The Independent Road Test: The most exciting road car Ford has ever built: The Escort Cosworth has speed and finesse. Richard Bremner cannot resist it

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
IT IS NOT the car for retiring types, this new Escort Cosworth, with what seems to be a wing stolen from a biplane attached to its boot. It looks like an automotive mutation from a sci-fi film and has a presence that some will revel in while others cringe. Certainly, for those who have said that the Escort looks boring, here is a variation that is anything but. Yet all the bolt-on bits - the cow-catcher at the front, the flanks that billow to house the huge wheels, and so on - only hint at the mechanical transformation that has occurred. This is not really a Ford Escort at all, but a four-wheel-drive Ford Sierra Cosworth. And fitting the Sierra's mechanical parts into an Escort bodyshell is as difficult as you'd think, not only because they have to be persuaded to fit into a smaller car but also because the two cars have different engineering layouts.

The whole scheme sounds lunatic, and that was certainly the reaction of dozens of Ford executives when it was suggested to them by the company's engineering department. But the small bunch of enthusiastic engineers were convincing: they went away and came back with a working example of the monster. The Ford board gave the go-ahead. You will ask: 'Why?' The answer is that this car was conceived to win rallies and little else, and rather than use the existing Sierra (which is to be replaced by a new model early next year) Ford chose the bodyshape of the slow-selling Escort because it needs a good dose of glamour.

The entire exercise is not cheap for Ford, and, should you wish to own one of these rally weapons, it won't be cheap for you either. The car costs pounds 23,450. But for what you get, that is a very low price - so low that Ford may well be losing money on every one it sells. Still, that's the price of ambition.

What you get, besides those wings (and they serve a very real purpose, pushing the car harder on to the ground as it travels through the air, improving its roadholding and stability) is a 227bhp, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Coupled to a four-wheel-drive system it slings the Escort to 60mph in 5.8 seconds and on (assuming you are in speed-limitless Germany) to a top speed just under 140mph.

There's no denying, nor resisting, the appeal of such acceleration. Such is the engine's power that, at first, you concentrate very hard. But experience soon teaches you that the Escort dispenses power with finesse. True, there's some delay before the engine really tugs hard, but the acceleration doesn't have the car weaving all over the road and the noise doesn't deafen you. This car has manners. More to the point, it has suspension, brakes and tyres that can more than cope with the power. Since the drive goes to all four wheels the chances of wheelspin are minimal; and with anti-lock brakes a panic-stop skid is even less likely, especially since the enormous discs slow the car so effectively.

But if the roadholding is memorable, it's the Escort's steering and, above all, its ride, that impress most. The directness of response is enormously enjoyable, the car changing direction with tiny swivels that demand minimum effort. It feels as if you're driving a go-kart with a roof, except that the ride, far from thumping like an all-night rave, turns out to be very compliant. On bumps big or small, the Cosworth rides with a serenity that dozens of family cars struggle to match.

Which makes the Escort a surprisingly soothing car to travel in, if that's what you want. But if you want action and excitement, then it will serve them in catering pack quantities, leaving you with a foolish grin that only an officer of the law is likely to wipe clean.

With that rear wing, the Escort Cosworth is bound to attract the police's interest. Happily, the rules of rallying require only that the first 5,000 to be produced have to have the wing (which is essential for a rally car's aerodynamics). Thereafter it will be cut off, leaving a pumped-up but rather more anonymous Escort, one that must be the most exciting road car Ford has built.

COMPARISONS

Lancia Delta HF Integrale, pounds 23,248. The rally car the Escort has to beat: despite its age, the Lancia is still a terrific performance car. Delivers more tactile sensation than the Escort, and suffers less delay in response to the accelerator, but loses on build quality, cabin room and the fact that it has left-hand drive.

Nissan Sunny GTi-R, pounds 20,552. Another rally special, this one stripped of some of the niceties (such as a sunroof) that you'd expect as standard. But rampant performance and lithe handling make up for these losses, even if the Sunny (what a silly name for a performance car) lacks the fine-honed responses of the Lancia and the Ford. And it looks pretty silly too.

Vauxhall Calibra Turbo pounds 20,950. Excellent value, and nearly as rapid as the Escort, but loses out in the corners with its leaden reactions. Roomy despite the coupe styling and very attractive with it. Six-speed gearbox is a (potentially confusing) novelty, but overall this is a slightly frustrating car for the keen driver.

SPECIFICATIONS

Ford Escort RS Cosworth, pounds 23,450. Engine: 1993cc in-line four with turbocharger and 16 valves, developing 227bhp at 6,250rpm. Transmission: four-wheel drive, five-speed manual gearbox. Top speed: 139mph, 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds. Fuel consumption: 20-25mpg.

(Photograph omitted)

Search for used cars

Comments