Los Angeles Times / Ford Motor Co.
Name: Dan Neil
Street cred: Pulitzer-prize-winning automotive critic for the Los Angeles Times
Best bang for your buck: 2002-2004 Ford Focus SVT
MSRP: Starting about $6,760, depending on condition
Why? "Before Ford let a roomful of blind monkeys with drafting pencils 'restyle' the Focus subcompact, there was this nifty three-door smashmouth, a performance-tuner version of the modest hatchback, now powered with a Cosworth-revised, 170-hp, 2.0-liter Zertec engine and a Getrag six-speeder. Other engine mods included forged rods, dual-stage intake and tubular headers -- all of which was well above par for a cheap factory rod. A long list of tuner goodies -- bigger brakes, performance suspension, sticky 18-inch tires, quicker steering -- made good on visual promise of a deep front spoiler, side skirts, rear diffuser and rear spoiler. The thing had HID headlights, for Pete's sake.
There is something deeply and pleasurably illicit about a car that delivers so much for so little. It's the frisson of theft and sex in public. It's getting away with something.
Expensive to build and inexpensive to buy, the SVT (Special Vehicle Team) Focus cost too much for Ford to keep the program going. Still, if you look hard, these gems are still out there on the used-car market. Undiscovered treasure."