It's all about youth these days. That's why Ford, taking a page from President Barack Obama's campaign strategy, is pitching its European Fiesta directly to Generation Y, with plenty of Twitter and YouTube pages devoted to the cause. And that's why Automobile Magazine's youngest editor - yours truly - drove the car to Madison, Wisconsin, home of more than 30,000 undergrads, as a way of measuring the truth - "truthiness," Gen Y'ers say - in Ford's claim that it has a legitimate subcompact contender.
"We should get shots of sorority girls washing the car," suggested youthful photographer A. J. Mueller. OK, that, too.
We didn't want to spoil the adventure with excess planning - TripTiks are so 1980s. Instead, we drove straight to the heart of the University of Wisconsin campus and asked for recommendations. To wit:
"Do you know of any sorority car washes we can photograph for our magazine?"
"For your personal collection, you mean?" replied one female student. "I don't think so."
We did get some great suggestions, albeit more mature advice than we'd expected. We started at the state capitol - a dead ringer for the one in Washington, D.C., but with nicer employees - and then drove to a botanical garden. After a healthful lunch of bratwurst and fried cheese curds, we ambled through a modern-art museum. Later, a senator's staffer directed us to Natt Spil - a cozy, upscale restaurant hidden in an unmarked, dilapidated building - for bar food. The bellman at the 152-year-old, fabulously renovated Mansion Hill Inn told us to avoid campus for dinner ("you look older than that"), so we went to the Tornado Steak House for juicy beef and fresh fish - perfect for a Midwestern town bordered by lakes.
Hustling about, the Fiesta was in its element. The quick steering and gutsy, 118-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder helped us slice through city traffic, while its compact dimensions and tight turning radius made it easy to nab tight curbside spots. Comfort was never an issue; the Fiesta's refined interior and compliant ride far surpass the city-car norm. The "squeeze metallic" green Ford also received plenty of attention, although, again, not quite the sort we'd anticipated.
"Did those mirrors just fold in by themselves?!" shouted one middle-aged businessman. "Can it tow?" queried another.
Around 9 p.m., we returned to our hotel, exhausted. We regrouped later to document the party scene, but with final exams looming, the streets were all but empty. We went straight to bed and woke up ready for a morning bike ride. Transporting our rented bikes anywhere was a no-go, as only one fit in the Fiesta. Instead, we glided through the sprawling campus, taking in the ritzy steel and glass student centers, bustling downtown shops, and charming lakefront views.