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100

Introduced with the objective of winning the World Rally Championship at least once in the ’90s, the Ford Escort RS Cosworth is a fully engineered road car as well. It promises to be with us for most of the decade in a variety of engine and bodywork guises, and is therefore not just a short run (minimum 2500 for 1993 Groups A and N) homologation special, although the first 2500 have aerodynamic and engine bay features dominated by sporting necessity.

As a competition car it has won rallies in both England and Spain in non-homologated trim, providing further data for development of the radical seven-speed Sierra Group A gearbox. The sporting debut and production assembly rates at Karmann, in Germany, are geared to ensure that the World Championship debut of the latest Escort RS will occur at the January 1993 Monte Carlo Rally.

The showroom car is quite the most effective performance Ford since the GT40. It has terrific ability, particularly its Porsche 911 standards of legal limit acceleration and cross-country agility that leaves even the late and lamented Elan floundering, especially in wet conditions. Overlooked in this visceral excitement may be the enormous improvements made in quality and primary safety, the body being significantly stronger in torsion than the usual three-door Escort. The brakes are simply the best that we have experienced for dependable retardation and effective ABS action. Those crowd-stopping spoilers allow unmatched standards of stability with measurable improvements generated from 50 mph to the measured maximum of 138.

All this may not be enough. The insurance spectre looms large over UK sales. Ford research shows a lowest annual premium of £1413 for a 42 year-old living in Wellingborough, and this test case had earned a full 60 per cent in no claims bonus. If you have even one simple speeding conviction, this exhilarating Escort could well be banned from your hands on economic premium grounds.

UK Range

First customer deliveries of the latest RS Cosworth Ford were delayed beyond the original prediction, and you will see very few (aside from Ford demonstrators like ours) on a J-plate. There are four listed models, but Ford RS dealerships are unlikely to stock the starker motorsport version, so a special order will be required. Official July 1992 prices were £20,950 for the motorsport version (no sunroof and many electrical assistance motors deleted). The standard item (which put those electrical assists back in for road use, but lacks a sunroof, Recaro seating and electric windows) was listed at £21,380. Two luxury versions were offered: the cloth trim was tested at £23,495, whilst a leather cabin adds up to £23,976.

Ford was lopping both staff and retail charges at press time (up to £1000 on some lesser performance Escorts), so there should be room for bargaining on the high-cost models. Scandalous insurance premiums are now required even with the standard anti-theft specification, which includes the Vecta immobiliser, dead locks and an alarm for the UK.

Our nearest efficient RS dealer (Hartford Motors in Oxford) told us: “Discounts on the Escort Cosworth are extremely unlikely. We have sold our stock and have four more serious inquiries for the two allocations left.”

Elsewhere we heard that the last of the 220 bhp Sierra RS four-doors, with essentially the same drivetrain, are being discounted well under £20,000. If you would prefer a more subdued version of this Escort, Ford will offer one without the top tier rear wing and front air splitter in 1993. There will also be a more road-friendly turbocharger from Garrett next year, managed by Ford’s own EEC-1V system.

Technical Analysis

This is a truly high technology hybrid, a triumph for multinational parts and assembly. Concept and engineering came from the British Ford competition and Special Vehicle Engineering centres, co-ordinated by former Porsche development wizard John Wheeler. It is a competition engineer’s car, but one also noteworthy in offering the highest standards of torsional strength ever retailed by Ford in a steel body. The marriage between Sierra and Escort has been so thoroughly consummated — requiring over 400 new components to be drawn — that the torsional twist resistance figure is up at least 20 per cent over the normal front-drive offering. By the time you read this, the front-drive Escorts will have new, safety conscious fixtures in their basic bodies, but they are still unlikely to approach the rigidity of the Cosworth derivative, which features front strut turrets welded and braced with adjacent boxed plates.

The strengthened three-door spent over 200 wind tunnel hours to achieve an 0.38Cd with 45 Newtons of frontal downforce at 112 mph and 190 Newtons for the ‘double-decker’ rear. Incidentally, the front splitter adjusts horizontally via three cumbersome bolted positions. Without the front and rear wing kit, the drag factor falls to 0.33 and maximum speed rises to over 145 mph. In that spec, company engineers report very acceptable handling, albeit without the exceptional bad weather/high speed motorway stability of the test car. Dimensionally, the latest Cosworth is an interesting hybrid between the transverse engined Escort and the 4×4 Sierras. It is appreciably broader than either, a little taller and rests on a wheelbase that is 2.3 inches shorter than a Sierra, 1.4 in longer than an Escort. This is critical to the handling, road or rally, as it provides the foundation on which to build an Escort that has some of Sierra’s acknowledged stability.

Vitally, the Escort RS is abbreviated by a useful 11.2in compared to the four-door Ford that was waging war on the 1000 Lakes shortly before our press deadline. Major outside suppliers were headed by Cosworth, who modestly allowed a fraction more horsepower (seven bhp) from the short-stroke Pinto descendant that has been raced beyond 600 bhp with a cylinder head design that was originally penned by Mario Illien of Ilmor fame. Cosworth retains Weber/Marelli injection management, but its blue rocker cover tops a mildly modified basic engine, which has a lighter flywheel and revised aluminium sump baffles.

All 1992 cars are likely to have a hybrid T3/T04B (nicknamed T35) Garrett AiResearch turbocharger. There is an ‘overboost’ facility that briefly lifts the usual 0.8 bar boost to 1.3 in the mid-range, or can be cheated into activation at higher rpm if the throttle is released and then reapplied. You can feel the difference, and the peak torque quote is up by over 10 lb ft.

The SVE team, led by chassis exponent Mick Kelly, had former employees such as Fiesta racer Cohn Stancombe on its strength, and chassis honing skills are in evidence. Fichtel and Sachs provided the shock absorbers that went into a stiffened version of existing Sierra components, though this system is very much more effective under heavy pressure, as a bidirectional bushing — with steel inserts — has been applied to the rear cross-member and differential mounts. Other subtle changes concerned steering pump characteristics to increase sensitivity and response with stiffened calipers and replacement (ecologically sound) pads for the four-wheel disc brakes. Those discs also served the 4×4 Sierra RS, as did the Teves ABS electronics.

Striking Ronal 8J x 16in “artillery” wheels carry unique Pirelli P Zeros that were developed alongside the car; a Dunlop cover has also been approved, but we have not yet tried it this shod.

Aston Martin supplier John McGavignan & Co met the need for a distinct interior appearance; its unique ‘electro-luminiscene instrument panels, in which no bulbs are employed, have effective white dials which are present on all models. Ford added three supplementary gauges, covering volts, oil pressure and boost. Auxiliary dials are housed in a plastic ‘banana’ that carries the Cosworth badge with pride, but fitted gaps were erratic in pre-production examples. The RHD models tested (we have experienced three) all had these gaps successfully closed. In addition, they benefited from the elimination of an annoying over-run resonance and recalibration of the boost curve so that there were no sudden drops in power. On one occasion, our engine cut completely under full boost acceleration from a second gear corner (with just under half a tank of fuel), but this was an isolated snag. It is worth noting that the race and rally series RS2000 (see Eoin Young’s test on pages 954/955) is prone to cut while cornering with similar fuel contents, underlining the enormity of the cornering forces routinely generated by this high downforce production Escort.

Action

Statistically, the saloon bar experts will look at the performance results of this Ford and reason that it’s not very quick, as the top speed is down on all the other RS Cosworths. And it uses more fuel.

True, our car did not crack the 140 mph barrier and it returned under 20 mpg, but the culprits in both cases are the aerodynamics, which allow such extraordinary cornering and crosswind characteristics. You also gain a more than fair measure of acceleration, 0-60 mph clicking up between 5.7-5.8 seconds very readily on the test track. The clutch is sufficiently brawny to resist a 5500 rpm start and 6500 rpm redline gearchanges.

The cabin is more convincing than many a past Ford RS, having the distinction of that unique extra instrumentation and tasteful grey cloth ‘diamond’ trim within the subtle Pacifico blue demonstrator. Our only strong dislike was the insipid, but strong, three-spoke steering wheel; buyers should note that the traditional excellence of the Recaro seats that we enjoyed is only standard on the more expensive luxury models. Karmann has made a very conscientious stab at a significantly cheaper alternative, but the Recaro remains worth a cash penalty.

Effectively, this Escort is well tuned to British speed limit motoring via this bewinged formula, supplying its best performance between 30-90 mph. Beyond that point the RS is increasingly stable and totally rattle free, but you can hear the big rear wing roaring for more downforce breeze, channelled by that significantly lowered roof centre section. The upper wing trades speed for enhanced stability of an order that saw us taking gentle autobahn curves at maximum speed in the preproduction LHD examples, and all with the same reassuring margins of safety that the car also exerts on wet and windy motorways at more moderate pace, cleaving through the air with unruffled poise even when it is populated by bulky lorries to make crosswinds even more treacherous.

The dynamic abilities of the mildly modified Sierra 4×4 chassis simply build on already enviable reputation. We think they went a trifle hard on the suspension settings for Britain, as the Sierra’s amiable conquest of B-road bumps is reduced in favour of increased control, but the overall result is sensational. The faster you go, the better the car feels, a sure sign that an ex-Porsche engineer has spent many miles at the wheel developing this recipe in association with some hard-driving colleagues.

This is an Escort that is always keen to answer pressure at the undistinguished steering rim, biting into apexes with an appetite that the understeering Lancia Delta integrate cannot match. In mid-corner, the Escort seems absolutely unflappable. Even a full power change in surface can be accommodated safely. The engineers have almost done too much of the thinking, typified by anti-lock brakes that are not over generous in size but do their job with unmatched pedal progression and effective anti-lock interference. This Ford should be compulsory driving fare for the safety lobby, to show how the search for more competition speed breeds amazing road safety margins, even in the hands of the comparatively unskilled. Criticisms are confined to that audible engine, the predictably mismatched large turbo (necessary for motorsport homologation, and quite fun if you are willing to work for a living at the slickest MT75 gearchange yet) and the steering. We had absolutely no problem with the responsive ratio chosen, but did have a quarrel with a 4×4 that wriggles its steering wheel with determination over ordinary road camber deformations. Then we had a puncture and had to call Ford to change the anti-theft wheel, because we needed a proper replacement for performance testing, not the dreaded space saver.

After the wheel and tyre change, the steering’s hyper-sensitivity was perceptibly reduced (the tyre had thoughtfully flattened as we rolled to a halt outside the test track), but we would like to see some of the writhing rim antics cut under braking over bumps; it is not dangerous, but it is disconcerting. Whilst we are in contrary mood, it would be nice to retrieve some of the road surface feedback that older RS Sierras delivered, but after 10 days with the car we found (as with older Jaguars) that you acclimatise to the delicacy of the messages delivered.

Verdict

This Ford is certainly flawed the old iron block motor is muscular, but distinctly rough by the standards of the ’90s. Yet the Escort RS Cosworth has so many sporting advantages, and is such a delightful country road companion, that we can definitely overlook such an obvious failing. If only life was a simple as good car/bad car verdicts, this would simply be recommended as a good value performance buy with traits that you cannot buy elsewhere.

Despite the presence of an effective and unobtrusive Vecta immobiliser on all models and many other anti-theft precautions, there is no doubt that many potential Escort Cosworth owners are going to find themselves paying a tenth of the car’s price in annual insurance premiums.

Patently, this is ridiculous.

Another aspect of the Escort anti-theft armoury bothers us. Volkswagen-Audi refuses to approve Vecta installations. What do they know that we are not being told? In the depressed car market that Britain and Germany are experiencing at the moment the main markets for this model we do wonder if Ford will find it as straightforward as anticipated to sell the requisite 2500 examples in time for that Monte Carlo debut? For ourselves, we have no hesitation in commending the Escort we tested. Any reader who wants an intoxicating blend of wondrous performance/price ratio and unexpected refinement, plus genuine vehicle safety, should at least try its considerable abilities. J W

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