Road test

Ford Escort RS Turbo
Packaging is everything

At the end of last year, Ford announced that it would build 5,000 examples of a new model, the Escort RS Turbo. When a company mentions the figure 5,000 it means one thing, homologation for Group A. Sure enough, Richard Longman soon had one out in the British Saloon Car Championship and in September debuted it in the. Tourist Trophy round of the ETC. The Silverstone performance was impressive. Longman started from ninth place on the grid which was not only well clear of the Alfa Romeo GTV6s which have recently dominated class 2, but it was also ahead of every BMW. The car retired early on with clutch trouble but was leading its class at the time.

If in competition terms, the RS Turbo has been promising, in commercial terms it has been a great success with public demand causing 10,000 to be built.

At the heart of the plot is a Garrett AiResearch T3 turbocharger allied to an XR3i engine with a lower compression ratio, 8.3:1 against the usual 9.5:1. This is an astonishingly good marriage with boost available from 1,500 rpm and reaching a peak of 1.5 atmospheres at 2,500 rpm. The result is a flexible, free-revving, unit with turbo lag discernible only when one labours the engine. In common with some other makers of what we must now call second generation turbo installations, Ford has not fitted a turbo pressure gauge for one is simply not needed.

Maximum output is 130 bhp at 6,000 rpm with 128.5 lb ft torque at 3,000 rpm. These translate into a claimed maximum speed of 125 mph and while the 0-60 mph time of 8.3 seconds which we achieved (Ford’s figure is 8.2 seconds) is good, but not startling, by current standards, the engine performs very well in the mid-range.

To cope with the extra power, Ford has incorporated a viscous limited slip differential with the front wheels located by longitudinal tie bars on each side, similar to the RS1600i. A thicker rear anti-roll bar is fitted along with stiffer springs. The standard XR3i braking system, ventilated discs at the front, drums at the rear, has been retained but with the addition of special cooling ducts and heavy duty pads and linings. The brakes are not only good but they impart a lot of feel.

Externally the main differences are an all-white finish (you can have any colour you like as long as it’s white), some additional mouldings and Ford’s spoked alloy “RS” 6J 15 in wheels with low profile Michelins. List price of the standard car is £9,563 but our test car had the “Custom pack”, a glass sunroof, central locking, electric windows and Recaro seats which bumps the price up to £10,070. This is not cheap for a small car, even if it is perhaps the most enjoyable hot hatch currently available on the British market. The phrase “currently available” is important for waiting in the wings is the 16solve Golf GTi which, in my view, is the cream of the class.

Still the RS Turbo is a well integrated package offering a good level of equipment and, with its external modifications, that indefinable, but important, sporty image.

It’s an image which is backed by the car in every respect. That bane of many powerful fwd cars, torque steer, has been eliminated completely and the only time one ever haste fight the steering wheel is when accelerating hard with a fair degree of lock on. To induce front wheel tramp one has to be fairly brutal and when it does occur, one is not driving for maximum acceleration. This car is swiftest given gentle handling; 2,000 rpm and a little slipping of the clutch achieves the best results from rest.

When recording our performance figures, it was remarkable how quickly every driver who sat in the car managed to record a quick ‘time, with 8.3 sec for 0-60 mph standing as the quickest. With gear changes at 30 mph and 50 mph, the 0-60 mph time is understandably not the car’s outstanding feature. Where it scores is in the odd range as the accompanying tables show.

Ford claims a maximum speed of 125 mph and this seems reasonable. On the two mile straight at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground we achieved a mean of 116.2 mph with a best one-way pass of 127.1 mph but we did have a pretty stiff following wind.

With wider tyres fitted, steering is heavier than on the XR3i. It’s one of those cases where the car would be more pleasant with slightly lighter steering basis still a long way from needing pas. This combined with stiffer springing and a feeling of tautness throughout the whole structure makes it an ideal driver’s car but all my passengers commented that the ride was uncomfortable on uneven surfaces. Even slight variations in the road surface brought complaints from the passenger seat, and I must say that my perception of the ride changed when I rode as a passenger.

I was still able to complete 450 miles driving in a day without feeling at all tired though with an average fuel consumption of 22.9 mpg, the car has to pay a visit to the pumps every 240 miles. After 1,100 miles the sump needed a pint of oil.

The Recaro seats subtly alter one’s physical attitude to the steering wheel and I was never able to achieve as comfortable a driving position as is possible with the standard seats. The Recaros, however, provide excellent lateral support though stockily built drivers would perhaps find them impossible to sit in. Their seat squabs also interfere with the gear change unless the passenger seat is moved back and this makes for restricted legroom for rear passengers.

The rest of the interior is up to XR3i standard which is to say that the ergonomics and convenience are first class while, when driving into the sun, the top of the instrument binnacle reflects unpleasantly onto the windscreen. Anything which impairs a driver’s visibility receives black marks from me.

When pressed towards its limits, the car is a natural understeerer and the outside front wheel on a bend will start to tramp a little. The front end will quickly respond to the throttle or a small dab on the brake. Driving briskly, but sensibly, on public roads, handling is almost neutral. At any speed and even cornering hard on a test track, there is little roll and one always has a pleasing sensation of a tight, well-integrated, machine.

All in all, the RS Turbo is a well-engineered, tight, package which will doubtless fulfil Ford’s hopes on race circuits while giving private owners a distinctive sporting car, albeit one which is not particularly cheap nor economical. — M.L.