What Ford has done in the past few years is nothing short of brand reinvention. A new focus on technology and consolidation of their various models sold globally and in the States has left many a test driver of a new Focus, Fiesta, Fusion or Escape asking “Is this really a Ford?” The 2013 Focus ST ($24,000+) continues this positive, query-causing trend.

WANT MORE FORD? Ford Focus Electric | 2013 Ford Fusion | Ford Atlas Concept

Having previously spent time with the standard Focus, we’re convinced the engineers must have had a blast pulling out all the stops on this upgraded version. Under the hood, they added a turbo to the 2.0-liter Ecoboost, cranking it to 252 horsepower — almost 100 more than the regular Focus. The outside gets aggressive trim with extended rocker panels, a massive grill and dual trapezoidal exhaust pipes to tell the same story as the engine: don’t mess. Ford also added a “sound symposer box”, which mixes the sounds of the engine with the exhaust and rumbles it right into the cabin. We were smiling with every rich growl.

On the inside of our fully loaded model ($29,000), we had leather Recaro Seats that hug even a Levi’s 511 kinda guy, a Sony sound system with subwoofer and an 8-inch crisp display with all the My Ford Touch and SYNC add ons — including what we think is one of the best Sat Navs available.

Variable ratio steering makes the response tighter in corners; an updated suspension and larger front brakes means more confidence when you fling the car around (you should). The 6-speed manual (the only available transmission) shifts smoothly. A clutch that engages from the top to the bottom of the pedal movement took some time getting used to, and so did the brakes, which have more bite than one might expect and could cause a passenger to spill their coffee. The turbo combined with our heavy right foot brought mpgs to the low 20s, and we did experience a bit of torque steer despite Ford engineers’ attempt to electronically counteract it.

In the end, the ST is not quite a Volkswagen GTI-beater, but it has more personality than a MazdaSpeed3. Plus, fully loaded it comes in under $30K; and we admit that it’s always nice to see the domestics do well. As a much-welcomed performance update to the successfully revitalized third-generation Focus, the ST is engaging, aggressive to the eye and has a bold answer to the “Is this really a Ford?” question.

WANT MORE FORD? Ford Focus Electric | 2013 Ford Fusion | Ford Atlas Concept