Ford's new 2.8 litre, fuel injected, Capri

Now that I have driven the 2.8i Capri for some ten days, ten days in which the car was driven at very high speed from Germany, at more sedate speeds for commuting and at a relatively leisurely pace down to Cornwall, I am very disappointed. Not with the 2.8 Capri, but with the 3.0S version which I use normally.

Usually, after a road test, I climb back into the 3.0S thinking how lucky I am to have a car which will reach 60 in a shade under nine seconds, cruise all day at 100+ m.p.h., return 22 to 24 m.p.g., depending on how it is driven, and yet costs under £7,000 - a useful yardstick against which to judge other manufacturer's products. If the road test car has been an expensive super-car, I realise that such vehicles are not for normal mortals, and think how lucky I am to have a car which comes reasonably close. If it is a run of the mill saloon, then it is doubly gratifying to hear the snarl of the exhausts as I accelerate through the gears.

The 2.8 has changed all that, for it does everything the 3.0S does, but it does it so much better, in such a refined manner, and I cannot console myself with the thought that it costs twice as much, for its tax inclusive price is under £8,000 - and that includes items which are optional on the S, and which would push the price of the 3-litre to over the £7,000 mark.

It is the first child of Ford's recently constituted Special Vehicle Engineering Department, and was nurtured from conception to birth in a shade over nine months by this small but capable team, led by Rod Mansfield. The recipe is quite simple in outline - take one Capri body shell, trim to Ghia specifications, add a 2.8-litre fuel-injected engine from a Granada, fit suspension, brakes and tyres to match, decorate with "injection" badges to taste and so on. It is to the team's great credit that the fitting of the suspension, brakes and tyres to match has been done so very well, matching the car's handling, roadholding and braking to its extra performance to produce a beautifully balanced, high speed touring car, superior to many costing half as much again. The only quibble that I have is with the "injection" badges - I would have chosen a more discreet size!

The interior of the body is trimmed with very pleasing blue checked fabric and thick carpeting which covers the lower parts of the doors. The head lining is matt black, and the instrument panel is just the same as that fitted to the 3.0S version. The seats are by Recaro, and are the same as those which may be had as an option on the lesser Capris, save that the "tennis racket" style head-rests have been replaced by properly upholstered versions. A stereo radio/cassette player and sunshine roof are standard items.

The subsitution of the German engine for the Essex unit has necessitated a different front cross member and a different bellhousing to mate with the manual-only gearbox. The suspension has been lowered by an inch all round and Bilstein struts are employed at the front with up-rated springs. At the rear, the axle is located simply by single-leaf half-elliptic springs, again uprated, and its movements are damped by Bilstein shock absorbers. Anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear, but these are 2 mm. thicker than those fitted to the 3.0S. The brakes at the front are revised with ventilated discs and heavy-duty pads are employed. The wheels are 13" X 7", of a very distinctive design and carry 205/60 Goodyear NCT tyres.

In Bosch K-Jetronic injected form, with transistorised ignition, the 2.8 engine develops 160 b.h.p. at 6,100 r.p.m. This is delivered very smoothly throughout the range. It is impressive how the car will pull away from below 25 m.p.h. in top gear without any snatch or hesitation, while at the other end of the engine speed scale, it happily whistles up to 6,100 r.p.m. (at which speed an ignition cut-out operates) delighting in being revved, unlike the 3-litre which shouts for an upward change between 4,500 and 5,000 r.p.m. It is only in the middle engine speed range that the Cologne engine is slightly inferior to the Essex unit, for the maximum torque levels are lower, with a consequent deterioration in top gear performance. Gone is that laziness-inducing push in the back when flooring the throttle at about 2,500 to 3,000 r.p.m. in top to pass an obstruction - in the 2.8 you need to change down.

The handling of the car is superb. It is beautifully chuckable and is well behaved on the limit, with no nasty vices. Unlike the 3-litre, which has tendencies towards understeer when pushed hard, the 2.8 is very neutral. The grip from the NCT tyres in all conditions is truly amazing, especially so in the dry, but once they do let go, for instance on a smooth, polished surface, it takes time to regain grip as the car has to be travelling so fast to unstick them in the first place. I learnt about this the hard way, while enjoying a couple of laps of the Nurburgring. Expecting the understeer I am used to from the 3-litre when entering a corner fast, I automatically induced a power-on tail slide. This was a mistake, for it broke the grip of the NCTs and resulted in a fish-tailing exercise. As I gathered everything together and headed off to the next corner, I realised that I should have given the design team credit for improving the handling of the car to such an extent that the minimal natural understeer can be balanced very easily on the throttle alone without having to deliberately put the car into an oversteering attitude. The 2.8 driven almost sedately achieves the same cornering speeds as the 3.0S on the ragged edge, and when the 2.8 is on the ragged edge itself, it handles better than the 3-litre. It amazes me how a single leaf rear spring can locate the back axle so effectively, giving characteristics so much better than many independent set ups.

Leaving the Eifel Mountains, we headed cross country for Belgium and the French coast. On the road, the car is so much quieter than the Essex engined version, the exhaust being especially subdued until the revs rise towards their maximum when a satisfying roar accompanies the car's progress. Charging up and down the forest lined roads, similar to the better Welsh A roads, I found I was using the gear lever more than I would have expected, and commented to Rod Mansfield, my passenger, that I thought the change had been improved, even though I knew the gearbox was the same unit. The answer should have been obvious - the gear lever has been shortened, making the travel between the gears that much less, and the change more positive. The ride on rough surfaces is somewhat harsher, which is to be expected in view of the uprated springs, but roll on corners is considerably reduced. The power assisted steering has three turns from lock to lock and has rather more feel than the previous model. This, coupled with the more neutral handling, made the hilly and twisty roads a real pleasure to drive along, although the inside rear wheel tended to spin very easily if power was applied too soon on the exit from a tight bend.

The performance in the gears never failed to delight me. Whether it was charging between corners for the sheer exhilaration of speed, or being employed more sensibly for safe overtaking, it was a source of immense satisfaction. 60 m.p.h. comes up in well under 8 seconds from standstill and second gear will carry the car on to 65 m.p.h. before the limiter comes into operation. Third is good for over 90, and once out on to the autobahn, we discovered that maximum revs can be achieved in top gear, some 130 m.p.h., given favourable conditions. The car is happy cruising at 125, and we covered a large number of miles at around this speed, the stability being very confidence inspiring.

Fuel consumption on the hard and very fast journey to Calais worked out at a very creditable 22.7 m.p.g. - my Essex engined car would have returned well under 20 m.p.g. in its futile attempts to keep up - and rose to a very impressive 24.8 m.p.g. for commuting from Berkshire into the city, rising still further to 27.2 m.p.g. when used gently (but nonetheless at speeds which would have had me in trouble if the boys in blue had seen me) for a long weekend in Cornwall. The car could be made even more economical if a five-speed gearbox was used - it is not under-geared in its present form, but it could easily pull an overdrive fifth which would add enormously to the pleasure of driving the car long distances on motorways.

At £7,995, no-one can claim that it is a cheap car in real terms, but to obtain similar performance and comfort, one has to look at least at a Porsche 924 (£9,100), which only beats the Capri on fuel consumption, or a 2.5 V6 Alfa Romeo GTV at £9,400. The Ford does not have the magic of these names, but it deserves great success for it does the same job at less initial cost and it will almost certainly be cheaper to run. - P.H.J.W.