This is the message we all want to hear, isn’t it? Even all these years since it was first introduced, the M3 is still the car were after. Practical package, bunch of sport equipment hung on it thats worth more than what you have to pay, and a motor that will wake you up.
Of course, this time you better be brave enough to venture outside the box of conventional thinking, because this particular flavor of BMW M3 is actually a 150-mph Ford Focus, and it does business with front-wheel drive.
Clearly youre going to have to accept some compromises. First of all, the 2013 Ford Focus ST costs $ 24,495, not $ 60,100. So if you’re into bragging about the cost of a snappy badge from Munich, thats out. In fact, lets just make it clear that no BMW drivers need apply. Theyll just wear you out while they repeat conventional wisdom about front-wheel drive, and theyre still the same guys who like to show off by commuting with their driving lights blazing.
Of course, Ill admit that I have some prejudices of my own, as Im thinking all this while Im driving this 247-hp Focus ST up the steep hillsides of the Maritime Alps in France. Im weaving through the narrow streets of 200-year-old villages, dodging weird French cars driven by guys that are dangling a cigarette out of the window, and looking out for the wacky three-wheel scooters ridden by slim French girls wearing giant full-face helmets and not much else.
The Focus STs navigation system is leading me higher into the mountains where the stunted, windblown trees cling to rocky, worthless soil. Some of the roads are cut into bare cliffs above deep, glacier-cut canyons. It makes you think of the Monte Carlo Rally (which takes place nearby, actually). You can practically hear the crackle and pop of the WRC Ford Fiesta driven by Petter Solberg, the worlds happiest rally driver (and a guy who drives a rally car as if it were a motocross bike, if my brief experience in the right seat with him is any guide).
Just like any kind of M3 (or Mazdaspeed 3 or Mitsubishi Evo or Subaru Impreza WRX STI or Volkswagen Golf R), the 2013 Ford Focus ST is a wide-band performance vehicle. Its civilized enough for a days drive through the mountains, yet tough enough to shred every corner if you like.
The engine and gearbox are the key, of course. The turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-liter inline-4 delivers 265 lb-ft of torque at just 1,750 rpm, which is enough to ensure that this 3,223-pound package can get off the corners quickly, especially with the aid of the close-ratio six-speed transmission that’s standard equipment. The shift linkage has a crisp, mechanical feel and it works very quickly. The engine also effortlessly revs out to 6,000 rpm with hardly a trace of vibration, although theres a kind of trumpet to funnel engine noise into the interior. The Focus STs powertrain is a pretty tough piece of machinery.
Maybe its to be expected, because Matthias Tonn — the Ford of Europe engineer responsible for developing the Focus ST (and the Focus RS before it) — stands six-foot-six and is clearly a tough guy himself. Hes the quintessential German engineer, but in the deeply practical way that has always set apart Fords engineers from their self-importantly clever colleagues at the other German car companies. As Tonn tells me, the Focus ST is going to be sold all over the world, and its way, way harder to make 10,000 cars that are all equally good for $ 24,495 than one car that is unique for $ 1 million.
If you sign up for the conventional wisdom, this is too much power for a front-wheel-drive car and youd need the forearms of a hog farmer to control the torque steer. And yet the ST carves an apex without making you sweat. The little miracle here is that the Focus ST makes you not care that it puts the power on the ground only through its front tires. As Matthias Tonn explains to me, the magic comes not from any one little thing but instead a cluster of technologies.
First there are the 235/40R18 Goodyear Eagle AS2 tires (which Tonn says are really, really good). Then theres the electronic brake-type differential (which can be programmed to anticipate torque steer), the electric-assist variable-ratio steering (which also can be programmed to anticipate and react), the steering alignment, and an engine calibration that keeps the power from coming in with an abrupt wallop.
As a result, the Focus ST turns into corner quickly, yet it still maintains a reassuring distribution of traction across the front tires, and theres no sense of trickery aside from an occasional wriggle through the steering wheel. (The stability control has a Sport mode and can also be disengaged.) Then the car tracks out with equal sureness, and the build up of steering effort is just enough to remind you that there is indeed a lot of power going through the front tires. In short, this front-wheel-drive car has its act together. Since its been developed at the Nurburgring Nordschleife like everything else these days (as well as the high-speed Nardo test track), maybe all this is to be expected.
Theres plenty else to like about this car, from the big front brakes to the Tangerine Scream paint, but then were probably all a bit used to this from cars like the Mazdaspeed 3, Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru Impreza WRX STI. Even so, everything is first class, from the wheels to the Recaro seats. Most of all, the Focus ST always drives like a dead serious car, as its ability to get to 100 km/hr (62 mph) in 6.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 150 mph should tell you. The engine also gives you 30 seconds of overboost, should you need it. (30 seconds!) You can read more in our First Drive of the 2013 Ford Focus ST .
Usually when you come to this point in a story about a car like this, you have to apologize because the price is all bad news. Instead, theres good news. This car is made in Michigan (as well as quite a number of other places around the globe), so the price tag has no nasty surprises.
You get the car with all the good stuff and cloth-upholstered Recaro seats for $ 24,495, including delivery. If you spend $ 2,385 more than the base price, you get (mostly) leather-upholstered Recaros, a trick audio system, Ford MyTouch and dual-zone air-conditioning. If you spend $ 4,435 more than the base price, you get (fully) leather-upholstered Recaro seats, a trick audio system, Ford MyTouch, dual-zone a/c, a navigation system, xenon headlights and ambient lighting. Deliveries start this summer.
With the money you save over a BMW M3, you could buy a Ford Focus ST and then send it to France to drive it around.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com
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