We are looking for a real jump in sales, not just a steady rise in line with last year.” The words of Derek Barron, Chairman and Chief Executive of Ford, on the occasion of the announcement of the Sierra Sapphire, the three-box variant which rounds the company’s medium car out to a range of 18 models.
Ford’s consistent success made it tempting to highlight the slow start that sales of the unconventional-looking Sierra had, but by last year the jelly-mould, as it was unkindly dubbed, had hit number three in the sales charts (behind Escort and Fiesta) and was the best-selling company car.
This is despite the fact that 40% of the medium car market goes to cars with boots; so the five-door Sierra was putting up a good fight with one arm tied behind its back. Now that extra marketing punch has been released with the four-door version.
Rather than pretend that the car is a genetically distinct model, Ford has linked the Sierra title with the Sapphire name. But in fact the new arrival differs in most areas from the old series, and the rest of the Sierra range is upgraded to match. More glass in slimmer window pillars, and a new nose blending indicators with lamps are the obvious changes; the shells of all models are stiffer, screen pillars and bumpers are foam-filled to absorb noise and impact respectively, the headlamps are more powerful, and even the central locking is claimed to be quieter, though it seemed little different on the car I tried.
These changes together with the three-box design are enough to make the Sapphire look almost a new car, and what is more it feels like the product of an altogether more prestigious manufacturer. Firmer suspension is well-damped, while tuned engine dampers and improved sound insulation very successfully subdue the far from quiet 2-litre OHC injection unit of 115 bhp fitted to the Ghias the Press drove — up to about 5,500 rpm, anyway. The standard 1.6, 1.8, and 2.0 carb units of 75, 90, and 105 bhp are also available, plus the 67 horsepower 2.3 diesel.
Passengers benefit from new seats, which felt rather relaxing, and have pneumatic lumbar adjustment at Ghia level, plus height-adjustable seat-belts. Boot space is generous, but may be augmented with the split folding rear seat.
In front of the driver is an attractive and logical dash, easy to read, with rounded, chunky, positive switches which enhance the surprising feel of quality, and indeed the entire car seemed particularly well put together. Granted these were pilot-built cars, but if production standards are as high, the results will be a long way from the Cortina.
Other expensive touches include the electric de-icing screen (available on 2-litre cars) and Ford’s new high-security locks, while all models can be fitted with the more sophisticated of Ford’s two ABS systems, the electronic system from Granada rather than the Lucas mechanical SCS (Stop Control System) front-wheel-only unit.
On the road, the Sapphire feels much tauter than I remember standard Sierras to be, with a refined ride and low noise levels. The projecting gutters, which seem so out of place on this smooth car, remain attached to the hatchback, but have been replaced on the Sapphire with runaways concealed in the shut line of the taller doors, winch open further into the roof-line. Stability at speed is improved by plastic strakes which control airflow around the rear of both body-styles; these are part of the rear quarter surround on the hatch, and incorporated in the rear glass treatment of the four-door.
Switching to one of the new hatches showed that some of the extra refinement simply comes from being isolated from the resonance of the luggage space; although the five-door shares the improvements, the benefits are Iess obvious.
An attractive car, overall, but the Sapphire awaits its moment of glory later this year. The XR4x4 will continue to be built only as a hatch, but the next Sapphire to be announced will be an RS Cosworth with the 205 bhp turbo engine. Pricing is guesswork so far, but it is unlikely to be the bargain that the current Cosworth was. Everyday Sapphires will start at £7,272, with prices going up to £10,845 for the 2.0i Ghia. GC