RIMINI, Italy -- A winding road beginning on the Adriatic Coast at Rimini, Italy, climbs way up to the walled fortress of San Marino, capital city of the tiny Republic of San Marino which consists of one big hill not three miles square in size and completely encompassed by Italian soil.
The Via 4 Giugno wiggles up, around and through steep limestone cliffs over a narrow strip of asphalt to reach the hilltop capital, along the way creating a hair-raising route which, in the right car rigged for responsive action, affords a chance to play the gears, zip past bulky tour buses and have a lot of fun driving.
On our romp up the SS72 route to San Marino, we rock back and forth through the torquey base ranges of a tight gear box, pass all of the buses and enjoy an excellent time in the driver's seat, although our set of wheels for the journey is not a powerful sports car but rather an eensy-weensy four-door sedan cast in a new series which the automaker Ford has developed to conquer the car world.
This latest Ford -- labeled Fiesta -- claws the dangerous road by displaying an aggressive attitude with precise European manners, despite a relatively modest powerplant and the small-car stature.
It provides a surprising amount of space in a concise cabin for passengers and their luggage, with twin bucket seats set in front of a fold-down back bench split 60/40 plus the rear trunk for gear.
It also looks dramatic and different, with a rounded form but sharply creased planes and wild shapes for lamps.
During 600 miles of driving up and down and across the boot of Italy, new Fiesta proves itself as easy to use and entirely comfortable for long drives, but also thrifty to operate with an engine that earns high fuel economy figures.
With a roof rising less than five feet high and the pint-size body only 14 feet long, Fiesta resembles a streamlined egg that conforms to a family-friendly four-door notchback sedan or a cargo-hauling five-door hatchback.
It looks downright cute in a monochromatic treatment with the smoothly rounded prow projecting a flat dual-bar grille as the global Ford face above a gaping inverted-trapezoid air duct.
Front corners house elongated headlamp clusters that sweep back to muscular bulges of the forward fenders, as the sculpted hood and raked windshield lead up to an arching canopy covering the passenger compartment.
Fiesta reaches the North American marketplace wearing model-year 2011 badges following production at Ford's transformed Cuaultitlan Stamping and Assembly Plant
in Cuaultitlan Izcalli, Mexico.
The four-door sedan offers three trim grades -- a price-leading S, volume-seller SE and top-tier SEL. The five-door hatch has two grades -- volume-model SE and top-end SES. Consider the pair -- Fiesta sedan and hatch -- essentially an economical set of wheels which can cover 38 miles or more on a single gallon of unleaded gas.
Out of the box with no extra equipment aboard, the new Fiesta S sedan fitted with a five-speed manual transmission lists for $13,995. Adding Ford's PowerShift six-speed automatic transaxle applies $1,070 more to the bottom line.
Ford sets the MSRP for Fiesta SE sedan at $14,995, with the Fiesta SE hatchback bumping to $15,795.
Top models Fiesta SEL sedan and Fiesta SES hatchback list for the same price of $17,795.
Underpinnings are comparable to Ford's global small car sold around the world.
The suspension design is compact to carve out more space for the passenger compartment and forge a low floor for easy entry.
Ford installs independent MacPherson struts in front with tuned front shock absorbers and a 22-mm front stabilizer bar. Then there's a twist-beam rear axle with coil springs and tuned rear shock absorbers.
Depending on trim tier, Fiesta rolls on 15-inch or 16-inch wheels capped by all-season tires.
The rack and pinion steering system gets electric power assistance, which eliminates a load of hydraulic equipment and contributes to the efficiency of Fiesta's modest engine.
For predictable straight-line stopping, Ford installs a standard anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus the AdvanceTrac electronic stability control (ESC) device.
Fiesta's strong unibody structure serves as the first line of defense for passengers, surrounded by a safety cage rigged with force-deflecting energy management zones fore and aft plus reinforced side panels and doors.
Front riders get dual two-stage frontal air bags, side air bags and seatbelts with pretensioners. Then there are curtain-style air bags stretching the length of the cabin above outboard seats front and rear, and Fiesta's driver scores a class-exclusive air bag aimed at the knees.
Fiesta's front-wheel-drive (FWD) powertrain consists of a thrifty four-cylinder engine linked to either a manual or automatic transmission.
The dual-cam 1.6-liter in-line-four is made from aluminum with Ford's Ti-VCT (twin independent variable camshaft timing) valvetrain technology to precisely manage engine breathing and combustion in order to maximize throttle response and performance.
It produces 120 hp at 6350 rpm plus torque of 112 lb-ft at 5000 rpm.
The five-speed manual is a lightweight unit with a firm shifter stick.
The optional PowerShift six-speed automatic delivers the responsive performance and fuel economy of a manual transmission but the convenience of an automatic.
Fiesta S sedan carries the manual shifter, cloth upholstery, a front seat console, manual cranking windows, a four-speaker audio kit and 15-inch steel wheels.
Fiesta SE sedan and hatch stock a remote keyless entry device, 4-inch LCD dashboard screen and an upgraded audio system with CD player. Optional gear includes Ford Sync, the voice-activated controller for communication and entertainment systems, cruise control and 15-inch alloy wheels.
Fiesta SEL/SES sedan/hatch load up on luxury gear like power windows and mirrors and door locks, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, electrochromatic auto-dimming rearview mirror, Ford Sync and 16-inch alloy wheels.