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New Car Review

1998 Ford Escort ZX2

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:            2.0-liter 16-valve Zetec inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 130 hp @ 5,750 rpm/127 ft-lbs @ 4,250 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:      26 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, 23.9 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         98.4 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    175.2 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    52.3 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     67.4 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       2,478 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     12.7 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  11.8 cu. ft.
TIRES:             P185/60HR15
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, cruise control, 
                   air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                   with cassette and remote CD changer, 
                   anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $17,040

When Ford redesigned the Escort for the 1997 model year, they did a great job. The car has "corporate identity" in that it resembles the Taurus and Contour that are its bigger brothers. It has the Taurus' oval utilities cluster in the center of the dash, and it has a lot of the Taurus' practicality as well, except in a compact package.

Escort is powered by a four-cylinder engine. We were driving the ZX2 version with a 2.0-liter Zetec 16-valve four that was rated at a healthy 130 horsepower. Coupled to a five-speed manual gearbox that is attached to the front wheels, it is a sporty little coupe that can set your pacemaker off if you aren't careful.

Even though it's a coupe, the Escort has decent legroom. I was talking with a man who walks his dog past our house every morning who was admiring the car. He said he's looking for a small coupe because most of the time it's just him and his wife in the car. when I suggested that he may want to ride with other people sometimes, he said they'd opt to use the other couple's car then.

The Escort has decent legroom in the back. Getting there is the standard challenge one encounters with a coupe. But if you don't want to carry passengers, the rear seat back folds down to enlarge the trunk, which isn't a bad idea. This way you get decent carrying capacity and you're not stuck with the fairly ugly hatchback style that was so popular in the seventies and eighties.

Front seat passengers sit in individual buckets that are quite comfortable and offer decent side support. The fabric is an eggshell design cloth that is designed to hide dirt. In the rear is a bench, but there are bolsters on the outer edges that make it feel like a bucket seat, or at least half a bucket. I wouldn't try to stick a third passenger back there.

The Escort ZX2 was a fun car to drive and handled well. Most of our driving was on straight roads but there were still enough twists to make the ride interesting. The engine was buzzy when it reached the high revolution phase of operation, which was over 3,500 rpm. You're only going to notice that when you're accelerating and shifting. In normal operation it isn't any noisier than any other four cylinder, which is probably damning with faint praise. But the engine does its job with a minimum of fuss, and you can't forget that this is the "performance" version of the Escort four.

Being a four-cylinder, the engine also delivers excellent fuel economy, which is a pleasant surprise in a sporty car. We averaged well over 20 mpg, and considering the fact that my foot was pushed well to the floor much of the time, that's good.

The Escort has some nice features. Among these were the pull handles on the doors. They are integrated well into the side sculpture and different from any others that I have seen. The door handles themselves are hidden behind these pull handles. If you're opening the doors for the first time at night, you can get confused.

Our week in the Escort was enjoyable. here is a solid subcompact coupe that carries two people in very good comfort and offers trunk space for those two people to fill with luggage. It isn't a big car, it's a small car, but in the tradition of all Escorts, it's a solid small car.