After doing an insane amount of research and writing on hot hatches, I finally put my money where my mouth is and bought a Focus ST3.
I had originally gone in for an ST2, but they sold the last one in the area that day. I was about to walk when someone came up and said they just got an ST off the truck that morning, so we went to check it out. It still had all the plastic on it, and had 5 miles on the odometer, but it was loaded with almost every feature possible, and the sticker was over $30k. I told him I couldn't pay that much, and I the only features I actually wanted extra were the Recaros and the touch system minus navigation. I have no use for heated seats in San Diego, and all the other cosmetic crap is just none essential.
He looked at the car and back to me and asked, "What do I need to do to get you in this car?" I just looked at him and said "If you get this down to what I would be paying for an ST2, you've got a deal," totally thinking that he wouldn't be able to do it. He couldn't, but he was pretty damn close.He ended up bringing it down to $27k and threw in the extended warranty, oil changes for the life of the warranty, and got me the lowest percentage rate he could. This worked out because I was denied a loan from my credit union for 4.9%, and he gave me 5.9%. Not bad for a 24 year old with minimal credit.
I had to wait until morning to get it, because it still had to be prepped and washed from coming off the truck, and our negotiations lasted a grueling 5 hours, so the shop guys had all gone home by that time. The short wait was worth it. I ended up with an ST3 for only ~$1.5k more than I was going to pay for an ST2.
I'm happy. :)