And the cost?

Here's how the pricing breaks down.

The basic ZX2 -- which Ford calls the "cool" version -- starts at $12,995, including a $415 destination charge.

The "hot" version, which includes air-conditioning, rear defrost, an antitheft alarm and driver's-door remote entry system, costs $13,560.

Ford expects that 80 percent of its ZX2s will be so equipped.

My test car included two other option packages. The first, which added power windows, mirrors and locks and a keyless remote entry system that operates on both doors, added $725.

The second was the $595 sport package, which added the spiffy wheels, rear deck spoiler, upgrade seats, fog lamps and graphics.

While you could add most of those piecemeal, buying the packages is cheaper.

Besides ABS, other stand-alone options include a four-speed automatic transmission ($815), a power moonroof ($595), and an integrated rea r child-safety seat ($135).

Although the cars presented here were preproduction models -- thus no rating -- the ZX2 looks like it has the right stuff at the right price, and it seems sure to enhance the overall sales performance of the Escort/Tracer family.

Ford thinks it will do so to the tune of about 80,000 cars per year, to be assembled in the company's big plant in Hermosillo, Mexico.

Will the Hermosillo facility deliver the goods in quality? That remains to be seen, but judging by the preproduction cars, I'd guess it will.

Beyond that, the ZX2 is long on charm, has excellent road manners and offers better-than-average driving fun with great comfort.

That's a winning blend by any standard.

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