Although I was not spoiled for choice when it came to buying an ST170 there were 9 for sale in Australia. I settled on one from Victoria and had it transported to South Australia for a little over five grand.
Admittedly there are faster cars available for similar money but few of them have been looked after and even fewer again match mileage, price, performance and handling as a whole package. The main reason for the ST170 being such a good buy is its rarity. It's unique, handles brilliantly, looks great even after all these years, performs well and best of all for me, it's a Ford. Mechanics aren't daunted by working on it and most service items are readily available. Beware to check if the timing belt and tensioner have been changed as it will save you heartache 1. Because tensioners fail more often than belts 2. Because ford no longer make one and you'll be buying one from overseas.
Back in 2003 it was more expensive than the Subaru which may have performed better in terms of speed but combine low cost, with high volume and performance and you are left with a slew of cars (most of which have been thrashed). Don't forget however this car is naturally aspirated unlike its Subaru counterpart and for a naturally aspirated car it performs extremely well.
Other than the cam belt, be sure to check for regular services and listen for noise coming from the clutch which is not a stock ford part. The flywheel should be replaced with the clutch and will bump the price up to over 3 grand. Again this can be sourced from the UK for significantly less.
The gear changes from the Getrag six speed box are smooth but the lever throw is longer than most would expect. The interior is laid out as if a designer had a platter full of labels for controls and guages. Unfortunately he sneezed and decided to leave the labels wherever they landed on the dash.
The half leather seats are supportive and the amount of adjustment for the driving position still puts some new cars to shame. The 17 inch alloys paired with the factory body kit give the car a refined look but watch out for further lowering. I tend to think Ford's decision to leave the car at 155mmoff the deck is low enough to make it...well low but still useable.
It has a boot big enough for some luggage and a pram while the back seat has three possible positions for a baby seat (showing that you wished you could've been a boy racer 13 years ago but can only afford to now that you're in your 30s and have a "sensible" car at home).
If you drive it hard it will hurt you at the bowser but true love forgives all. It does take premium fuel but has a relatively small tank.
If you're looking for a budget fast ford (you can't buy an escort that drives and has a RWC for under 5 grand) which makes the ST170 an absolute bargain. How many WRXs do you see driving around? How many ST170s do you see driving around? Exactly go on! Be different and have a great time doing it.