Ford Ghia Sierra 4x4 Estate

When Ford recently launched the Sierra Ghia 4x4 Estate one detected a certain amount of reticence in the way it was shown to journalists it was a Ford Sierra Estate, and we all knew about the load-carrying capacity of that sturdy workhorse. It was to be sold only with the Ghia level of trim which, we all knew, is a level of competent refinement with all those extras like central locking. electric windows, tinted glass sun roof (slide and tilt), cloth upholstery and height adjustment for the driver's seat, and so on which are the feature of most maker's up market models.

This car had the three differential, viscous coupling 4WD system, created by FF Developments, which so many of us have liked on the Sierra SR 4x4i and the Scorpio 4x4.i It was, in fact, an amalgamation of a number of Ford elements, all of them admirable, but which hardly constituted an exciting new model.

In the event, I felt disinclined to write about the car tor, try as I might. I could not think of a great deal to say about it Ford's own message was that with a car which can easily cost more then £15.000, as the test car did, it was moving into the green wellie and Barbour market.

One of Motor Sport's sister magazines is "Out Of Town", a nicely written and presented monthly devoted to country and leisure pursuits. It was for "Out Of Town" that I agreed to book the Sierra Ghia 4X4 Estate for test but having lived with it for a week and well over a thousand miles. I want to share the good news.

I expected little more than an average week's motoring from this car I expected to like Ford's 4WD system with its 34/66 torque split, for I always have. I expected tube impressed by the electronic ABS system, but then everybody is I expected to be grateful for the decent, if not special. air conditioning unit for I was driving the car in summer. I expected to quite like, but not enthuse over, the five speed gearbox (not one of Ford's better jobs, but not actually bad, and to quite enjoy the 2.8 litre V6 engine which all the literature tells us gives 150 bhp Some Animal Rights organisation should look into this for even subtracting muscle for the three differentials and the air conditioning, those alledged 150 horses must be all skin and bone.

What I did not expect was to end my week with this estate car so completely bowled over by it. The combination of the familiar elements translate into a car which is unusually competent and versitile.

It does not quite have the tautness of the Sierra XR4x4i, the body squeaks over rough roads give that much away, even before you try to corner hard. It remains, though, an extremely sure-footed vehicle which can be flung around, where conditions permit, in a most satisfying way. Not many cars will match it across country.

When makers quote luggage capacity in terms of cubic feet, they lose me for I can never visualise what they mean in real terms and, besides, such figures do not take into account items like wheel arches. What I do understand is how easy it was to accomodate a 16 cu ft cabinet deep freezer and a couple of tea chests in the back without having to lower the smaller of the 60/40 split rear seats. There is no boot lip and the rear suspension is self-levelling so even with a fairly heavy load in the back, the effect on handling was minimal.

The Caravan Club voted the Sierra XR 4x4i its 'Tow Car 01 1086' and the Estate inherits that accolade It is, in fact, the ideal sportsman's shooting brake, just the thing to tow a horse box or dinghy, or to load up with fishing rods and to set off after Scotch salmon.

Long journeys can be undertaken at speed and in comfort. The air conditioning unit kept the occupants cool during a very hot spell. Ford's claimed maximum of 124 mph was proven under favourable conditions but I reserve judgement about a genuine two way average. Although 0-60 mph is not especially rapid, at a claimed 9.2 seconds, the engine is flexible and real acceleration (i.e. overtaking) is impressive under all conditions.

Some may baulk at a Ford Sierra with a £15,000 ilist price on the grounds that such an outlay should buy a car with more prestige. But taking into account the levels of interior and exterior finish, which are very high, the equipment and the advanced technology lurking under the shell, allowing too for this car's versatility and the sheer fun of driving it, it seems remarkably good value. Certainly it would be a strong candidate to be one half of my 'Ideal Pair'. - M.L.