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.
Bikes returned, we left for home. As the Fiesta cruised confidently down the highway, quiet and stable despite a short fifth (top) gear, we reflected on our journey. We hadn’t filled stadiums with young admirers, and the only person willing to towel off the Fiesta for the camera had been the stocky assistant manager of a local car wash. But both the town and the car, it turns out, offer more sophisticated thrills.
Web 2.0 marketing notwithstanding, the Fiesta is a substantial, grown-up car. If Ford can keep pricing for the U.S. model, due here next spring, within range of the spunkier but less well-mannered Honda Fit, it will have a rare commodity: a car suited to both Facebook and the real world.
- Mickies Dairy Bar. Serves farm fresh breakfast and a classic country diner atmosphere in the shadow of Camp Randall Stadium. 608-256-9476
- Machinery Row. No offense to the Fiesta, but the best way to get around is on a bike, which this shop rents for $20 a day. machineryrowbicycles.com
- Memorial Union Terrace. People of all ages gather here to have drinks and enjoy the lakefront breeze.
- State Street Brats. The cheese curds are to die for a good thing, since deep-fried white cheddar won’t exactly prolong your life. 608-255-5544; statestreetbrats.com
- State Street. This bustling thoroughfare connects campus with the state capitol and features lots of eclectic shops, theaters, and restaurants.
- Tornado Steak House. Great if you want a substantial cut of beef or a tasty fish dish (vegans should stay home). 608-256-3570; tornadosteakhouse.com
- Ella’s Deli. If you have kids in tow, stop here for ice cream and a ride on the merry-go-round. 608-241-5291; ellas-deli.com
- Ian’s Pizza by the Slice. Bigger kids will likely head back toward campus for some revelry. Ian’s Pizza, famous for its macaroni-and-cheese topping, stays open until the bars close. 608-257-0597; ianspizza.com
- Natt Spil. Go here if you want a nightcap without having to fight for standing room with drunken coeds. You’ll need help finding it, though – its storefront on King Street has no sign, and the owners don’t believe in phones.
- Mansion Hill Inn. The building dates back to 1857 and oozes old elegance, but it just underwent a thorough restoration. mansionhillinn.com
The Specs: 2011 FORD FIESTA
On sale: Early 2010
Price: $15,000 (est.)
Engine: 1.6L I-4, 118 hp, 112 lb-ft (European-market output)