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2013 Ford Focus ST: Much more than just enough for the city

By ,

NEW YORK — I needed a car that could maneuver through the madness of New York’s holiday traffic.

There were three choices at home in my Northern Virginia driveway. One, a 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe sport-utility vehicle, was great for hauling bulky packages and seasonal decorations from big-box stores. But it was too much of an unwieldy beast for congested city traffic.

Another, a 2013 Audi S5 Quattro coupe, was beautiful in body and spirit. It was perfect in almost every way—a supercharged 3-liter gasoline-direct-injection engine (333 horsepower, 325 foot-pounds of torque), a six-speed manual transmission possessed of the ease and intuition of a longtime dancing partner, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel that felt so good in my hands I didn’t want to let go.

But I have insurance nightmares every time I drive something as nice and as expensive as the Audi S5 Quattro (nearly $70,000 with options) into New York. I wanted to park in peace. I chose the 2013 Ford Focus ST, a fast, front-wheel-drive compact four-door hatchback with the grit of Detroit, the chutzpah of New York and the work ethic of Salt Lake City.

I fell in love with the Focus ST. Among other things, it had a steering wheel that felt almost as nice as that in the Audi S5 Quattro. Its agile, gutsy road performance imitated the Audi S5 in attitude.

I had so much fun driving the Focus ST I was shocked. I couldn’t believe all that get-up-and-go got up and went — with authority, at that — in a little car equipped with a turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine (252 horsepower, 270 foot-pounds of torque). Everything about the Focus ST driven for this column felt considerably more expensive than its relatively modest price tag ($27,000 with options).

I know I will be pilloried for comparing any compact Ford automobile to something from Audi. But, please, bear with me. I make no attempt here to offer a one-to-one comparison. Audi is on a higher level. I get that.

I’m talking about the way an automobile behaves and feels, the way it promptly and precisely obeys steering inputs, and the way its manual gearbox — six speeds in the case of the Focus ST — operates so flawlessly.

Getting through holiday traffic on Interstate 95 and the New Jersey Turnpike was surprisingly fast and smooth. It was fun. I felt no regrets for leaving behind the Audi S5 Quattro. My only concerns arose when a cold rain made slippery certain parts of I-95. The Focus ST was shod with 18-inch-diameter summer performance tires.

Such tires, designed for high-speed driving on dry roads, tend to behave with degraded competence on wet or snow-splashed highways. They sometimes slip and slide, or otherwise make the car wearing them behave like a jerky, uncontrollable mess. But the Focus ST kept its poise on weather-compromised highways and on streets compromised by seemingly endless reconstruction in New York City.

If anyone needs proof that small cars have come a long way, or that American car companies now take small cars seriously, the 2013 Ford Focus ST is it.

It is the little car with everything, including Recaro seats (covered in cloth and leather, or all leather), a much-improved infotainment system (MyFord Touch), excellent small-car safety, and world-class fit and finish.

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