Ford Escort ZX2 and Mercury Sable Wagon (2000)
SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide
FORD ESCORT ZX2
Back in the late 80's, Ford started making seriously quick motorcars. Fiestas, Escorts, Sierras, all came adorned with large scoops, wings, and fat tires. Under the bonnet you got Cosworth engines, usually turbo charged and pushing out anything from 150bhp to over 250bhp! All this in a "family" saloon line up that Mrs. what'sit from next door drove to the supermarket and filled with groceries. Unfortunately, at the same time a group that became known as joyriders also became prominent. Basically the thought of flying around inner cities with Sierra RS Cosworths, with loads of mates and a TV crew in tow was to much to refuse for most 14 year olds from Manchester. Consequently, one in three of these RS, GTI, XR models (for by this point all the major players had a Hot Hatch on sale) were stolen and wrecked- some before the owners had even realized that their pride-n-joy had gone. The insurance companies hit the roof and so did the policy premiums and almost as quick as you could say nought to sixty, the 80's and the GTI brat pack were gone.
Ten years later I'm enjoying my first experience at LA traffic management. I.E managing to keep alive, keep going and keep from being run over by one of those T-54 tank-like General Mummy Patton SUV mobiles. All the more "radical" man to be attempting this whilst testing the tasty, new, "hot," ZX2 Escort. With European styling and equipment - a four-cylinder 2litre 150bhp engine and good general dynamics, this escort not only looks the part in shinny sunset red but goes rather well too. The interior is bright and standard easy-to-use Ford. The seats, although not quite as firm as I would like in a "sports" hatch, are comfortable and space is plentiful, the boot swallowing all my bags and even 10 cases of Phuse+, this herb/vitamin drink I've bought from the UK.
First stop is Malibu to see an old friend. Up the canyon we go. These roads wouldn't be out of place in the Monte-Carlo rally, tortuously tight and twisty, the ZX2 laps them up and asks for more. In fact, were it not for the tires which were too high profile, the chassis could have coped with even more speed. Of course once at the top it was time to descend and check out the steering feel under pressure and brake fade in this 75-degree slalom test. Following my associate in his tweaked new Beetle, the Firery Ford never failed. At more than one time, I was ready to ease past and wave goodbye. All this fun in a car that soaks up the bumps, remains poised, and keeps a smile on your face.
Yup, this is certainly a value for money motor. The Ford Escort ZX2 gets you all the power you need, insurance that won't break the bank and terrific fuel economy. It's a shame that they don't import it into Europe!
FORD ESCORT ZX2 (2000) Price: $11855.00 (US) Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC SMPI 16-valve I4 Zetec engine BHP: 130 at 5750 Rpm Weight: 2478 lb. Mpg: 25 City/33 Hwy. Tires P185/60R15 all-season SBR BSW tires
Another brand we've never heard of across the pond is Mercury. The upscale models are worthy of such a profound name. The metal is unique, the spaceship a legend and the planet genuinely stellar. I therefore had no expectation as to what a Sable wagon was. Surprise No.1- wagon means estate. The No. 2 surprise was the elegant styling, something Ford with its new edge design is clearly head and shoulder above the rest, and leather filled cabin. The engine was also a pleasant shock. It's always nice to be reunited with an old mate and I immediately felt at home with the V6 Duotech motor that had accompanied me over many miles in Europe in an assortment of vehicles. One of my little pet peeves is poor seat and steering wheel adjustment. In many cars the seats will not push back far enough, an attempt by the manufacturers to beguile customers into thinking that there is more rear leg room than is in fact available - yes you know who you are. The other problem is steering wheel height and reach. Either your legs end up under the wheel- or your arms cannot properly adjust to the correct driving position. McLaren Formula One driver David Coulthard once showed me while I drove him, scared stiff, (him not me) around a skid pan how to get the best out of your natural abilities, or should I say inabilities compared to him. However, with the Sable you don't have to worry. For all the controls move in all positions, and that includes the pedal box which you can electronically move closer or further away. The only other car I know that can do this is the tiny British Sports carmaker Marcos. Maybe I should go around the motor shows checking pedal boxes - but strangely that lacks appeal, the promo girls are always more fun to talk to.
Back to I-10, where Sable and I are now traveling at a not inconsequential 80mph. All is calm, the radio/CD is good, with about eight speakers dotted about the cabin and what sounds like a woofer in the trunk. The leather seats are extremely comfortable and I am using the pedal controller as a kind of cruise control. With my bad knee, I like to position my foot at a certain angle, now I can so I adjust the pedals against my foot to the speed I require. If this sounds strange or dangerous - try it, it isn't either. As I am now running about L.A. trying to find a place to live the space afforded by this wagon is rather useful to say the least. All four of my suitcases go into the rear loading deck, which is low, wide and easily reached through the large and high mounted hatch. No head banging problems here.
Fully loaded I run to Malibu again, keen to discover how a big car handles my impromptu hill climb test. This is where the V6 comes into it's own and where many manufacturers fall down. It's no good putting a peppy little motor into a small SUV, sport Ute or what-have-you and giving it to journalists to test. Of course it would handle great and go like the preverbial. Only problem is when a real family loads up with four or more bodies plus luggage and try a "quick" dash to the ski slopes. Then you get first gear 6,ooo rev antics as the motor expires along with the family tempers. Here the Sable is supreme. The auto box is good but not the smoothest, it must be said, the power more than sufficient. Mercedes would charge you twice their $26000000 asking price and give you less than half in terms of standard equipment (fully loaded is a Sable understatement) and performance after which you'd pay through nose and cursed yourself for not getting the V8 option for another $15,000!
The steering is clearly not from a sports car, but the grip is good, power on into the bends and neutral turns to under steer, lift off and it won't bite you from behind, the remains composed and forgiving. The brakes are good too - estates always are -as the loads are reckoned to be bigger and heavier. The quickest way to lose your sense of humor is to lose your brakes on a long tight decent.
Economy is good too. I averaged over 25mpg urban and over 30mpg on a motorway run. Although quite frankly, the fuel here is SO ridiculously cheap I don't understand why anyone bothers with economy figures apart from taxi and truck drivers.
Americans I speak to say they don't buy Fords. I'm told reliability the concern is that the engines aren't any good. Well if that's so, there are a lot people who aren't American buying them; and having visited a few engine facilities in my time, Fords is one of the finest in Dearborn. All those years of racing dominance have in my view paid off.
With the Focus and Lincoln line now receiving rave and well-earned reviews Ford is set for a good run. Aussie boss Jacques Nassar is determined to out perform his local and Japanese rivals both in terms of performance, vehicle dynamics and price. With the ZX2 and Mercury Sable Wagon he has two fine warriors.
MERCURY SABLE WAGON (2000) Price: $20740.00 (US) $22440.00 (US) Engine: V6 OHV Vulcan 12-valve V6 DOHC Duratec 24-VALVE 3.0 liter 3.0 liter BHP: 155 at 4900 Rpm 200 at 5650 Rpm Top speed: 120 mph 120 mph Weight: 3544 lb. 3473 lb. Mpg: 19 City/27 Hwy. 19 City/27 Hwy. Brakes: Front: 10.9-in. vented disc " Rear: 10.1-in. disc " Tires: P215/60R16 " all-season SBR BSW tires "