New cars: Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

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No limits

Sitting in the driver’s seat, this could be either of the previous Cosworths: ahead is the well-known Sierra dash, small leather-clad wheel and gear-knob, and 170mph speedometer. But there is no boost gauge, a pointer to the less aggressive buyer Ford hopes to reach with this 150mph luxury supercar, and this time there are no limits to production. And at £19,000, much less than expected, it pitches right into Saab, BMW and Audi territory with a big performance edge and the accolade of a Design Council Award.

Fitting the Cosworth running gear into a Sapphire Ghia shell has transformed the character of the car: improved rigidity from the three-box shape, plus last year’s other mainstream Sierra improvements such as larger windows and better sealing and insulation go together with refinements to the suspension to make a much more relaxing car which is virtually as responsive on the road.

Most noticeable is the feel of the MacPherson-strut front end: gone is the race-track sharpness and wander over irregularities, replaced by more consistent feedback due to added castor. By dropping the original Cosworth’s high roll-centre back towards a more normal level, front-end bite, and thus potential oversteer, has been traded for more stability, and this is no real loss thanks to the excellent load-sensitive power-steering. At the back the trailing-arm layout remains, although the standard Sierra’s latest tubular subframe is incorporated, rubber bushes give way to uniball joints for crispness, and the extreme negative camber has been much reduced to give a flatter tyre contact patch.

Spring stiffness has gone up slightly all round, but softer damping keeps comfort levels more than acceptable, while there is much less noise transmitted from the road through the 205/50 x 15 Dunlop D40 tyres on their special alloy rims.

Powering what Ford sees as an executive express is the 204 bhp Cosworth YBB motor with Garrett T3 turbo, which has far more eager mid-range pull than the more extreme 224 bhp RS500 version, boasting 80% of its maximum of 197 lb ft of torque at just 2300 rpm. Coupled with a close-ratio Borg-Warner five-speed, this means real punch in every gear, and with claimed 0-60 mph times of 6.1 sec the RS Cosworth is unrivalled by any saloon at this price (and few at any other). We drove it over twisting and sometimes rough mountain passes, fast main roads, and dual carriageways, and at all times the RS responded more-or-less immediately to the throttle, surging away whether in second or fifth, and accurately following the driver’s wishes.

With a viscous differential to control wheelspin, there is only the occasional chirp from a rear tyre leaving a hairpin, while the actual adhesion and balance are superb. Braking, too, embodies the track-proven four-pot vented disc layout at the front, plain discs behind, with ABS as standard to improve safety margins, and it stood up perfectly to heavy mountain use.

Although this is a 150mph saloon, Ford hopes to sell it into the company car-park alongside middling BMWs, and to this end it boasts plush velour trim, Recaro seats and heated screen, plus power windows, locks, and sun-roof. However, these are hardly sufficient to give it the same prestige, so Ford will need to stress the staggering performance and last year’s competition successes to give it the necessary glamour. Nor does it feel the same class of quality car in build, although the latest Sierras and Sapphires are much improved and well up with their more usual rivals.

Yet in RS guise, the Sapphire is actually a handsome car, much more restrained than its biplaned predecessor; with a smallish boot spoiler, foam-filled front bumper/airdam and flared rocker panels between the wheels, the car is recognisably different, recording a Cd factor of 0.33, and it should be turning in better than 22mpg. There is no doubt that Ford has done all the right things to push the Sapphire Cosworth (officially it is called merely RS Cosworth in Britain, and just plain Cosworth on the Continent, which is bound to lead to confusion with the two previous versions) away from the road-racer image towards that of a fast all-round five-seater, and in this is has succeeded admirably — the new Cosvvorth is a much “better” car. Yet there was an appeal in that raw homologation special idea which I think I shall miss. GC

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