It’s the dawn of the second decade of the 21st century, and the American marketplace has just six vehicles that offer more than 40 miles to the gallon on the highway: three hybrids, two diesels, and the Smart ForTwo microcar. This lack of fuel-efficient models is especially sad and surprising to anybody who has recently visited Europe, where US companies make and sell small, sporty, fuel-efficient models. Good news. Ford is finally bringing its European design and engineering to America in the form of the excellent 2011 Ford Fiesta, due out in summer 2010.

The Fiesta, a small peppy 1.6-liter four-cylinder gas-powered car, might even make US consumers understand Europe’s ambivalence to hybrids. After all, why spend extra money on a gas-electric powertrain when sporty small cars can provide similar fuel efficiency numbers and a lot more fun behind the wheel? Pricing for the Ford Fiesta begins just above $13,000. You’ll have a choice of a five-speed manual transmission or a new six-speed PowerShift electronic dual clutch automatic transmission. The vehicle is offered as a sedan or five-door hatchback. Ford is estimating that official fuel efficiency ratings will be 40 on the highway and 30 in the city—not quite in hybrid territory but the price tag isn’t either.

Of course, the reluctance among US automaker to transplant small cars to America has been lack of consumer interest in small cars. Fortunately, the Ford Fiesta might once and for all shatter the myth that small fuel-efficient cars have to be sluggish ugly econoboxes. Reviewers are gushing with enthusiasm for the 2011 Ford Fiesta, offering favorable comparisons to the Honda Fit in terms of roominess and to the Mini Cooper in terms of fun and drivability.

Small Giant

Car and Driver wrote, “American drivers are in for a treat because this new Fiesta is probably the best-handling and most driver-friendly of all the world’s microcars.” Jalopnik wrote, “It doesn’t feel like our idea of what a small car should be either. It feels spacious and even, dare I say it, luxurious, an effect created by the large glass house, good packaging and high-quality materials.”

The Honda Fit’s cargo capacity is hard to beat in a car of its size—very similar dimension to the Fiesta—but Ford wins hands down on style and ride. “Even with the optional sport suspension, the Fiesta rides more comfortably than the Mini,” said Car and Driver. Motortrend agreed. “Unlike a Mini, the Fiesta can counter with superb ride comfort,…which soaks up high-frequency vibes and bigger disturbances without turning a hair.”

Above all, it’s the Euro style of the Fiesta that’s grabbing attention. Road and Track writes, “With its wedgy beltline, sexy roofline, pronounced fender flares and high-set faceted taillights…the Fiesta shows off Ford’s new kinetic design.”

The auto press gives the 2011 Ford Fiesta a standing ovation for the quality of materials, seat comfort, and the long list of amenities usually not found in subcompacts: standard four-inch LCD display, push button start, electronic stability control, curtain and side airbags, rain-sensing wipers and auto headlamps, leather seats, keyless ignition, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, power-folding mirrors, capless refueling system, and 15-inch sports alloy wheels.

Worth the Wait?

Ford’s marketing efforts are just as savvy as the vehicle. The company is now taking reservations for the $13,300 Fiesta. Signing up holds your place in line and gives you a “VIP experience,” such as automatic build updates. Moreover, reserving the Fiesta online gives customers a SYNC and Premium Sound package, worth $595, at no charge once the vehicle is delivered.

Keep in mind that these ebullient reviews are using pre-production models produced in Europe. We’re still waiting for the first models to roll off the line at Ford’s plant in Cuautitlán, Mexico, where Fiestas intended for the US will be made. But if these reviews pan out, the wait will be worth it.