I'm getting the chance over this holiday Wednesday (sounds weird to say that) to reacquaint myself with the Ford Fiesta, a car I liked a lot during the European preview last year.
Sharp-eyed viewers can see the Ontario dealers' plate on the back - this is a European Fiesta that Ford of Canada has brought in for evaluation purposes, and they loaned it to me for a few days.
Fiesta is not destined for Canadian Ford showrooms until the 2011 model year, but it cannot come too quickly as far as I'm concerned.
It is simply a terrific little car.
Ford has an excellent reputation for vehicle dynamics - in Europe, if not necessarily here.
This reputation was made by cars like this Fiesta.
It rides beautifully - smooth, supple, neither floaty nor harsh.
The steering is light yet ultra-precise, and it handles like a champ.
Even with a small-by-our-standards 1.6 litre four cylinder engine, performance is acceptably brisk, thanks in part to a crisp-shifting five-speed manual gearbox.
How can Ford miss with this little gem?
Well, those of us old enough to remember Ford's previous attempts to bring in their European product are worried. My brother had a 1948 British-built Ford Prefect, fer cryin' out loud. My cousin had an also-British 1955 Consul. When I was a summer student in Noranda Quebec my best bud drove us around in his Mom's cool-if-also-British Zephyr convertible.
Then there was the original Fiesta. It was replaced by the first Escort. The Concrete/Mistake (sorry: Contour/Mystique). The Merkur XR4Ti. The Scorpio. And the current Focus which, once they got around to building it properly, was a pretty good little car until they mushed it up for the most recent version.
All of these were terrific in Europe.
None of them was worth the powder to blow them to hell when they brought them over here.
So I just hope they don't screw up the Fiesta too.
The two most likely sources of screw-up are the suspension (PLEASE don't make it all fat-assed North American mushy on us) and interior trim quality (the whole theme of the European car is that it looks, feels and is equipped like several classes more expensive than it is; I just hope Ford can find American, Canadian and/or Mexican suppliers - our Fiestas will be assembled in Mexico - who can match the level of quality in this test car I have here.)
Not that I wouldn't welcome a few changes. The centre stack on the European car (shown here) is unnecessarily complicated and unintuitive to use. The right-side steering column stalk for wipers is also non-conventional - pulling the lever towards the wheel in most cars activates the windshield washers; in the Fiesta it switches on the rear wiper.
But these are minor issues.
Again Ford, please - DON'T SCREW THIS ONE UP.