Let's kick off a series here on CCG about cars that offer plenty of performance and fun that are sliding down towards a price that is suitable for a student. The first car in this series will be a car that has been sort of forgotten: The Ford Focus SVT.
Let me paint you a picture. You're young and you just bought (or someone bought you) a first-generation Ford Focus. You are pretty darn happy about it. It is an alright looking car and you have fun driving it when you're really kicking it. You want to make the car "yours" however, so first you buy a set of larger wheels for it. Nice, but the car doesn't seem to properly sit on them. Well, a lowering kit will fix that. Hold on, now the car's looks are writing checks that the performance can't cash. Ah, an ECU upgrade and new exhaust will help that along. However, driving like crazy with that little bit of extra power completely trashed your clutch, and while replacing that you found that your gearbox is falling apart as well...
Before you know it, you've doubled the amount of money you originally invested in your nice little Focus. Not only that, but shoddy work by your buddy means that some of your new components weren't installed correctly. So now, you made your car "yours" by adding a bunch of shakes, rattles and vibrations that are more annoying than exciting. Tuning is better left to the pros. That is why if you want a fun little hatchback that can thrash around the track once in a while, the SVT Focus is a great choice. The list of upgrades that come stock and professionally installed on one of these is quite impressive: 4-2-1 headers, 6-speed transmission, dual-stage clutch, dual-stage intake manifold, variable intake valve timing, bigger wheels and tires, lowered suspension, ground effects, etc.
The result of all these upgrades is a car that has 170 naturally-aspirated horses and can pull .91g on the skidpad. That means it isn't the fastest car ever, but it has the handling to help keep that engine screaming. Plus, the euro-spec seats mean you wont go falling off the side of your chair.
Overall it is a solid performance package that got lots of respect from the press when it was released. The only drawback is that it was a limited production run for just a couple years. So, they are getting rarer and prices are getting higher as time goes on. If you see one for cheap, grab it and go, because chances are you won't get another shot at a performance bargain like it again.