There are a number of reasons why this less-than-sexy car should have such sensual sales figures: It is inexpensive, fuel-efficient, reliable and durable. It is also true that Ford has not been complacent about the Escort. It has not let a good thing die of neglect. Over the years, it has constantly revised and refined the automobile. The result has been an increasingly better and more pleasing machine.
The 1988 1/2 body freshening and functional changes are cases in point. The re-styling includes new bumpers, fenders, side moldings and tail-light treatment. The two- and four-door hatchback models also get new quarter panels and windows, liftgates and back panels. The sporty GT model has a new grille, and the EXP Luxury Coupe (a rather improbable name for an Escort) gets trim tweaks.
The cheapie Pony and the mid-line LX models additionally get spruced-up interiors. They've also been fitted with bigger, 14-inch wheels and tires with less rolling resistance to engender better handling and fuel economy.
The Escort is available as a two- or four-door hatchback and as a wagon. There also is the schmaltzed-up GT version of the hatchback, and the much better-looking EXP two-seater.
Escorts start at $6,747 in their spartan Pony form. The higher-content LX that I tested, really the bread and butter of the line, has a base price of $7,127. (Even though it was loaded with just about everything in the LX's considerable arsenal of extras, the test car was still less than $9,600.)
The front-drive Escort is fairly roomy as subcompacts go. With the exception of the two-seat EXP model, the Escort will accept four passengers in reasonable comfort.
It rides well, too. This is due in part to its fully independent suspension, a feature you don't find too often in economy cars. It also has more power than most econoboxes. The standard engine is a spunky, 1.9-liter four-cylinder affair that develops 90 horsepower. An even friskier 100-horse version is available in some models.
The Escort uses a four-speed manual gearbox in base form, but also is available with a five-speed manual and a three-speed automatic. (The five- speed is standard in the wagon.)
Driving the 1988 1/2 Escort in its LX hatchback form proved satisfying business. The new styling gives the car a smoother, more "Ford aero" look, and the fresh upholstery treatment improves the appearance of the interior.
The car drives well and has plenty of power, even when equipped with automatic transmission, as the test car was. Handling is certainly adequate, although no one is going to accuse the LX of being a Corvette traveling incognito.
The Escort's ergonomics are pretty good. The controls are readily available, and the optional analog instruments are easy to read. Visibility is good and that, coupled with the car's 169-inch overall length, makes it a breeze to park.
Fuel economy is predictably good. The automatic-equipped Escort I drove has EPA mileage ratings of 24 city and 30 highway. Even with a green engine and the air conditioner always on, the test car obtained 20.5 miles per gallon in the city and 29.5 on a trip, for an average of 25.
The Escort is guaranteed "bumper-to bumper" for the first year, and carries a six-year powertrain and corrosion warranty.
AN EVALUATION: FORD ESCORT LX
BASE VEHICLE: Includes injected, 1.9-liter engine; four-speed manual transaxle; fully independent suspension; power brakes; 14-inch wheels; all- season radial tires; driver's-side outside mirror; AM radio with two speakers; cloth upholstery; day/night rearview mirror; cargo cover.
TEST MODEL: Includes major options: automatic transaxle; AM/FM four-speaker stereo; overhead console with digital clock; tinted glass; power steering; rear-window defroster/wiper/washer; full instrumentation (including tachometer); dual electric side mirrors; upgraded wheel covers; tilt steering; speed control; split folding rear seat; air conditioner; cast wheels.
Base price $7,127
Test model $9,563
EPA city rating 24 m.p.g.
Test mileage 25 m.p.g.