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SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

1996 FORD ESCORT LX SEDAN

By Matt/Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 11,515
     Price As Tested                                    $ 14,040
     Engine Type                             2.0 Liter I4 w/EFI*
     Engine Size                                  121cid/1988 cc
     Horsepower                                   110 @ 5000 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               125 @ 3750 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   98.4"/67.0"/174.7"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     2482 Pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  12.7 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P185/65R14
     Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/drum
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 80 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            26/34/30          
     0-60 MPH                                       11.2 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     18.7 seconds @ 76.6 mph


     * Electronic fuel injection

(There have been some noticeable improvements made to the '97 Ford Escort and most in areas that are targeted to its potential buyers. Matt and Bob Hagin check out this Ford and discover why its sales are inching up on the Top Ten list. Matt laments the loss of the two-door sporty GT model but his dad Bob thinks that coupes are for kids.)

MATT - This new Escort is really quite new this year. It has a bigger engine, updated styling, re-engineered rear suspension to make it handle better, and the whole thing is four inches longer. It's a little heavier, too, due to the additional strengthening. The Escort we checked out in a quickie test last year suffered a bit from low and middle speed torque, but this new one seems to have more pulling power. The only thing that I find disheartening is that the slick GT three-door hatchback coupe has been dropped from the lineup. The engine in the one Tom tested in '94 had a bit less displacement but the horsepower rating was 127 and it was considerably quicker off the line than this new four-door. It also had disc brakes all around and handled better.

BOB - This new Escort four-door wasn't meant to be a hot-rod, Matt, Coupes are styled for image and a four-door is the only practical way to build a four-seater - otherwise it's too hard to get into the back seat. But be patient. Ford is going to introduce a new GT version with twin-cams and 16-valves later in the '97 model year and I'm sure that it will be quicker than the one your brother tried two years ago. This four-door is a family car and built for a much broader niche with two valves per cylinder and a single overhead cam engine. The shoppers who go for this car are buying for the space, fuel economy and a low initial investment. Ford held the price line and that may be why the Escort climbed to fourth is sales in July. Ford did a lot of market testing and found that the major buyers of new Escorts are in the 20-30 year-old age group, either single or a single parent, like to go out to the movies rather than rent videos, and are interested in outdoor activities.

MATT - That's getting pretty specific, Dad. I wonder if Ford knows how many are left-handed and blue-eyed. But the Escort does seem to concentrate on convenience rather than image. There's five cup holders in the console, the air conditioning and sound system controls are now more centrally located and this "practical" car even has an optional 6-disc changer with a pumped-up amplifier, but Ford didn't put one in our test car. The rear seat has a 60/40 fold-down feature which makes getting long stuff stowed inside lots easier than having it hang out the back. The fuel economy is good at 26 around town and 30 on the highway.

BOB - We might have gotten a little better acceleration times and even better mileage out of our test car, but it came equipped with a four-speed automatic instead of the manual five-speed. But I still don't think I'd give up the automatic around town and in commuter traffic. The car is in a tough market segment and Ford has to keep the price line down to last year's level and still appeal to the majority. But I could have done without the aluminum wheels that were on our test car. They're the same size as the steel versions and are strictly cosmetic. They don't go with the utilitarian image that Ford is projecting with Escort.

MATT - The Escort has been around in one form or another since 1981 and it's always had a pretty fair reputation and sold well. Originally it was the replacement for the late but unlamented Pinto and it was on the bottom of the Ford pecking order until the little Festiva and its successor, the Aspire came on the scene. As always, Ford offers a traditional four-door station wagon on the same chassis. That one would suit Suzanne, little Sophie and myself. It's got lots of cargo room and all the latest safety features. Oh yeah, it's inexpensive, too.

BOB - The only thing that I find fault with in the new Escort is that Ford tells owners to not to do any towing with it. What would I do about all those Sundays?

MATT - As I've told you before, Dad, not everybody feels it necessary to drag a bunch of old car parts to every swap meet in the country.

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