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.