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It's been more than a year since I first sat in a Ford Fiesta, and just as long since I watched a tow truck haul it away from the shoulder of westbound I-696, a mile shy of my doorstep.
As I walked across the parking garage last night, key in hand, I wanted to giggle. I wanted to skip like Dorothy and swing my arms and sing out "La la la!" till the echoes wrapped around every concrete pillar. But as the back end peeked out from behind a large SUV, I did none of those things.

The story of the wayward tire and the squashed Fiesta -- -- is practically legend at Ford these days, at least in engineering circles, and at times I've felt like an actual rock star: "Wow, you must be Natalie, the one who smashed the Fiesta! So glad to meet you!" I haven't given out any autographs, but I think I got close at least once.

When word got back to Ford about the incident, every engineer involved in small-car development or safety wanted to get their hands on my Fiesta, put their micrometers to every deflected piece of metal, pull the data off the OBD-II and run it all through their mainframes. I was only glad that some good would come from my interrupted Memorial Day, and not because of any trauma I still carry around with me. It just seemed such a waste of a giddily fun and happy little car.

In fact, I never suffered any posttraumatic anything from the accident. Hundreds of people have asked, too, about how scary an experience it must've been, and all I can answer is that it wasn't scary at all. "You can't be scared by something you never see coming," I say.

I do, however, appreciate that I came really close to biting it that day, that had it not been for some seriously spectacular design and engineering work, I would never have gotten a second go-round with the car. So I eagerly looked forward to my drive home last night.

It didn't last. The flattened Fiesta sparkled, its effervescent green paint still glowing and jubilant even as it sat there on the side of the freeway with a blown-out windshield and accordioned hood. This one was black, and a sad black, too. Cars that effectively pull off black paint either tend toward the sleek and sporty or the sinister, and the Fiesta doesn't do either very convincingly. It just looked dingy. I was immediately disappointed.

Climbing in, however, I remembered so much of why I liked the first Fiesta, the youthful treatment of the controls across the center stack, the quality materials . . . then I spy the shifter. An automatic. Sigh.

It's technically not an automatic, but during my drive home and then back to the office this morning, I would never have guessed it to be a twin-clutch sequential manual, either, at least not along the lines of Audi's DSG, BMW's DCT or even Mitsubishi's TC-SST. At first it actually behaved like a CVT, just whining in response to the throttle, up and down as I made my way out of the garage, but eventually it actually shifted. The rest of the time it felt like any other slushbox, geared for power sucking and fuel savings and absolutely zero fun, lacking any sort of manual control, either via the shifter or through steering-wheel paddles. That Ford calls it PowerShift is not an apt description in this application.

Mostly, the car just lacks spirit. The clobbered green car, before it met its demise, overflowed with spirit, with zeal, with joie de vivre. OK, cars aren't actually vivre, but it sure felt like it, the way it would dive into roundabouts and dance along exit ramps and generally romp about; the way it sang just sitting still, its green metallic paint glinting every which way; the five-speed manual transmission, letting you get to what little power the engine cranks out and just work it, keeping the tires turning at the top of the torque curve, gripping and slipping at will . . .

No, this car wasn't that car, but Ford promises a sportier model is coming, so I will eagerly await my next romp in the Fiesta.

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