’ve come a long way, baby — especially on these shores.

For ages (seemingly), Ford fans were forced to watch in dismay as a series of highly desirable models were denied entry into North America. Meanwhile, these same fans were forced to put up with home-grown versions of the same or similar cars that fell far short of the standards being set by the beloved Blue Oval elsewhere.

Case in point, the Ford Focus.

Back in 2007, the company introduced a then-revised version of their compact car that was so disappointing, it made me rethink my decision to become an automotive writer. (For reals.) Although that Focus heralded the introduction of the company’s voice-activated SYNC system to the world — a positive development, eventually — nearly every other aspect of the car was dismal.

The performance was tame, the design was weak and the two-door notchback version was so thoroughly undesirable and completely user-unfriendly, it was a car with a target market of precisely no one.

During the drive event in and around Seattle, I was paired with an American oldster who clung to the fast lane like grim death, despite the fact that he was driving at 50 mph in a 65 zone — left-turn signal blinking incessantly, naturally — and being passed on the inside by people who actually wanted to get somewhere.

This drive experience, I later realized, was a metaphor for the car itself.

Focus_ST_INTERIOR.jpgThe hue and cry surrounding that particular version of the Focus proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back — thereafter, Ford promised to bring to North America only the proper, Euro-spec version of the car. It was a clear-cut case of better late than never. Ford fans rejoiced — and for very good reason.

The latest version of the Focus arrived in 2011 and the line-up, from the most basic version to the most exotic, comprises a very worthy fleet of cars. But the one that tops them all in terms of sheer seat-of-your-pants fun, the headliner and the showstopper, the ne plus ultra of the Ford Foci range is the ST.

This drive experience was as different from the “Sleepy in Seattle” one as possible. Handed the keys to a radiant yellow version of the ST, I set out on my own on a 50-odd kilometre drive route. This drive had some very crucial elements needed for proper vehicle evaluation: a) twisty roads b) little traffic and c) even less police presence.

On the undulating, winding road that bore more than a passing resemblance to a high-speed rally stage, the Focus ST proved its worth at every turn. The engine, a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder, cranks out 252 horsepower, more than decent for a front-wheel drive sport hatchback. This engine is also remarkably versatile in that the power comes in early and remains available up to 4,500 rpm.

The slick 6-speed manual transmission proved capable of keeping up with the action; so much so, the average enthusiast might find him- or herself rowing through the gears just for the hell of it — I know I did. The Focus ST sprints to 100 km/h in an estimated 6.7 seconds, right in the sweet spot of being fast but not so fast as to put your license in perpetual jeopardy.

But over and above all these superlative characteristics, the aspects of the Focus ST that impressed the most were the steering and the suspension system. Even on the roughest sections of road, the little hatchback stuck to the pavement like hot glue on tar.

The combination of the sharp steering, crisp handling and redoubtable suspension on the Focus ST makes other competitors in the front-wheel drive hot hatch class seem incredibly unsophisticated in comparison — it’s just that good.

In the passenger cabin, the little hatchback looks the business as well. The Recaro sport seats are incredibly supportive, the 4-spoke steering wheel is suitably racy, and the leather-wrapped shift lever and rubber-tipped pedals continue that particular theme. All in all, the driving environment is as good as it gets in this class of vehicle.

Finally, the 2013 Ford Focus ST also looks downright aggressive from the outside. Armed with the new gaping corporate front grille, aggressive bumpers, aerodynamic side skirts, 18-inch wheels and a significant rear spoiler, this Ford certainly looks like a performance car.

More than that, though, the 2013 Ford Focus ST is a real performance car — one that’s all too ready to take on the competition. To top off all this general excellence, the top performer in the Focus line has a base price of just $29,999. Incredible. 

Related >> Gallery: Closer Look at the 2013 Ford Focus ST

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