FORD ESCORT ZX2 COUPE HOT 1999
Coming from Britain I have to just explain to you the significance of the Ford Escort. Not the ZX2, which I will come to in a moment, but the Ford Escort XR3I, which was one of the most popular automobiles of the ‘80s and early ‘90s and gained a certain reputation for itself. Actually, it was the drivers of the XR3I who became rather notorious, and these drivers fell primarily into 2 groups. Wide-boys: reknowned for driving at speed, with the roof down, and with the stereo at full blast, 5-up, in a car which definitely only held 4 comfortably, just. Picture lots of gold chains, jelled hair, white socks and black shoes. Lovely! Or Sloanes: a group of ‘daddy’s-girls’, with candy pink or baby blue Polo shirts, 501's, big sunglasses and teeth like a horse, all chattering wildly and hoping to get stuck in the mud at the horse-meet, so some strapping, young men could come and push them out. Get the picture? Stereotypes, obviously, but not far off the mark, I can assure you.
Now, the regular Ford Escorts, in the UK at least, have always had a reputation as a dependable, family car or a reliable rep car, but the target audience for the ZX2 is obviously a lot closer to that of the XR3I. The ads on TV over here depict 2 resourceful, young girls or guys, getting out of a tight spot and putting the ZX2 through it’s moves to a groovy soundtrack.. Its wheels sparkle, its body shines and you just know that the 2, young things are having fun. Which is, actually, quite likely. I was unsure that I liked the look of the ZX2 upon first espying it, especially given it’s "autumn orange metallic" colour scheme - presumably to ensure that it stands out in the crowd (see reference to ad above!), but to be looked at through dark glasses only, after a heavy night - and it’s rather elongated nose. However, by the end of the week I was more than accustomed to its shape and it had actually grown on me, not totally, but I could now describe it as different rather than ugly. And certainly fun.
Getting into the car, the first thing I noticed was the layout of the dash: its lines are all asymmetrical and smoothly curved, giving the dash an almost futuristic look which was very pleasing to the eye. And this did not detract from the clear layout of the dials either. Nice touch.
Driving off in the car was, however, a whole other matter. For the most part, I did like this car, but the one thing I could not acclimate to was the gearbox. Yuck. I have to be honest, for the whole of the first journey all I could think about was how reminiscent the gear changes were to driving a Skoda, in Hungary, in 1989, and believe me, that is not a compliment. The gearbox was extremely wobbly, for lack of a better word, with a shift which felt so long I presumed that 1st gear must be located somewhere near the front bumper and 2nd somewhere in the trunk. A very strange sensation indeed, and a shame too, since it detracted from what was a very responsive engine and a firm ride. Incidentally, this is the same car - well, as similar as the 2 can be - that won the East African Safari Rally, much to many people’s amazement, it being arguably the toughest rally in the world.
But to return to more everyday surroundings, this ‘hot’ coupe did maneuver nicely, maintaining a firm grip with the road, and holding corners extremely well, enabling the driver to accelerate quite rapidly out of any curve, with pleasing results. Indeed, the 2.0 litre DOHC Zetec 16-valve engine, with variable cam timing, was probably the ZX2’s best feature. It delivers 130 horsepower at 5,750rpm. The power was carried through, in all gears, and good acceleration was readily available, no matter how low the revs. The ZX2 is also extremely fuel efficient, an important consideration for its younger, target group. It also ensures that the ZX2 lives up to its ‘sporty’ hype and actually delivers a fun ride, rather than a sporty shell and empty promises. However, just in case you forget that you’re in a ‘sporty’ car, there are little reminders for you: the ZX2 script pops up along the edge of the full carpeting, along the top of the rear windscreen, on the seats and there’s a flashing light on the dash which illuminates every time you accelerate which says ‘ZX2 - Sporty!’. Oh, OK, that last one isn’t really there, but I wouldn’t have been surprised!
There are 3 Option groups available on the ZX2, and the model I drove appears to have been equipped with all 3! The comfort group incorporates speed control, a tilt steering column and dual map lights. The Power Group adds power door locks and power side windows. The Sport version - should I keep a note of how many times that word is used in association with this car?! - represents 15" aluminum wheels, which added a certain class to the exterior look of the car, and bright exhaust tip. Plus a rear spoiler, which actually helped to balance the look of the car, rather than look like it was just stuck on to give the ZX2 that, say it with me, sporty look! Also, Sport badging, fog lamps, which are inset in the front grille and give the nose of the car a pleasing, slightly predatory, look, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Sport seats meant for a firm and comfortable ride, but the tan fabric, and interior, was rather drab and I think their new, Midnight Black would have been far more welcome!
Safety features include dual airbags and side-impact protection as standard features, and ABS as an optional extra, which will set you back around $400. The brakes on the model tested were extremely responsive, and the ABS came into play on a slippery freeway surface when the traffic came to a sudden, and unexpected stop, as seems to be the norm here! The main difference between the ‘hot’ and the ‘cold’ series is with extras like electric mirrors, air conditioning, a tape player and rear-window defroster. The ‘hot’ ZX2 I tested also had a 6-CD changer in the trunk, which is always a nice addition to any car, but will set you back $295 on the ZX2. One of the car’s nicest features, but one which will cost you $595, is the moon-roof. It really opened up the cabin and made driving all the more enjoyable, and the people at Ford have designed the moon-roof to go up and out, over the roof itself, rather than slide back and be incorporated in the roof. The whole feeling was one of a light, airy cabin, and the noise addition of having the roof open was only minor.
This car did actually have a very open feeling to it, perhaps aided by the severe slant of the front windscreen, which meant that visibility was great all-round, although I thought that the side mirrors could have been a bit bigger, without looking out of proportion but whilst reducing the blind spot a little.
Sporty, sporty, sporty, sporty...sorry, haven’t used that word in at least 2 paragraphs and I was getting withdrawal symptoms! To be fair, it is perhaps the best word to sum-up this car. The ZX2 makes for a good, responsive ride, with no nasty surprises and for a base price of $13,290, represents an economic, but certainly not boring, buy for the younger driver. It won’t look dated in a couple of years either although, from what I understand from my sources at the Geneva Motor Show, the Ford Focus - which just won the prestigious European Car of the Year Award 1999 - is already lined up to replace it.
FACTS AND FIGURES Base Price $ 13,290 Model Tested $ 16,335 Engine 2.0 litre, DOHC 16-v Zetec engine Horsepower 130 @ 5750rpm Torque 127 @ 4250rpm Transmission 5 speed manual OD 4 speed automatic OD Fuel Econ. 26 city/ 33 highway Comfort Group $ 345 Power Group $ 345 Sport Group $ 595 CD changer $ 295 Moon-roof $ 595 ABS $ 400 Delivery $ 415