SAN ANTONIO — If the simmering tension at DaimlerChrysler Corp. has piqued your interest in automotive culture clashes, head southwest from Auburn Hills.

To Dearborn, where Ford Motor Co. is marketing its latest Special Vehicle Team (SVT) product to a demographic that thinks The “BigThree” refers to Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

The '02 SVT Focus is geared up to compete with cars such as Honda Civic, Volkswagen Golf GTi and Nissan Sentra.

“The younger generation today is embracing the small, 4-cyl., front-wheel-drive cars as ‘their’ performance cars in the same way the Baby Boomers embraced the V-8 muscle cars of the '60s,” says John Coletti, chief engineer at Ford Special Vehicle Engineering.

Their preferences left Ford and its dowdy and now-dead Escort out of the loop. Until now.

The No. 2 automaker says its Focus — already an unexpected hit with the import-leaning younger crowd — was a natural for the SVT treatment. High on the list for these spec-hungry customers: a considerably warmed-up version of Focus' 130-hp DOHC 16-valve Zetec I-4; with SVT massaging it develops a snorty 170 hp at 6,800 rpm.

And that's 170 hp “at least,” says Ford specialty vehicle marketing manager Tom Scarpello.

He adds this caveat because Mr. Coletti says “refinements” made between now and the product's year-end showroom debut could produce more horsepower.

This engine in the beefed-up 3-door ZX3 bodyshell offers 145 lb.-ft (197 Nm) of torque at 5,500 rpm. And 85% of that twist is available at just 2,200 rpm.

But the import-trashing power may not be the SVT Focus' most marketable feature. At a sneak preview before SVT Focus made its first official appearance at last month's Chicago Auto Show, seasoned auto writers did a double take when Ford officials revealed the car is equipped with a dual-mass flywheel and 6-speed transmission. With its Getrag close-ratio manual transaxle, the $18,000 SVT Focus joins the race-ready SVT Mustang Cobra R as the only Ford product with a 6-speed gearboxes.

Boosted by performance perks such as European-designed 11.8-in. (300-mm) front brake rotors 1.7 ins. (42 mm) larger than standard-issue ZX, SVT Focus is meant to grab the import crowd by its bulging Tommy Hilfiger boxer shorts. Mr. Coletti boldly predicts conquest sales of more than 60% and perhaps as high as 80%.

Styling changes to ZX3's front and rear fascias, new rocker moldings and a tasteful rear spoiler distinguish SVT Focus from its progenitor.

“These exterior changes, including its very distinctive 17-in. (43.2-cm) wheels, really give the car the appearance of having a lower, wider stance and lots of rubber on the ground,” says program manager Andy Slankard.

Nevertheless, Ford harbors no illusions about the SVT Focus becoming an entry-level product. Consumers who buy this vehicle aren't likely to move up to the pricier SVT Mustang Cobra or SVT Lightning F-150 pickup — which Mr. Scarpello calls “red-blooded American vehicles.”

“The important thing is to get these people into the Ford family,” Mr. Coletti says.

Which brings us back to culture clash. Once these 20-somethings join the clan, how will they get along at family reunions?

Ford will find out with its sponsorship of the Special Vehicle Team Owners Assn., a club it says is styled after a similar organization for Harley Davidson owners, with whom Ford had tried to forge some contact.

Ford's Harley-inspired marketing model may be set back, though, by a blasphemous disclosure from none other than Hell's Angels founder Sonny Barger that he prefers the Honda ST1100 to a stinking Hog.

Will SVT Focus suffer the same fate at the hands of post-Gen Xers? Stay tuned, dude.