Roots revisited?

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108

The RS2000 lives on in name, but does it do so in spirit?

Remember The Tingler starring Vincent Price, who plays a mad doctor (of course)? Basically, as I recall, the plot is based on his obsession with the film’s namesake, a creature which apparently lies dormant in everyone’s spinal column until the host becomes excessively excited. At this point the Tingler is awakened from its hibernation, grows at a tremendous rate and tightens its grip on the spine, whereupon the victim literally dies of fright.

Mr Price artificially excites an unsuspecting donor so that he can extract the tumescent tingler and examine it.

All of which has what, precisely, to do with road appraisal? Well, unless you unwittingly find yourself as passenger to Colin McRae, you are unlikely to become sufficiently aroused to raise the Tingler whilst in a car, though there have been exceptions. Anything with a TVR badge, for instance. Or, more humbly, in the dim and distant past, the MkII Ford Escort RS2000.

It may have been a rough diamond but, with rear-wheel drive and a spunky exhaust note, it sparkled readily enough. It was nimble, respectably quick for its time and relatively inexpensive before you dived into the morass of aftermarket body and tuning options.

The name lay dormant for several years, but in 1991 Ford revived it. Was this marketing nous, or simply desperation? After all, the spirit of the Mexico had been badly hit by its application to a string of facile Escort models.

Had Ford lost the plot? Initially, it seemed so, because the ‘new’ RS2000 was introduced with several flaws, most of which Ford claims to have resolved since.

In a nutshell, it didn’t handle.

Also, in the overall scheme of things, not only is the RS2000 lower down the order than was its charismatic forebears, it is a mishmash of contradictory values. This car should be raising the goose-pimples on the back of little boys’ necks and providing dads with a ‘should I try re-live my exciting early motoring days dilemma. On showroom appeal alone, it falls way short on both counts. What should be a lesser Cosworth by sight and sound is little more than Auntie Jean’s Escort with a wing and some fancy wheels.

Even in 4wd form, a baby Cosworth this is not, and those who were naïve enough to wish for as much will be bitterly disappointed. In the twilight of its production, the RS2000’s big brother escaped the ’95 facelift. No such luck here. The unfortunate RS2000’s ‘face’ has received the full horrid, rounded and not the least bit sporty nose job, leaving it almost indistinguishable from the rest of the Escort range.

Only the flared sills and lower front lip give an inkling that it’s perhaps not Auntie’s car after all.

You can but hope that it will go better than it looks.

Ford has addressed some of those early handling problems, and the revised front suspension features offset coils and increased castor. There is an overall gain in anti-roll stiffness as a result.

Amongst other detail changes, the power steering benefits from low-friction ball joints.

The two-litre 16-valve DOHC engine delivers the same 150 bhp at 6000rpm. The bare figures tell you that (in two-wheel-drive form, tested here) the RS2000 will pull you to 60 mph in 8.2s and on to a maximum of 129 mph. With a useful spread of torque, peaking at 140 lb-ft / 450Orpm, the in-gear mid-range performance is better.

The RS2000 does benefit from the interior facelift. New trim combines with a neater dash featuring black-on-white dials with red needles, ergonomically improved switchgear and Recaro seats to more successful effect than previously. Whilst not abundant with gizmos (it is annoyingly devoid of a fuel warning light), perceived value for money through improved interior quality is a relatively strong suit.

Turn over the engine and its thrum is as distant as its forebear’s was immediate. If you are of small/average build you can get comfortable, but what’s the point of having a superbly bolstered and contoured seat if you cannot adjust its height? Tilt facility is just enough and I found my thighs brushing the steering column when sitting in my favoured position.

As if the distant engine tones were not enough, both slow speed ride and gear change shout ‘family car’!

Until the Zetec is revved, whereupon it does get harsh and intrusive, general refinement is reasonable. Couple this with handling that is neutral and safe and you have a competent saloon. What you don’t have is what real RS2000 drivers should be asking for.

Yes, it’s quite agile. It is possessed of sharp turn-in and doesn’t understeer unduly for a fwd saloon. It does not roll excessively, but nor does it provide that ‘Tingler’ effect by excelling even in one particular area.

On the switchbacks of the Italian Dolomites and on high-walled snow tyres, it proved to be a capable mile-eater with its abundance of low-down torque which, surprisingly, was largely unable to break the strong traction. But the steering lacked that final touch of feedback, as did the brakes though they’d pull you up efficiently every time. A sense of detachment became apparent before too many miles were consumed.

It would be a different story if the RS2000 wore a different badge. Those six digits seem to be more of a curse than a blessing. Impressive though the Ford is, it doesn’t have the Honda VTec’s brilliant engine, it lacks the Vauxhall Astra’s speed and the Golf GTi’s balance. It is, in effect a jack of all trades, but more importantly, in its efforts to keep up with the best of the refined, it has completely lost sight of its roots.

You need not beware of the Tingler. RRB