The 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine that powers most of the 2013 Focus lineup produces 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque; it's paired with either a five-speed manual gearbox or six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch automatic. That's pretty much the same, but what's new for 2013 is a high-performance Focus ST variant that can get to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds and to a top speed of 155 mph. Packing a 240-hp turbocharged EcoBoost four and a six-speed manual—no automatic—it calls out to serious driving enthusiasts.
Performance from the Focus ST is a rush, as you might guess; but it's surprisingly well-engineered, with none of the coarse or twitchy tuner-car feel that affects the likes of the Mazdaspeed3 and Mitsubishi Ralliart. Thanks to a completely different steering and suspension setup--with a quick, variable-ratio steering rack, a suspension lowered by 10 mm, and a rear suspension that moves its mounting points outward--the Focus ST also feels much more like a performance car in ways other than acceleration sprints.
As for the rest of the Focus lineup, choose the manual gearbox and you'll have one of the best-driving small cars in the segment. You have to rev the engine to get to its perky side, but it's smooth, with a nice linkage. The PowerShift dual-clutch automatic transmission in general does a good job keeping the revs up when you need it—but it can be rough at times at low speeds—and there's a Sport mode or you can control shifts on your own with a little +/- button on the side of the shift knob.
The Focus handles as well as—or better than—the most deft handler in the class, the Mazda3, with a suspension that doesn't crash and bang over rough transitions. Ford's electric power steering system provides nice weighting and it performs well, providing precise control but not transmitting much feel of the road. And for those who want performance on a budget, the SE with the Sport Package is still about the best deal in the lineup.
In the interest of keeping costs down, base S and SE models come with rear-drums instead of discs, but pedal feel and stopping power felt about the same at legal speeds.