A few of the things you might expect to see on a performance-oriented car in 2012 are simply not here; for instance, there’s only one calibration for the steering and throttle. That said, the steering gets a lower assist level with speed, so most should be happy with it. Otherwise, those in the snow belt should pause and consider all-season tire options. At this point, all STs come with Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric2 tires, and on the drive we noticed a big difference in grip and progressivity between when they were cold and heated up.
One other thing potential buyers should consider carefully is whether they want the deeply bolstered Recaro sport seats or not. We appreciated their firm comfort and good support (no bracing required in the passenger seat). But they'll prove simply too deep and too narrow for many American-size drivers, so if you can, sit in them. The base ST gets essentially the same seat that's in upper-trim U.S. Focus SE models, so wider drivers should stick to that.
The ST will be available in the U.S. in three different trim levels—essentially ST, ST2, and ST3. The base cars start at a bargain $24,495, while the ST2 model costs $26,880 and adds those Recaros plus automatic climate control. At the top of the line, the ST3 adds heated leather Recaros with pull-out thigh support, along with a special Recaro rear bench seat and bi-xenon headlamps, for a total of $28,930. Colors include the ST-specific Tangerine Scream, plus Sprit Blue, Race Red, black, white, and silver.
Made in Michigan, same as Europe
Ford anticipates that it will sell around 9,000 Focus ST models in the U.S. and about another 9,000 in Europe—with other regions of the world, like China and Russia especially, unaccounted for but part of the plan. And this is no intentionally exclusive or limited-production model; the automaker does plan to build as many as the market wants (all U.S. STs will be built in Wayne, Michigan). We'll get essentially the same version as Europe, but with different audio systems and a few cosmetic/feature changes.
Against other small performance cars, the ST is tough competition for what's already on the market. The Golf R has a somewhat peakier engine and costs more than ten grand extra, though it does come with a more extensive feature set, as well as all-wheel drive and a surprisingly tenacious (and stoic) chassis setup. At the other end, there's the Mazdaspeed3, which next to the Focus ST now looks ragged and less refined (its ride is surely busier)—with an interior that's definitely not up to the same standards. Of course in the same price range you now also have the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ—compelling rear-wheel-drive sports cars, but not nearly as practical.
So for the first time since the SVT Focus of a decade ago, Ford has a serious hot hatch. And if performance for the dollar—in a roomy hatchback—is a priority, the ST is a serious steal.