Let's twist again

The Ford Escort RS Cosworth is the fifth generation production alliance of Ford Motor Company Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) and Cosworth motivation. It amounts to the result of a complex marital affair between Escort and Sierra. It looks outrageous, but covers twisty tarmac in a manner that befits a car conceived by engineers obsessed with winning the 1993 World Rally Championship.

The straightline speeds achieved do not match some of the earlier Sierra-based RS Cosworth derivatives at a 137 mph maximum (10 mph more without the more obvious aerodynamic appendages), coupled to 0-62 mph in 5.7 secs. Yet it is the cornering capability that provides the outstanding memories of a Ford that retains 6000-mile service intervals, extensive anti-theft precautions and the ability to return 22.8 urban mpg on cheaper unleaded petrol.

UK showrooms will have the 227 bhp Escort for sale in a choice of specifications. These are Sport or Road Standard at £21.380 and the Lux at £23,495. Options are only available for the latter, including leather upholstery at £481 (total £23,976). The "50 to 60" cars likely to be supplied to Sport specification will lack a sunroof and the majority of the electrical assists taken for granted in the current (and continuing, at £20,558) Cosworth RS Sierra 4x4. There will also be many detail deletions for Ford Motorsport that would "only get in the way of somebody building a serious competition car".

Overseeing the project was Ford Motorsport Senior Engineer John Wheeler. John will now return from the 15 man team created to produce the road car at Ford Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) to resume his role progressing the Group A/N competition Escort from Boreham airfield. At the centre of this unique Escort was a determination to use the proven north-south Cosworth engine and associated 4x4 drive beneath a more compact body. This gives Ford Motorsport the fastest rally servicing times, and the chance to utilise and develop further items like the seven-speed gearbox.

In size the latest Cosworth built by Karmann, alongside the Escort cabrio is a cross between the transverse engined Escort and the 4x4 Sierras. It is appreciably broader than either, a little taller and rests on a wheelbase that is 57.5 mm n shorter than a Sierra, 26.55 mm longer than an Escort. Critically, the Escort RS is abbreviated by a useful 283 mm compared to the four-door Ford.

Cosworth reluctantly allowed a fraction more horsepower (7 bhp) from the 1993 cc Cortina descendant. Total outputs now are 227 bhp at 6250 rpm and 223.4 lb ft at 3500. Cosworth retains Weber/Marelli injection management for the time being, but a blue rocker cover tops the usual Cosworth 16v, dohc, layout, albeit mildly modified. It has a lighter flywheel and revised aluminium sump baffles. In 1993, there will be a version with Ford EEC IV electronic management and a smaller turbocharger.

Motorsport requirements dictated employment of the oversize Garrett AiResearch T3/104B turbocharger. This has strong midrange overboost in a bid to overcome the inevitable lag inherent in the public road use of these components. A Ford MT75 five-speed gearbox displayed variable change quality, whilst the usual Ferguson patented 4x4 Ford system allows tremendous road grip without the terminal understeer of so many 4x4 performance cars. Fichtel and Sachs provided the shock absorbers that went into a stiffened version of existing Sierra components. The suspensionis very much more effective under heavy pressure as a bi-directional bushing – with steel inserts – has been applied to the rear cross-member and differential mounts. Many of the components are considerably stronger than before.

Striking 8x16 in Ronal wheels carry unique 225 section Pirelli P Zeros that really work for a living. They do so without protest under all but the most extreme pressure. Aston Martin supplier John McGavignan & Co Ltd supplied unique 'electroluminiscent’ instrument panels, in which no bulbs are employed. They have effective white-faced dials that glow eerily in low light conditions. Supplementary dials to cover volts, oil pressure and boost live in a plastic cowling that carries the Cosworth badge with pride.

The assembly quality achieved at Karmann is outstanding, but it is also worth knowing that body strength under torsional torture is quoted as some 20 per cent above that of front-drive Escorts. This is the result of the design work and extra stamping process involved in the creation of at least 400 unique parts for the Escort RS. You have to work get that sub six-second 0-60 mph performance from the hybrid turbocharger in just the same manner as one had to wind up the old RS500, but the reasons for this driving commitment are rather different. The turbocharger does take until 3000 rpm to supply full boost, but the Escort is also quite a lot heavier than you would expect, some 1275-1306 kg, depending on specification.

This RS Ford did not feel as quick as expected, a sensation reinforced by the fact that when the overboost fades – as it will on a continuously open throttle – it disappears dramatically. That lusty four does not sound particularly appealing as it receives 1.2 bar overboost, but the harshly achieved 6500 rpm gets the job done in dramatic fashion, snarling past obstacles with ferocity. Of course the RS Cosworth is quick, when roused, but it is also very civil at legal speeds.

The test cars had a number of faults that Ford men swear will be fixed before customers take delivery. These included over-run vibrations from exhaust and body, poor trim fit in the cabin, that jaded overboost characteristic and the fact that cabin trim quality varied markedly.

Such doubts fade when faced with an excellent test route and two days' imaginative motoring. Twirl that unlovable steering wheel with determination, and the Escort RS rewards you with unparalleled crosscountry speed. The recalibrated power steering has become a thought transference process, whilst the sheer grip is a class beyond even the Lancia Delta integrate. The usual Ford 4x4 power split (only a third fed to the front wheels, unless the stiffened action of the viscous couplings decides otherwise) do allow oversteer under power rather than terminal understeer. The brakes are magnificent, the best encountered on a recent road car. The sequences that really suit the latest RS Ford are second and third gear flicks over crests and into dips. Then its complete composure emphasises that aerodynamics do assist that uncanny stability.

This Escort masters bumps and cambers, but the ride is deliberately biased to firmness. It can feel as if you have used all the existing travel over particularly rough tarmac, but the skippiness never seems to upset the RS Escort's ability to follow a command at apparently impossible speeds. It is not too fanciful to say that it feels as though you are travelling in a civilised version of a 10 year-old Group B supercar.

In motorway action the stability is more impressive than top speed figures. An Escort Cosworth will skim through a series of 137 mph autobahn curves at a constant 6116 rpm in fifth with a security and accuracy that is unmatched in our road car experience.

Unfortunately sheer driving pleasures may not be enough these days. Although Ford is promising high levels of anti-theft protection with an engine immobilisation added to the double lock doors and alarm, the insurance companies have decided that Cosworths, especially in an even higher performance Escort version, are economically uninsurable. Quotes from £1200-£3000 are now common. Ford will do well to sell the modest UK plan of 700 to 750 of the necessary 2500 winged wonders needed for Jan 1 1993 homologation and the planned Monte Carlo Rally debut.