It's the affordable performance car many have been waiting for since the 2010 Paris motor show when Ford unveiled the Focus ST and announced it would be sold in the U.S. in 2012.
The new 2013 Focus ST is a global compact car - Europeans don't get to hog the fun - with a direct-injection, turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and six-speed manual transmission. That is good for 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque while still getting 23 mpg in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway.
The four-door hatchback has a starting price of $23,700, excluding destination charge.
The car went on sale Aug. 21 and has sold 750 through this week, with 73 percent of them top-trim level ST3s, a $4,400 upgrade that includes heated Recaro performance seats, said Seema Bardwaj, North America ST brand manager.
The expectation is the ST will account for about 4 percent of Focus sales in the U.S., Bardwaj said.
The introduction of the Focus ST also shows Ford's SVT (Special Vehicle Team) is still alive, having been almost dormant during the recession. The Focus ST becomes the third vehicle in the lineup, joining the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor and Mustang Shelby GT500.
"We've never been dead," said Tim Smith, SVT vehicle engineer. "We're on a positive slope."
To be part of the global performance lineup, vehicles must meet criteria on everything from steering and braking to sound quality and seating.
The Focus ST checked off all the boxes with larger brakes, available Recaro seats and a redesigned intake system using a new active sound symposer that pipes the engine noise into the cabin.
"It contributes to the entire performance experience," said Smith.
The 2013 model has more power but uses 25 percent less fuel than the outgoing Focus ST, which was only sold in Europe.
To raise awareness, Ford held performance academy events in Los Angeles; Boston; Washington, D.C.; New York; and San Francisco, where potential customers could take timed drives. More events are planned, possibly for Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta, said Bardwaj.
So far, 45 percent of ST sales are customers ages 16 to 35, Bardwaj said, which means it is also appealing to older buyers, especially empty-nesters. She thinks 45 percent of sales will be to those ages 35-55 and 10 percent will be older than that.
"Everyone knows about Mustang," Bardwaj said. "It's nice to drive the same excitement up about Focus. We're starting to say we're playing in this space that was dominated by the imports."
The main competitors are the Mazdaspeed 3 and Subaru WRX.
The Focus ST is built at the Michigan Assembly Plant, which also makes the conventional Focus and the Focus Electric as well as the C-Max hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid. The Focus ST is a global car and is built in Europe.
2013 FORD FOCUS ST:
-What it is: High-performance version of the Focus
-Cost: $23,700 starting price, excluding destination charge
-Fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
-Under the hood: Direct-injection, turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and six-speed manual transmission, producing 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque
-On sale: Went on sale Aug. 21
-Where made: Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich.
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