New Cars

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Revised Ford Escorts & Orions

Over the past twelve months, motoring writers have spent much of their time in the company of Ford personnel as “Uncle Henry” has launched car after car, all of them good. This trend continued when we were flown out to Helsinki recently to sample the new Escort Orion range. Had Ford decided merely to reposition the ashtray it would have been news of a sort, for Escort is Britain’s best selling car but, lately, we’ve come to expect exciting things when Ford issues an invitation.

The big news is that, for the first time on a range of popular family cars, ABS braking is available for a modest premium. Prices will not be announced until after this piece has gone to press, but Ford’s mechanical braking system, developed in conjunction with Lucas-Girling and not to be confused with the electronic system used on the Granada, is expected to add only £300-350 to the list price of a car. What your local dealer will ask you to pay is a different matter since in these days of discounts and deals, list prices are for guidance only. At any rate, this major advance in safety is available at the price of a better stereo, central locking or a sun roof. On the Escort RS Turbo ABS comes as standard.

Externally, the Escort is revised rather than re-styled or face-lifted. There is a new nose treatment, with polycarbonate bumpers, which stylistically brings it into line with the rest of the Ford family. Escort’s tailgate has acquired a lip similar to that we’ve been used to seeing on the Orion, and which is claimed to keep the rear glass clean at speed (wasn’t the same said about the Escort’s “bustle back?”) These detail revisions, with others, such as smoother wheel trim, have lowered the cd factor from 0.38 to 0.36 on Escort saloons and from 0,37 to 0,35 on Orions which are good, but not outstanding, drag figures.

Inside, the instrument layout has been inspired by the Granada range, with stubby levers in place of the old stalks (an arrangement which will be seen on the Sierra range next year). Apart from being convenient in every respect, the new dashboard has an air of quality which was absent on earlier models.

Three other welcome spin-offs from the Granada range are high-security locks, the incorporation of the radio aerial in the rear windscreen (bad news for makers of metal coat hangers) and the option of a heated windscreen.

At present, there are five engine options, with the turbo on its way. Two are unchanged, the 1608 cc 54 bhp diesel and the 1,117 cc 50 bhp unit. There are revisions to the 1.3 and 1.6-litre units in which “lean burn” technology is applied, essential with growing pressure for low pollution and lead-free petrol, and there is a new 1.4-litre, 75 bhp CVH option. The claimed fuel consumption figures for these engines show a useful increase in economy but we remain sceptical about EEC consumption figures, preferring “brim to brim” figures which represent real driving over a variety of conditions.

A five-speed transmission is an option on 1.3 and 1.4 models, a cost-effective option too since fifth is an overdrive which should pay for itself in increased economy. Five-speed transmissions are standard on all 1.6 models with a three-speed automatic option on the 1.6 CVH.

Most of our driving was done in a 1 4 model on compacted snow and ice on studded tyres. There are some areas of performance which, under the circumstances, were not easy to discern. The engine was responsive but, obviously, we were not able to put the claimed figures of 98 mph maximum and 0-60 mph time of 15.8 sec to the test. What did come across were the car’s quietness and the virtues of the ABS system. When the car got out of line, a dab on the brake pedal brought it back, without fuss. It’s impossible to praise this system too highly.

The other car we drove was the Escort 1.6i CVH (XR3i). When you add the smart new interior and ABS to this car’s proven and admired virtues, you have a car which has moved up to the front of the line of medium-sized “hot hatches”. It’s a very competent package with good economy and, according to owners, low service costs. It has become a serious alternative to the Golf GTi in terms of all-round excellence, regardless of price. The Golf has the more enjoyable engine. the Escort has better brakes and gearbox. The Golf has more space and status, the Escort will provide more equipment for the same money — the buyer has to juggle the variables.

We’ve been very impressed by Fords recent models and innovations and are only sorry that the next 12 months will not be as exciting as the past year. Still we’ve got some things to look forward to in the future including new engines and a revised, booted, Sierra next year.