Long term report: Ford Sierra XR4x4

The Changeling

Why is it that cars sometimes deteriorate, in respect of minor design details, the longer they are in production? I have now driven three of the very excellent Ford Sierra XR4x4s and have noticed that even this effective product has undergone small changes, not all of them improvements.

My Ford/Ferguson four-wheel drive experiences started in 1985. I remember being satisfied with the Sierra’s load capacity after successfully transporting a 1920 Sun bicycle to Oulton Park for the VSCC races (for someone else to ride)). That apart, I was soon convinced (and remain so) that 4WD was very definitely worth having.

This 1985 Sierra covered 18,500 miles in the hands of myself and colleagues without giving any problems, apart from needing replacement of one lamp bulb and one mud flap. The engine was rough and noisy at motorway pace, but returned an average of 26 mpg on fast runs. As mileage mounted, more Castrol was needed between servicings. B37 CAR was replaced by C129 NNO, which had the advantage of ABS anti-lock brakes. The engine was no less rough at speed but petrol thirst was still low, nudging 28 mpg on gentle runs, and the only trouble was the failure of a front-wheel bearing. The Uniroyals were replaced at just beyond 19,000 miles with Michelin MXVs, which gave a slightly better feel than their predecessors.

The 1988 Sierra 4×4 (I am now testing E786 HHK) has been changed in minor ways, and not all for the better. Whereas the fuel-gauge used to take time to record but was accurate down to the last pint, the new gauge reads with the ignition off but its needle swings well below the red area with some one-and-a-half gallons still in the tank. There is now a big ugly circular flap over the filler-cap instead of the previous flush-fitting lockable cap.

The internal door-handles have been restyled for no apparent reason, and the clock has gone digital. High-security Ford locks are an improvement, along with an alarm system and anti-thief wheel-nuts, but only one key was supplied, this being devoid of the useful in-built spotlight.

The speedometer is now better calibrated, with red lines at 30 and 70 mph, and rear wipe/wash is stalk instead of fascia-switch-controlled. Whereas the old bonnet was easy to open, a new catch on the 1988 car at first defeated me. The new car is not yet run-in (although this takes only 1000 miles, and 100 miles for the tyres) but the engine seems less noisy, the gear-shift smoother. I would have liked the new 2.9-litre engine, however. I am now back on Uniroyal Rallye tyres, on which! believe Ford carried out the initial testing of the 4×4.

There were a number of irritants upon delivery from Cleales of Saffron Walden. A wrapper round the driver’s visor told me that, after adjustment, the car could be run on lead-free fuel, but the instruction book says injection engines will run only on leaded petrol, and the 2.8 Sierra has fuel-injection. Engine idle, consistently at 750 rpm hot on the previous car, was at 1800 rpm, which the book said could not be altered because it is controlled by the engine-management system; yet an obliging service manager at a Builth Wells Ford garage got it down to 1000 rpm in a few minutes. Although this and the condition of the bodywork had been ticked-off as checked before delivery, the offside rear door was difficult to shut and the screen washers washed only the underside of the bonnet . . .

Make no mistake, however, I continue to regard the Ford Sierra XR4x4 as excellent value at £14,706 (for 150 bhp, 125 mph, 50-70 mph in 5.7 seconds) and I would never again willingly forego 4WD or ABS. WB