Ford Escort is First Produced
The Ford Escort is a compact car that was manufactured by the Ford Motor Company.
The North American Escort adopted both the badge and the general design of a redesigned European model, and the name has been applied to several different designs in North America since its introduction as Ford's first successful world car.
The Escort was Ford's first front-wheel-drive car built in North America, replacing the dated Ford Pinto subcompact car (1971-80) with a modern front-wheel drive design popularized by the Volkswagen Rabbit. It also effectively replaced the smaller Ford Fiesta which was imported from Europe from 1978-80. Though mechanically sophisticated, the Fiesta was too small, even for a Pinto replacement.
The Escort was one of Ford's most successful models in the 1980s, earning a much better reputation than the Pinto, which faced widely-publicized safety issues. In fact, the Escort was the single best-selling car in its second year in the United States and during most of that decade.
Introduced in 1981, the first American Escort was intended to share common components with the European Mk III (as with its sister, the Mercury Lynx), and was launched as a 2-door hatchback and as a 4-door station wagon, with the 4-door hatchback following a year later. It had considerably more chrome than the model sold elsewhere. The car was freshened in 1983.
Although the basic silhouette was the same, it was almost completely different from the European version, apart from the Ford CVH engine. There was a 1.6 L engine, a 4-speed MTX-2 and a 5-speed MTX-3 manual transmission that were standard with a 3-speed ATX/FLC automatic transmission optional. A 1.3 L engine was designed and prototyped but did not see production due to lack of power. Also, in 1983 and 1984, there was the option of the turbocharged 1.6 L 4-cylinder rated at 120 hp (89 kW) and matching torque, a fairly sporty package, considering that the Mustang GT of that period was only rated at 175 hp (130 kW), and was much heavier. The sport targeted Ford EXP was essentially a two-seat hatch with lower roofline based on the Escort, but was not as successful as other body styles.
1981-1985 1.6 L CVH I4, 68 hp (51 kW)
1984-1985 2.0 L RF diesel I4, 52 hp (39 kW)
1983-1985 1.6 L turbocharged CVH I4, 120 hp (89 kW)
There was a second facelift (less chrome, restyled taillamps, flush headlights, 1.9 L engine) as a 1986 model. The Lynx was retired for 1987, but was replaced by the Mazda 323-derived Tracer model in 1988.
[That Mazda platform was revamped in 1990 and debuted as the 1990 Mazda Protege. The updated platform would form the basis for the next generation (1991-1996) Escort/Tracer.]
The Escort saw another minor facelift in mid-1988, which smoothed out the front and rear fascias. New plastic bumpers, larger rear side windows, a more rounded rear-end design and larger (14 in (36 cm) versus 13 in (33 cm)) wheels modernized the look of the cars. The engine was also updated with a slightly revised camshaft, and roller lifters. The new design is commonly referred to as the "88.5" year, and existed until the end of the 1990 model year.
Finding some popularity during the final three years of this generation was the Pony model, which was the least-expensive U.S.-built Ford at the time. Pony models used plainer interior trim with greater use of vinyl and plastic instead of cloth, and a 4-speed manual transaxle was standard, although buyers could opt for the 5-speed found in LX models or the 3-speed ATX automatic. The list of available options was very limited, to the extent that such luxuries as power steering and factory-installed air conditioning were not offered (a dealer-installed A/C system was available). Given their lighter weight, Pony models were known for their ability to deliver excellent fuel economy—mileage upwards of 40 mpg-US (5.9 L/100 km; 48 mpg-imp) in highway driving was not uncommon.
Introduced in 1981, the first US Escort (and its sister, the Mercury Lynx) were intended to share common componentry with the European Mk.3, and was launched as a 3-door hatch and as a 4-door wagon, with the 5-door hatch following a year later. It had considerably more chrome than the model sold elsewhere, and although the basic silhouette was the same, it was almost completely different from the European version, apart from the Ford CVH engine. There was a 1.6 L engine, 4 or 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic transmissions. A 1.3 L engine was designed and prototyped but did not see production due to lack of power.
With small Japanese cars dominating the economy car segment by the late '70s, Ford decided to bring something to the table that was more competitive than the antiquated, outgoing Pinto. The result was the subcompact Ford Escort. The vehicle debuted in 1981 as a two-door hatchback or four-door wagon and featured front-wheel drive, an overhead cam four-cylinder engine, a fully independent suspension and rack and pinion steering. On paper, it looked like Ford had a winner. But in reality there were early problems that made a rash of recalls necessary, and the vehicle's longevity was questionable.
But despite the teething problems, the Ford Escort went on to become the top-selling car in America for many consecutive years. Broader appeal for Ford's small import fighter appeared in the mid-'80s via the introduction of a four-door hatchback and the sporty GT.
By the late '80s, the Ford Escort had become a solid little economy car, with build quality and reliability approaching respectable, if not Japanese manufacturer's, levels. By 1991, Ford's partnership with Mazda started to bear fruit in the form of the Escort GT, which was powered by a spirited dual-overhead-cam, four-cylinder engine borrowed from Mazda. A formal sedan debuted around this time, as did a four-speed automatic (which replaced the old three-speed unit). By the time the year 2000 came around, the Escort was being phased out by Ford's new Focus. With a decidedly edgy, European-flavored personality, the Focus offered much more in terms of personality and driving fun.
Most shoppers interested in a used Ford Escort will find themselves looking at the fourth and last generation. This one debuted in 1997 with a more rounded body style and a more refined 110-horsepower 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. Transmission choices were once again a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. The next year brought the sporty ZX2 two-door coupe, which was essentially the Escort GT's overdue replacement. With 130 hp, the ZX2 was relatively quick, running zero to 60 mph in around 8 seconds.
When Ford phased in the Escort's replacement, the Focus, for 2000, the Escort family was thinned out by dropping the wagon, leaving just the sedan and ZX2 sport coupe. By 2002, only the ZX2 remained, and would soldier on for one more year.
Consumer commentary posted on Edmunds.com about the Ford Escort is generally upbeat, with strong points being listed as ride comfort, fuel economy and outward visibility. Proper maintenance is key, as most owners report trouble-free driving well into the 100,000-mile range, while some others have indicated troubles with the automatic transmission. Though a well-maintained Escort with lower mileage will sell for quite a bit less than an equivalent Civic or Corolla, the latter pair still has the edge in predicted reliability.
Although it debuted 10 years earlier, the Ford Escort really came into its own with the introduction of the revamped 1991 model. A lower beltline and increased glass area afforded a more airy cabin and the 1.9-liter inline four was refined for smoother operation. Higher overall build quality was evident in the car's quieter, more refined demeanor and more substantial feel throughout. The all-new Escort GT was one of the better affordable sport hatchbacks of its day thanks to its free-revving, Mazda-sourced, DOHC 127-hp engine, four-wheel disc brakes and firm sport suspension. With the exception of the adoption of safety items such as dual airbags and (on some trim levels) antilock brakes, the Escort stood pat until its 1997 redesign.