The Daily Shift’s Patrick Cummins outlines the advantages and disadvantages of the Ford Escort MK VI car in his road test review…
Up until the production line was cut in 2000, the Ford Escort was one of the most popular cars on Irish and UK roads. Then along came the Ford Focus in 1998 and led to the demise of this once great car. By the time the final evolution of the Escort was introduced in 1995, the model was spiraling into an embarrassing downfall and would bow out with only two versions left in the model range: the 1.6 petrol and 1.8 diesel.
This road-review concerns a 1997 1.4L Ford Escort, just before the phasing out period.
Exterior: The previous generation Escort was introduced in 1990 and the updated Mk VI model was merely a revised car both mechanically and visually. The main difference was the ovular grill and rear lamps, but neither added enough colour to make the car seem up to date among the competition and its replacement, the Ford Focus.
Interior: The grey scheme sets a dull tone for the Escort interior and isn’t anything to get excited about. This blandness is aided a little by the pleasant white dials on the instrument panel. On illumination, they turn green and are easy to read. Wooden veneer was an option which added significant flair to the inside appearance. There isn’t much in terms of knobs and switches, just the usual array of heater and radio buttons which are all self-explanatory. Side mirrors are very close to the driving position which is a little odd at first. Some slouching may be required by taller drivers in order to see through these mirrors adequately even with adjustments made. At the rear-right quarter panel there is a notorious blind spot, not aided by the very slanted back window.
Practicality/Comfort: Head and leg room is acceptable for a person of any size and the car is big enough to carry three passengers in the back, at a stretch. It is also small enough to park easily once you take note of the aforementioned blind spot. Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of extra storage sections as the deep glovebox is really narrow and the door cards don’t have any sizeable pockets to boast. Engine noise is fine while driving though slight road abrasions cause a lot of road noise and an unacceptable amount of rattling through the car.
Ride & Handling: Although at cruising speeds, the handling doesn’t throw any nasty surprises, it is terribly unstable over bumps and through long bends. Similarly, the suspension setup is fair for non-strenuous driving conditions but once you take it out of its comfort zone, the amount of body roll is quite alarming. The accelerator has a slight dead spot which, when coupled with a vague clutch feedback and biting point, is a bit irritating starting off from standstill. Vagueness through the clutch pedal also presents itself when changing gear as there is very little assurance of engagement. On the plus side, the brakes are solid. After a motorway blast up to 90mph, the Escort slowed down steadily with no wild direction changing. Off the motorway and into the suburbs, the car felt more at home and provided reasonable performance though I found it odd to have the engine stuttering while on tick-over revs in 2nd gear. Most cars would handle that menial task without hesitation.
Performance: When driving the Escort, you really get the idea that Ford threw in the towel to put all their weight behind its replacement, the Ford Focus – which, essentially, they did. Off the line, it is extremely poor in getting up to speed and 3rd gear could do with a longer ratio. Torque is virtually non-existent as 3rd gear will be needed to get you up any sizeable incline with relative ease. In 5th gear at 50mph, there was no pull as it laboured up through the revs on the motorway. It reached a power band somewhere in the region of 4000rpm but the engine was crying under the stress. Like most Ford cars I’ve driven, the gears slot well into position. Performance figures leave nothing to write home about. It takes 14 seconds to reach 60mph and it will eventually reach a top speed of 105mph. The 75bhp CVH engine has roots in Ford cars from the early 1980s and one could only assume the 1.6L provides a more sensible option.
Equipment: Electric front windows and a flimsy sunroof are about the only ‘extras’ on this car. The heater system caused a smell of petrol to enter the cabin at one point on the test-drive which was a little worrying and very discomforting. A CD switch appears on the console but the version I test-drove did not include a CD player disappointingly. A radio/cassette machine is the stock fitting and easy to use producing a warm sound, but it is featureless save for a few basic audio control settings. Safety comes in the form of a driver airbag and the cup holders can be rendered useless due to their nonsensical position on the glove box tray. Something also worth bearing in mind is the odometer which is not electronic and, therefore, liable to being clocked. Admittedly, the little equipment that you receive is easy to use but the petrol tank nozzle system is a complete disaster. It uses the ignition key in order to open and breaking the key in the lock seems too easy to do. When filling the car up on the test-drive, I needed to ask the owner to reattach the nozzle for fear I would damage it or the key.
Reliability: Door locks on the car give up the ghost after a while and, because of an electronic central locking system, can be expensive to get repaired at a garage. Despite an array of electrical issues cropping up, most elements will survive if maintained correctly. The owner of the test car complained of a radiator fan failure during their time of ownership and the interior mirror coming away from its mounting. Engine and gearbox systems are solid though.
Economy/Running Costs/Value: At 32mpg (combined) the Escort doesn’t weigh up uber-competitively against its class rivals, nor against its successor. Some drivers have quoted MPG figures close to 40, however. The 1.4L engine has a cubic capacity of 1391cc meaning it falls under the tax-band that now charges €385 per year. Escorts are going cheap and even fully NCT’d models with good service history and low mileage can be bought for around €500 but be careful about this hook. Escorts have hit rock-bottom in the depreciation league, as far as I’m concerned, and it will be another decade or so before owners and insurance companies consider them classic. If you stretch your budget a few hundred euros further, the Ford Focus falls right into your lap and this really is much more refined. Maybe it’s unfair to base the Escort against its superior replacement but even its rivals during the 1990s gave you more car for the money e.g. Toyota Corolla, VW Golf/Vento, Honda Civic
FOR: Suitable for towns and national roads, cheap cost-price, mechanically reliable, diesel options
AGAINST: Laboured motorway performance, very few features, lacking in excitement, outperformed extensively by rivals, electronic issues