New Car/Review

1998 Ford Escort - The Mark of ZX2

by Gerald Levinson (c)


SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

After editing the TACH stock index for nearly two years I'm inaugurating a new column dealing with the leading companies and their products. We'll get into car reviews, touring and dining, high tech reporting, financial turn arounds and other timely topics.

To begin with I've had the opportunity to test drive the Ford ZX2. This car is one of the most popular cars ever built by Ford and has contributed heavily to their bottom line. After driving it for a week I can certainly see why.

For those of you looking for fuel economy, a great ride, and good looks with a budget price tag, this car at only 2500 pounds will fit the bill. In fact the ZX2 in red is a real winner.

On Friday I stepped into a red 328A equipped with a 2.0 liter, 130 horsepower, 16 valve Vetec engine that's literally waiting to zip out of the starting gate. The acceleration from a start is surprising due in part to the power to weight ratio. 110 horses at 3000 rpm gives it a real boost. Shifting gears is simple, and smooth using very little muscle.

The drive on the freeway driving back to my office in Newport Beach previewed things to expect. Acceleration at speeds 0 thru 70 proved to be more than adequate. Faster than that required a bit more finesse in passing and avoiding problem traffic. The road noise added to a feeling of virtual speed and road action.

Above all what you feel in this car is stability and comfort. Turning corners gave the impression of digging into a high bank curve while on a flat plane. Rough road surface and El Nino pot holes were almost non-existent. The ride was exceptional. The highly engineered quadralink suspension eliminates uncomfortable bumps and hits found in most smaller cars.

Getting acquainted with the instruments and controls was a snap. Ford's oval approach to instrumentaion is right on. The uncomplicated radio is super close for quick tuning and changing stations. The air conditioning is user friendly by employing large switches indicating right for cool, left for warm, with air air flow controlled by a high or low fan. This is certainly an ergonomically inspired design.

Meanwhile the interior gives a feeling of quiet casual elegance combining warm color tones and well fitted seats. For those with back problems the reclining seat support is conducive to longer trips with a minimum of discomfort. Coupled with the exterior the overall quality was comparable to more expensive cars.

During the week we used the ZX2 to go shopping at South Coast Plaza, grocery shopping at the beach and traveling through Orange County. I found that parking and turning to negotiate a parking place was like turning on a dime. Because of it's small turning radius I had to adjust my parking habits. At the grocery things got a bit crowded in the trunk - but no problem the rear seat splits for additional space.

We then decided to visit friends in Laguna Beach who were caught in the El Nino storm. Engaging cruise control we drove down the San Diego Freeway for about 15 miles. Again these controls were simply on or off along with a resume button. We exited at Laguna Canyon Road. This 2 lane road is winding and circuitous affording a challenge in shifting gears and avoiding mud slides and debris.

Well we never reached our destination because clean-up crews were out in force stopping all non-residential traffic outside of Laguna. We turned around and headed back home. On the way we stopped at our favorite coffee shop for a bit of leg stretching and refreshment. Although there were expensive sport cars in the lot, our ZX2 attracted a small crowd. Most of the inquiries were along cost, performance and fuel economy.

Given the price range beginning at $11,280 to $13,895, plus standard charges, makes the Escort an excellent value. Especially when you take into consideration the way it handles and the pride of ownership it generates. I suggest you test one as soon as possible.

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