NEW CARS

4x4x4

If turbocharging was the gimmick of the Eighties, four-wheel-drive is destined to become that of the Nineties. This is not to deride the efforts of the manufacturers of utilitarian vehicles, which are often used in terrain which require that all the wheels be driven, but to highlight the fashion of today.

If there had to be a choice between having a turbocharged car or four-wheeldrive, this reviewer would betray his boy racer instincts and plump for the go-faster car. But his heart would be ruling his head for there can be no doubt that having all the wheels driven is a significant safety factor.

Ford, though, has gone one better. In the original Cosworth, it had a street legal racing car. It was instantly recognisable and did wonders for the entire Sierra model range. The Sapphire Cosworth, however, has not fared so well. That it has been toned down in appearance is partly to account for this, but neither has it acquired the same racing cachet despite some track success.

As a marketing tool, it was virtually a loss leader and the time was coming to drop it or replace it. Before that happened though, it was placed in the hands of Ford's Special Vehicle Engineering to see what it could come up with. At the same time Cosworth Engineering in Northampton was contracted to refine the engine. In the background, Ford's motorsport department kept a weather eye on proceedings to see if anything appeared that it could use.

The result is the four-wheel-drive version of the Sapphire Cosworth which replaces the two-wheel-drive model.

If Ford's stated ambition of successfully returning to World Championship rallying is going to be realised then four-wheeldrive is the only way to go. Not since the arrival of the quattro at the turn of the Eighties has a two-wheel-drive car stood a chance of consistently winning international events.

With this in mind, Special Vehicle Engineering has produced a car that can be readily converted into a rally car while at the same time offer the well-breached family man a safe but rapid luxury saloon.

A chance to drive a German registered version in Spain, complete with three-way catalytic convertor, denoted by its green cam covers, illustrated just what an outstanding car this is. Hardly a month goes by it seems without some new model being produced which moves the goalposts. There has recently been the new BMW M5, the 20-valve Audi quattro and now the four-wheel-drive Sapphire Cosworth. That it can be listed in such company only goes to show just how far Ford has come in recent years. There is a cost to pay, however, and in this case it is approximately £3000, for the new model now costs £24,995 compared to the £22,000 of the superceded model. While the all-drive system must account for some of the price hike, it must be said that the Cosworth engine has undergone a

dramatic overhaul so that now something like 80-90% of it is completely new.

Maximum horsepower has been increased from 204 bhp to 220 bhp at 6250 rpm but more impressive is the torque curve where 80% of the 214 lb ft is available from 2300 rpm, with or without the three-way catalytic convertor. If the pull from the engine was staggering because of this low-down tractability then it was also remarkable in its docility. It would become an uncaged lion when occasion demanded, but otherwise was as gentle as a kitten. This, together with the prodigious amount of grip, for which the new Bridgestone tyres must take some of the credit, were the real eye openers. Yes it can reach something like 140 mph and it can accelerate to 60 mph in about 6 seconds, but those figures just cannot illustrate the car's overall performance of being fast, safe, surefooted, in fact, excelling in every important department. Where the two-wheel-drive car was known to sort out the men from the boys, particularly in the wet, the four-wheel-drive car has created a new benchmark in fast, but safe, driving for the average driver.

Whereas Ford's four-wheel-drive range as far the Sierra was concerned was confined to the XR4x4 with the 2.9 V6 engine, the entry level has now been opened up with the announcement that the 2-litre twin cam engine is now powering a four-wheel-drive Sierra, Sierra estate and Sierra Sapphire.

A chance to drive the latter model showed it to be a comfortable, well thought out car. As with all the 1990 cars in the Sierra range, it features the latest mid-term revisions such as a reprofiled bonnet, re-designed radiator air intakes, darkened tail lamps, a higher level of trim and ABS brakes. Without the punch of the Cosworth engine it was nonetheless a pleasant car to drive. The ride was less harsh and yet its handling was virtually impeccable, the only bad manners it displayed being a slight twitch as dry tarmac turned to wet on the apex of a curve under a tree. At £15,700 for 2-litre versions of the Sapphire Ghia 4x4 or £16,000 for the XR4x4 it is not cheap, but it will enable many more drivers experience the safer pleas ures of four-wheel-driving. WPK