For its combination of practicality and fun, the 2013 Ford Focus ST is very, very hard to beat.

The only real alternatives are Mazda's Mazdaspeed3 and Subaru's WRX range. Even against those proven and very capable cars, however, the Focus ST stands out.

Refined materials, modern (if somewhat controversial) interior design, good hot-hatch exterior looks, and enough space for gear and people all come together with the 252-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine to provide a roaring good time.

It's not just power and space that make the 2013 Focus ST a contender for our Best Car To Buy 2013 award, however. After all, it takes more than one or two great features to rub shoulders with the likes of the Porsche Boxster, Cadillac ATS, SRT Viper, or the Subaru/Scion twins.

Fortunately, the Focus ST is also shockingly nimble and neutral-handling for a powerful, torquey front-drive car. Whether turning in hard on a low-speed corner or carefully bending it in on a high-speed sweeper, the Focus ST displays sure-footed stability and, for a wrong-wheel-drive car, an uncharacteristic willingness to rotate--to swing the rear end around, in a controlled and predictable manner.

Likewise, the driver's controls are also very sharp. Steering is a bit heavy, and there's still some torque-steer present on the throttle, but it's far more manageable than in the high-power hot hatches of years past. Brakes are strong and confident, though we'd not expect the OEM pads to hold up to a hard day's thrashing on the track. The six-speed manual gearbox is also somewhere between track-duty and daily-driver, with some play and imprecision, but an overall sporty, smooth feel.

It's also one of the most affordable of the 2013 BCTB nominees--and while that doesn't necessarily mean everything, a car that delivers utility, looks, and performance at a bargain price is something we'll always appreciate.

2013 Ford Focus ST

2013 Ford Focus ST

For more impressions of the Focus ST's driving characteristics, check out our first drive report here--and be sure to come back each day this week for another up-close look at each of Motor Authority's Best Car To Buy 2013 nominees. In the mean time, you can catch a quick overview of each of the contenders in our video preview from the Los Angeles Auto Show here.

We announce the winner on December 10th.