Although our friends in Europe have been able to buy Ford's XR4i Sierra since the end of April, right-hand-drive versions did not appear in the UK until last month. The feeling is that the additional wait has been worth it, the 2.8-litre V6 fuel-injected engined Sierra providing a much needed fillip to this occasionally tormented range which in essence replaced the ubiquitous Cortina. Indeed Ford itself has high hopes for the XR4i, anticipating it will account for more than seven per cent of Sierra sales in the UK.
Ford now has a performance version of each of its European models, and the introduction of the XR4i brings inevitable comparisons with the Capri 2.8 Injection, the model which refuses to die. Despite repeated mumbles from Ford about the continued life of the Capri, customer demand has resulted in at least one stay of execution, and the addition of a five-speed gearbox has meant that the Capri will still be with us at least until the middle of next year.
The XR4i and 2.8 Injection Capri share the same 2,795 c.c. all-iron V6 with electronic ignition and Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, so there is some basis for comparison. However, the XR4i has new, tuned inlet and exhaust manifolds (the engine delivers 150 b.h.p. at 5,700 r.p.m. and 161 lb. ft. of torque at 3,800 r.p.m.), plus the advantage of a revised close ratio five-speed gearbox as well as a lower (3.62:1) final drive.
Ford claims the Sierra covers 0-60 m.p.h. in nine seconds, although early test reports indicate this is somewhat pessimistic with more than a second coming off this time, compared with eight seconds or so for the Capri 2.8i. The latter has a top speed of around 125 m.p.h. compared with 130 m.p.h., so it would seem that they are evenly matched.
However, the XR4i in our brief acquaintance in France and Germany, proved a more refined, relaxed car, a fact which is hardly suprising since the Capri is more than 10 years old. Nevertheless, the 2.8 Injection will undoubtedly remain a car which appeals more to the enthusiast. Despite the fact that its brakes are worse (the Sierra with its up-rated front discs and rear drums still suffers from fade, but it's not as terminal as the sporting Capri) and the ride far from adequate, the Capri 2.8i is what one might describe as "hairy chested" whereas the XR4i had acquired a somewhat more sophisticated veneer. The car maybe for Capri 2.8 Injection owners in 10 years time?
The most obvious feature of the XR4i is its unique hi-plane rear spoiler, an addition which may bring the drag factor to a very respectable 0.32 Cd (0.34 for the normal Sierra) but does nothing for the rather lumpish Sierra looks. There are also more subtle amendments to the body line with faired, polycarbonate side mouldings to cover the wider 195 / 60 low profile tyres on 14" wheels. Certainly the overall image is of increased performance and implied speed, heightened by the use of very comfortable Remo sports seats and a most comprehensive standard specification.
Our brief flirtation at the start of April served to confirm that the XR4i is a most relaxing car to drive at high-speed for hours on end on the German autobahn system. The claimed 130 m.p.h. top speed is easily attainable in fifth and wind noise at 100 plus is commendably low. With its stiffer front and rear springs (the car retains the MacPherson strut front and semi-trailing arm rear suspension of the normal Sierra, but with a thicker front anti-roll bar and the addition of one at the rear), ride is firm, but comfortable. The basic handling is towards slight understeer, but under pressure it is possible to lift a rear wheel on tight hairpins and provoke a slide.
In the near future we hope to have a much longer acquaintanceship with this worthy addition to the Sierra theme. — M.R.G.