The most recent addition to the Ford Focus lineup is a high-performance hot hatch. The 2013 Ford Focus ST offers 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Only available as a 5-door hatchback, it also includes performance suspension, a sporty body kit and a mandatory 6-speed manual transmission. We spent some time in a Focus ST to see how these upgrades translate to the real world.

On the road, the Focus ST is a pleasant surprise to nearly every member of our staff. Acceleration is downright fast. And we're also pleased to discover the ST's power is strongest when the car is already moving. That's good for highway passing or the occasional throttle burst on an open road. But even from a stop, the Focus ST offers constant muscle with little turbo lag. And thanks to Ford's Torque Steer Compensation system, the Focus ST barely pulls to one side under hard acceleration like many front-wheel-drive cars do.

Great Handling

While the Focus ST is exciting to drive fast, it's even more fun to push through corners. All Focus ST models come standard with electronic Torque Vectoring Control (eTVC), a system that's designed to brake the inside wheels during a turn for improved handling. It works well: While the standard Focus is no slouch in the corners, the ST model's handling rivals some sports cars.

Drivers who enjoy sporty cars will also love the Focus ST model's stick shift, which all drivers found to be precise and very smooth. My only shift-related gripe comes from the car's Active Sound Symposer, which amplifies engine noises. While the feature works great, it seems to only be active above 3,500 rpm. The result is that precise rev-matching at lower engine speeds is very difficult, since the engine is virtually silent.

In addition to its sporty charms, the Focus ST also included typical Focus strong points. The cargo area, for example, offers ample room. And the back seats, while small, are accessible and tolerable -- more than one can say for many of the Focus ST model's sporty rivals. The Focus ST also returns an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated 23 miles per gallon city/32 mpg highway if you can lay off the gas.

Seat Work

Despite all its positive traits, the Focus ST had one glaring problem. Nearly everyone complained about our test car's seats, which were thickly-bolstered Recaro sport buckets included in both of the ST model's option packages. Complaints ranged from uncomfortable to too tight, we also don't like the seatback's shape since it doesn't allow a place to comfortably rest your arms.

On many cars, this wouldn't be so bad; you simply wouldn't order the seats. But in the Focus ST, they're included in both the $2,385 201A option package and the $4,435 202A package. That means you can't get features like heated seats, MyFord Touch, navigation, HD Radio or xenon headlights without also getting the Recaro buckets.

But if you're like me and actually like the seats, you'll find that the 2013 Ford Focus ST offers hatchback practicality and a very good driving experience. You should be able to figure this out on a test drive. Still, the Ford Focus ST is hard to beat at $27,500.

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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