Wow. Just a decade ago this was almost unthinkable. There are Fords on sale, right now, that can be compared in a positive light to M3s new and used. Of course, the hot mustangs being compared to a new M3 is a big deal, but expected. A better indicator of the future is how often the M3 name is brought up when talking about Ford's compact and subcompact offerings. What a time to be alive.
It is an odd feeling when you look at a FWD, much maligned, daily grind designed, EPA pleasing, engine wheezing, turn away and don't look back hatchback and realize that it forms the very skeletal structure of a car heralded with comparisons to an E30 M3 (actually the fiesta isn't terrible at all, but this was very far from the case previously). Likewise, when the bigger brother of mediocrity gets similar treatment, it too becomes worthy of entrance into the hallowed halls adorned with that legendary badge. But this was not by coincidence or accident. Fiesta and Focus ST models were destined by Ford to be there from the very beginning. This is a real indicator that Ford has taken their performance development seriously. If you look back about 15 years, you'll see they've been trying to do this for a long, long time.
Remember this? The Contour SVT? The contour blessed with a 200hp V6 and a 5-speed manual? This was the first step. Take the basic, rental whore chassis and try and condition it into a fighter. Oh sure, it was expensive for what it was, it wasn't the best handling sports sedan out there, and it looked a little funky, but you know what? Compared to the 1/4 mile heroes that GM was producing by sticking the supercharged 3800 into everything and chrysler trying to figure out how to make the first-gen neon get taken seriously, Ford began perfecting the recipe that we know and love today. Combine European B-road handling with a good, hearty dose of 'Murican power. Sadly, the SVT team never got the resources and support needed to hit a home run. Oh sure the Focus SVT and ZX4 ST were very well sorted cars for what they were, it just wasn't until the merging of minds and talents from America and Europe that we got the ST twins. And every minute and every dollar and every inch of testing is on display here.
I want to highlight that part again - The ST twins are Ford leveraging its ability as a global corporation to its full potential. None of this inner-company competition BS that saw GM flounder for decade after decade. Oh, and we can't forget that Ford is a flat out inverse of Chrysler's struggles from owner to owner, only to be stripped of what little flesh and blood it has and kicked on down the line. If we use the Cobalt SS and neon SRT-4 as those company's springboards like the contour SVT, we won't realistically see anything near the ST twins from those two until the end of this decade.....in America anyways.....You lucky Euro punks with your Astra VXR and Corsa Nurburgring.....In any event, it's only a matter of time before the other large companies do the same (if they haven't started already) or pull out entirely from the performance game.
But don't think BMW hasn't noticed how often these cars are being compared to theirs.....and how often they're not "winning". To be fair, it's not entirely equal to compare a car over a decade old with a brand new one. And yet, BMW must also realize how good that means their cars are. Only a handful of automakers can even dream about their 10-25 year old cars STILL being used as performance benchmarks today. What does that say about Ford and BMW that the maker of arguably some of the best performance compacts in all of history has their products compared to arguably some of the best performance luxury sedans in all of history? I'm not quite sure, but I do know this - I'm setting up another savings account and putting my nickels and dimes in it now. Some serious work is being put into the next few generations of cars, so I might as well start saving up for them.