Four By Four By Ford

Like most mechanical objects, cars will give trouble sooner or later. I have a theory that on less-expensive models minor, niggling defects will begin after about 4000 miles, and that more expensive models will start to develop defects at around 10,000 miles.

Judging by reports of long-term road-tests in the weekly motor journals, I do not seem to be far out, even in the enlightened 1980s. . . So I feel I should write of an exception to this distressing tendency, having driven a Ford 2.8 Sierra XR4x4 which has run 25,000 miles from new with no troubles at all.

The choice of this Sierra depended largely on my need for a grippy vehicle on winter roads, and I am glad the XR4x4 has permanent four-wheel drive. Being able to select FWD as and when required might, in theory, save wear on tyres and mechanism. But one never knows when black ice will prevail round the next corner, and for one who has the greatest difficulty in making up his mind, the denial of a 2WD option is highly satisfactory.

I had wondered whether there might be teething pains with the Ferguson system, this being Ford’s first adoption of it; but nothing whatsoever has gone wrong, and Le Mans winner Tony Rolt is fully justified in his enthusiasm for it. The chain somewhere in the transmission has not broken, the fluid couplings have not slipped, and most of the time I forget I am driving a 4WD car. The grip on winter roads, let alone one’s freedom to park and climb almost anywhere, is, however, as remarkable as it is reassuring.

I am equally well satisfied with this Sierra on other counts. The seats are comfortable on 200-mile non-pause journeys, and the fine movement of the seat-squab angle is useful for shifting one’s driving position. The instruments are easily read, and I have come to live without an oil gauge. The fuel-gauge takes time to record but is then very accurate, and there are two gallons in reserve after the needle goes “into the red”.

I have no complaints about the lamps, and night motoring is helped by rheostat dimming of the instrument-lighting, although not of the bright clock, which has never stopped or shown incorrect time. Heater controls are lit but not vent adjusters, for which one has to fumble after dark.

The engine is too rough at motorway pace, which is no doubt why Ford now has a new 2.9-litre power-unit in these cars. The V6 push-rod ohv 150 bhp engine in the present XR4x4 has served Ford very well in its bigger higher-performance cars and vans, and although updated with fuel-injection and able to run up to 6,500 rpm, is perhaps due for replacement. But I can tolerate it, as I can return to manual gearbox.

This five-speed box is smooth enough for the changes you use most frequently, but stiff when going from third into the lower gears. Fifth is so accommodating that one wonders whether it is undergeared. The engine certainly pulls it from very low speeds.

It is more imagination than fact that, after 25,000 miles, there seem to be some mild body rattles, and the clutch seems rather more fierce.

The key-note of the XR4x4 is convenience — it is easy to drive, the minor controls are sensibly placed (what better than four switches at the driver’s right hand for rear wipe/wash, rear window heater, and front and rear fog lamps?), power-steering feels good and there are no handling tricks. The much-appreciated central-locking and two-position sun-roof have been 100% reliable like the electric front windows and the rest of the car, and with split back seats and the large boot I have never had need of an estate-car. Suspension and ground-clearance are well suited to rough tracks.

What of the ABS brakes? Well, I waited for a patch of polished black ice on which it was very difficult to stand, drove onto it fast, and stamped on the brake pedal, ready to back-off instantly for the expected sideways slide into the ditch. But the Sierra just stopped without diverting; I think perhaps Ford might fit a red ABS triangle on the boot lid!

I have never had occasion to check the milometer with a fifth wheel, but Ford once had a good reputation for accurate mileage-recorders and this one seems more so than those on some other cars. Petrol consumption over almost the entire mileage has been consistently between 26 and 27 mpg. You may care to cut that down a trifle if you drive as if there is a rally car after you; even so, 25-plus from a 125 mph car is not bad, surely? The Castrol stays at “full” on the accessible dip-stick between services.

The original Uniroyal tyres (the make on which Ford did much of its 4WD experimentation, I believe) lasted 19,114 miles, and have been replaced with Michelin MXVs, because these were what the local tyre-factor ordered. There were two slow punctures in the tubeless Uniroyals.

Blemishes now consist of an out-of-action offside mirror, clobbered on a snowy road by an approaching driver who did not know the width of his car (it was a knock-out blow but it was his that went down for the count, whereas l can still see in mine) and a broken glass in the offside indicator lamp, but not so bad that the bulb needed replacing.

So I can sign off as a very satisfied Sierra customer! WB