Each and every single test drive is, of course, approached by this column with total seriousness, but I must admit that I greeted the Ford Fiesta with a bit more gravity than usual, given that the future of the biggest name in the motor industry, if not the future of Western commerce and the global environment, depends on it.
You see, a successful US launch of the Fiesta in 2010 is essential if Ford's attempts to wean itself off fat profit margins from sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks are to bear fruit. The company desperately needs to shift small cars - not only in foreign markets, where the Fiesta has sold more than 12 million models since its introduction in 1976, but also in the US, where it has never persuaded consumers that small is beautiful.
The first bit of good news is that the Fiesta Zetec-S at least looks attractive. I don't buy the nonsense in the press pack about how 'the attention to detail lavished on the Ford Fiesta is clear from the jewel-like quality of its exterior design', or about its 'dynamic stance and powerful lines'. But the model I had - which came in Essex-boy white, with privacy glass and 17in alloys - looked properly cool. I can't see an American giving up a Corvette for it, but I'd rather be seen in a new Fiesta than in most Cadillacs.
The stylishness runs through into the cabin. Again, I don't buy the press pack blurb about how getting behind the wheel 'makes you feel like you're stepping into the pages of a fashion magazine', not least because I can't recall a single instance of Vogue featuring the interior of a Fiesta in a photoshoot. But the build quality is excellent, and the central console system connecting you to your phone and music is highly intuitive. (Note to Ford's marketing department: when you launch the car in the US, you might not want to bang on about how the electrically operated front windows come with a 'one shot' up-and-down function.)
And as for performance, well, God knows why Americans demand so much power when you can't go over 55mph without getting ticketed, but the Fiesta is top fun to drive. Last month, I reviewed the Alfa Romeo MiTo and couldn't put my finger on why I didn't like it. But I realise now it was because I borrowed the Fiesta straight afterwards, and it made driving the Alfa feel like piloting a shopping trolley through a sandpit.
Indeed, when you're behind the wheel of the new Fiesta, it doesn't feel 'subcompact' in any way at all, and, frankly, if this excellent little car fails to persuade Americans to give up their Hummers, nothing will and we're all screwed.
I'LL TAKE ONE ...
It's not a Hummer.
THANKS BUT NO THANKS ...
It's not a Corvette.
Ford Fiesta Zetec-S: £14,895
Engine: 1.6 litre petrol
Combined power: 120 PS
Torque: 152 Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Fuel: 47.9 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2: 139 g/km
0-62 mph: 9.9 secs
Top speed: 120 mph