The Focus we've been waiting for
Saint-Paul de Vence, France — Think of a fast Ford and chances are the Mustang comes to mind. Besides being a motoring icon, a sports car for the everyman, it plays many important roles. In 662-hp Shelby GT500 guise, it's the current muscle car champ. Order it as a Boss 302 and you'll be able to give a BMW M3 a serious run for its money on a race track.

But as much as North America loves the Mustang, it's a different story elsewhere. Abroad, Ford is best known for its rally-inspired creations. Handling and ride are the core competencies, not brute-force speed, and its vehicles are respected for the grins they bring on switchbacks. These are cars that have worn the ST or RS badge on their rear decklids and, on occasion, they've landed on this side of the Atlantic waving the SVT flag (albeit with a few changes).

Now in its third generation for Europe, the Focus ST is being let loose on Canadians this summer. It comes in full boy-racer guise complete with a blacked-out wide-mouthed grille, flared fenders and a massive roof-top spoiler. Big 18-inch wheels aid the imposing stance, and it's all finished off in some retina-scalding colours like Tangerine Scream and Spirit Blue. Picking up where the Focus SVT left off nearly a decade ago, it has its sights set on Volkswagen's GTI and the Mazdaspeed3.

One ST for the world

2013 Ford Focus ST(Photo: Justin Couture)

If taking on this duo seems like a lofty target, know this: the current Focus is well armed for battle. Developed as a global vehicle from the start, it shares its underpinnings with the same Focus on sale in Europe and Asia, but with different engines and suspension tuning to suit local markets. The Focus ST takes this one step further. With the exception of a few minor details like door latches, centre stack layout, and equipment levels, virtually everything is the same regardless of where you buy it, from the engine, to the suspension settings, right down to the Goodyear high-performance summer tires. In other words, this isn't a European-style sports hatch, it's the real McCoy.

Under the ST's hood is a familiar powerplant — Ford's now ubiquitous 2.0-litre direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder. But here it puts out 252 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque, with an additional 20 lb.-ft. on offer for overboost. That's a hefty 50 horsepower advantage over the GTI or Civic Si, and nearly as much as what the rabid Mazdaspeed3 makes despite its smaller displacement. Sure, it's quick (expect 100 km/h in around 6.5 seconds) and fast (250+ km/h top speed), but it's also economical. Preliminary U.S. EPA estimates should see it return well less than 8 L/100 km on the highway, a reasonable figure for a car with this sort of performance. As with many in the class, you'll need to know how to drive stick, as a six-speed manual is the only gearbox on offer.