27 May 2011

BOTTLED IT!: Ford Escort MK5

Bottled It! is where Definitely Motoring talks about crap cars. The MK5 Ford Escort is a prime example.

THE Ford Escort was one of Britain’s best sellers since it came onto the roads in 1968 as the replacement for the Anglia. In the 1980s, the Escort’s popularity grew to become Britain’s best selling car.

The MK4 Escort by the late ’80s was looking long in the tooth. With elderly engines and a dated design that stretched back to the 1970s. Even though they were selling straight out of the box and ruling the sales charts. An all-new replacement was needed for the Blue Oval’s best seller.

Ford released the fifth generation Escort in 1990. It was an-all new car with a fresh new body shell. From being a best seller, the new Escort was eagerly awaited by the public. When it was unveiled, the MK5 Escort was greeted with a frosty reception.

With the new Escort, Ford received a lot of criticism from the press and the general public. Notably for its uninspiring looks inside-out. Accusing Ford of playing it too safe when designing the car, and being a slave to convention.

To add insult to injury, the Escort was hardly brimming with rave reviews. The Escort was scrutinised for having poor handling characteristics, with excess body lean and sloppy steering. The old Kent/CVH engines carried over to the new Escort from its predecessor. The gruff engines were already past their sell by date in 1990. So it hardly set the standards with performance, economy and refinement.

So in summary, the new Escort wasn't an improvement over its predecessor in any meaningful way. A car that was cynically conceived, and that Ford rested on their laurels and became far too complacent.

Her face says it all.

As the motoring press didn’t rate the MK5 Escort. Neither did their owners. Besides its stodgy dynamics and rough engines. They also disliked their Escorts for patchy build quality and shoddy reliability.

In the 1995 Top Gear JD Power Survey, the Escort was ranked in being Britain's least satisfying car to own. Despite the bad reputation early 90s Escorts gained. It wasn't reflected in the numbers Ford sold them. The Escort in fact, remained one of Britain's best selling cars.

With a wide dealer network across the country. As well as Ford's mighty marketing people, along with the competitive prices were why Escorts sold straight out of the box. Ford did take a hit with losses. Especially when you consider the more talented and better all-round cars in the sector. Rivals like the Rover 200, the Vauxhall Astra and the Volkswagen Golf stole sales from the Escort.

With the amount of stick the Escort got, Ford quickly addressed the car's problems. Coinciding with the launch of the XR3i and RS2000 models - let's not forget the almighty Cossie. Along came with the induction of the new 16 Valve, DOHC (Double Overhead Camshaft) Zetec (nee Zeta) engines. Which were quicker, smoother and more efficient units, and were added to the range in 1992.

Ford gave the Escort a final nip and tuck in 1995. Along came more mechanical updates and improvements.

Besides new engine powerplants, Ford tweaked the Escort with cosmetic nip and tucks. They also revised the chassis with better ride and handling. Of which Ford did on two occasions to signify these changes. 

More standard equipment and refinement, reliability and build quality were also patched up. All the changes Ford made to the Escort that fundamentally improved the car. Elderly CVH units were dropped from the range, but only the very basic Encore models had the old 1.3 litre Kent (Enudra-E) engine.

The real problem with the MK5 Escort was that it wasn't fully developed upon its arrival on sale. It was evident that Ford rushed the car into production. The Blue Oval spent more time (and effort) with the marketing men on the Escort than the engineers on developing the car. It was really a triumph of marketing over engineering.

Dog rough Halewood horrors early 90s Escorts were. It was a blessing in disguise, and a cautionary tale that Ford learnt a valuable lesson from. They soon started building much better cars since then. Engineered by people who did their job, as well as those in the marketing department. The Mondeo and the Focus ‒ that replaced the Escort ‒ are perfect examples.

1 comment:

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