Your Cars

YOUR CARS: Siôn Hudson’s Escort

Possibly the mos in-depth review of a Ford Escort EVER. Roy Lanchester eat your heart out.

We’ve been meaning to post this for ages, but never got round to it because, frankly, we’re lazy. But what are you going to do? 

This YOUR CARS is somewhat different from the others. You see Siôn Hudson (no, we’re not sure how to pronounce it either) had, once upon a time, a Ford Escort. And with his Escort he went FULL WOOLLARD. Seriously, check out his careful, considered, thoughtful review. Never have you seen a collection of Escort-based words like this. Enjoy. 

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First Impressions:

When we went to the garage, I didn’t spot the car at first. I remember looking at a Fiesta Mk4, in purple, but it had done astronomical miles. Just as I was about to give up, I saw the back of a white Escort. Knowing a bit about cars, I could tell straight away that it was a Mk7 because of the placing of the Ford badge on the back, as well as the registration letter. I realised that it looked basic, so I went around the front to check the price: I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was only £1,995! I was very excited, so we asked for the keys. We sat in the car, and it felt really big. We weren’t sure if it had power steering though. So we came back the next day and took it for a test drive. The exhaust rattled, but that was probably because there were three of us in the back. We bought it there and then!

In general, it is quite a good-looking car. The exterior has much improved styling over the old Mk5 and 6 Escorts, especially at the back. It seems like Ford finally got it right the third-time round. The only downside, apart obviously from being white, is that it has grey/black bumpers. Although these worked well on Mk5 and 6 escorts, they look out of place here, as they form the actual shape of the front of the car, and I feel that from a distance they chop the front of the car in half. In general, the outside is much more modern and curvy than previously, particularly with the rounded headlights and grille, rounded door handles, and styled door mirrors. The additions of plastic side scuff panels are also useful.

The bodywork was mostly OK, apart from a few tiny rust spots on the boot lid, which I later patched up. A final word on the aesthetics: at a certain angle, looking at the car from the front down the side, I do feel that the car looks particularly boat-like – Mk5-7 Escort hatches have a tendency for this, as the rear quarter window seems to curve inwards too sharply.

The interior, however, is particularly pleasing. Improved leaps and bounds over the previous Lego-like fascia, doors and seats, we have a curvy, sophisticated and modern design. The fascia is a pleasant blue, with no sharp edges at all. I am particularly impressed by the black inset. The steering wheel has also finally been designed, unlike the previous model’s airbag cover which seemed to be a big plastic lump. The door trim is also much improved, with curved door handles, comfortable armrests, and squashy plastic on the top. Speakers are integrated into the front door handles, which is a nice touch. The seats have also skyrocketed in quality, feel and look. Instead of cheap-looking lilac foam, we have moulded dark green/grey velour. There are also side supports on the seats. The back seats are trimmed in the same material, but are not quite as comfortable, being so thin and hard.

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Instruments and Controls

The Escort’s controls are mostly large and easy to use. The accelerator, clutch and brake are nicely spaced out and well sized, although the clutch is probably a little too high, meaning that the driver has to lift his foot rather excessively to operate it. Indicators are easy to use, and the non-direction specific indicator flasher on the instrument panel is not the disadvantage I thought it would be. The indicator stalks do make a rather high-pitched plasticy click though, which I do not like. The light controls are also on the same stalk, with a really simple turning switch to change from sidelights to main beam. However, I do find the push-pull action of the lever to change from main to dipped rather strange – I much rather the pull-pull type. Also, the rear fog light switch – although large and clear – seems to be away from the driver’s view, so it’s easy to not notice that the switch is on.

Wipers are on the right stalk, and are quite simple to use, although I do confuse front and back washers sometimes. Hazard lights are placed rather awkwardly, as you have to reach through the steering wheel to get at the button. The heated rear window button is big and clear. Heater controls are also really easy to use, they need no explanation. They also illuminate when the lights are switched on. It warms up very quickly, too, on the move, should you require it. The ventilation system is also quite good, although fan setting two or higher is a bit loud, meaning that I am forced to choose between suffocating or deafening.

One complaint as a driver is that the right vent is continually obstructed by the steering wheel, rendering it basically useless. The analogue clock, although classy looking, is no good for me as it takes far too much time to read in comparison to a digital display, which could compromise safety. The standard Ford radio cassette player, although basic, is very good indeed. It is very logically laid out, illuminates softly at night, and many of the controls such as volume are easily operated by touch alone. Radio reception is very good. The tape player is also very flattering to tapes, producing a good clear sound. The car has manual windows which are very labour intensive, and also require some crouching in order to reach the handle. There is a decent roof-mounted interior lamp that is operated by either front door, but it doesn’t have a boot light, which is actually quite annoying in the dark. The instrument cluster is good, except that this basic model lacks a rev-counter (which may well be a good thing – I’d rather not know how many revs I get up to, trying to get the thing to move!)

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Driving:

Driving the Escort is really quite straightforward. Starting the car makes a slightly ancient sound, but that’s soon over. First gear is easy to engage, and the bite is easy to judge. Second gear has decent acceleration, and the gear change is very nice, it’s kind of mushy and has a long travel, which I much prefer to a closer box such as a Peugeot 206. Third gear really makes the engine shut up and stop sounding like such a sewing machine. It is used mostly for cruising at 30 mph, and also to change down occasionally on a hill where fourth begins to die. It is used even more frequently when the car has a full complement of passengers – fourth just doesn’t pull hard enough to get the thing moving. The only thing is that the acceleration from about 25-40 is very sluggish in third, especially when going around a large dual carriageway roundabout; it feels like I should have changed down to second rather than third before going around, so that I can have the pull when leaving. Fourth is good, and very versatile, while fifth is quite fun to engage as it takes a nice L shape movement. There is almost no acceleration in fifth, it takes hours to get from 60 to 70, and trying to accelerate up a hill is a joke. Reverse gear has a frequent habit of not engaging properly at the first attempt, but once there it’s great – it also, strangely, seems to make the steering lighter than it is when going forward.

Rear visibility is OK, but I find it hard to judge parking bay lines as the mirrors are probably a bit too small to get around the bulbous doors to see directly vertically downwards. Forward visibility is faultless. The steering is not as heavy as it could be, which is good, but dry steering from lock to lock is a particularly strenuous physical activity and takes hundreds of turns of the wheel. The only time it is a big disadvantage is when needing to leave a junction quickly to turn right, it requires so much lightning fast arm-twirling that I can hardly believe that I can do it! The brakes are very predictable, with lots of feel in the pedal. The clutch is a bit heavy if situations require lots of gear changes, and as I said before it’s a little too high. The clutch then brings me along to the problem of the driving position. Because it is so high, there is no room to put your clutch foot when not in use. I can’t put it under (too dangerous if it’s needed quickly) or to the side (not enough room and no footrest) and putting it in front is excruciatingly painful in my knee as it seems to twist. So, I have to sit a notch farther back than I would like, so that my foot has enough space to lay parallel to my leg. It does eliminate the pain, and also the annoyance of having my knee hitting the gearstick when in fifth when I was closer. Being farther, I do find the seat a little bit too low, which in turn makes the steering wheel a bit too high, but it’s not really that much of a gripe.

Space and Storage:

The main problem with cabin storage is that it’s all made of hard, un-insulated plastic, which is very prone to rattles with contents. You can hear tapes crashing around in the glovebox. This brings me on to the tape holder, which only actually holds two horizontal tapes on these Mk7 Escorts, whereas previously there was a nice vertical rack with room for about six. This is due to an increase in radio space, to accommodate Ford’s newer, bigger audio units that are supplied in less basic models. The front door bins, if full of tall stuff, do get in the way of the window winders. There are no nets on the back of the front seats, which is mean. There is though, a really useful cut-out shape, which gives rear passengers much more legroom. There is a rear ashtray. The front ashtray is good as it has lots of room to hold small change out of prying eyes (the actual coin holder near the gearstick is a good idea albeit pathetic as it holds only four coins in plain view) and it also hides the power socket/lighter, which is safer for children. The glove box lid has two cup-holders, but is pointless for tall cups as they would hit the fascia. There is lots of room once the rear seat has been folded down, and parcel shelf removed. It is actually easier to get bikes into it than it is into a Volvo estate, because the hatchback is diagonal. I particularly like the two rear seatbelt storage clips that keep them away from harm when the seats are folded down, and an honourable mention should be given to the clever rear seat-mounted belt buckle holders, that keep the back seat very tidy.

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Fuel, Servicing and Under the Bonnet:

Fuel economy on the 1.3 is excellent, but strangely I feel that the car performs better with the petrol tank greater than half full. I really like the constant readout fuel gauge. The car passed its MOT in February 2003 with no trouble. Under the bonnet is not particularly pleasant to view, as an ancient looking green engine sits in the middle with lots of pipes and wires coming out of it, which doesn’t really inspire confidence. Also, there is a huge amount of null space around the engine meaning that you can see right through to the road’s surface. The battery is placed in an insane position – under the windscreen near the scuttle panel, so it’s nearly impossible to get at it.

Faults:

Where do I begin! The first day that I came to drive it after it sat on our drive for two months, it wouldn’t start, so we jump-started it. We fitted a new battery too. This lasted a while until the car ran out of power going up a hill in Penmynydd and we had to walk back home. So, the garage came to pick it up. They said it was a problem with the fan-belt and apparently fixed it, but alas it broke down again twice. In the end, my Uncle diagnosed the problem as a faulty alternator, which was replaced, and there have been no similar problems since.

Another fault is that the exhaust pipe came loose and fell off as I was going up a hill. It was retrieved and a new one fitted. Also, I had to have a new ignition barrel fitted by Ford, as I could feel the key slipping in the old one, and I was afraid that one day it would give up completely and I would be stuck!

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Mk7 Escort is a good car. It is comfortable, it has a nice shape, a large boot, and is quite nice to drive. It is also vastly improved over its predecessors. However, I believe that it always leaves you feeling slightly unfulfilled, that you know you could buy better – a feeling almost that you’ve bought something second rate. The thin rear seats, primitive looking boot and engine, hard plastic fascia, and the ceramic-sounding starter motor all contribute to this feeling. In my opinion, it is just a car – it’s lack of gadgets and rather empty sounding doors seem to rob it of a soul. Other more modern cars feel complete and alive: for example opening the rear doors on my mother’s Volvo V70 activates the courtesy light, and a little warning light comes on the dashboard. Small touches I know, but they contribute to a feeling that the car’s components stretch further back than just to the fascia, and that you are entering a safe cocoon that is constantly working to protect you. The Escort feels more like a big empty box glued onto an engine in the front – it’s just not alive, it’s not really a proper car.

Don’t get me wrong; as a cheap but modern and safe first car it is fantastic – a world apart from those awful little Fiestas and Novas – but in the real world as a proper family car, I feel that it would almost certainly fall short due mainly to the constant underlying feeling of low quality that comes with it. Ford’s recent success with its quality-oozing Focus replacement clearly illustrates that the buying public want something better, and I believe that Ford is finally listening and moving up from its budget, working-class roots to be a far more accepted brand in today’s image-conscious motoring market.

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Farewell

Upon hearing that my mother’s old Volvo 440 was up for sale, I decided that it was time for my Escort to go. I placed an advert in the Bangor & Anglesey Mail, and a couple from Caernarfon came around to view it. I was a little nervous, but they seemed to like it and offered £1200 to take it there and then. Although it was £200 below my asking price, I decided to take it, particularly since they discovered that the exhaust was a little loose near the engine. I emptied the car, and she drove it away. Very sad, but for the best I believed. My feeling was that I had successfully owned a Ford for a year – a make of car that was rather alien to me – and that it was time to move on to greater things.

I bought the 440 a week later, and never did receive another offer for the Escort.

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