What's New for 1997
The Ford Escort is totally redesigned this year with improvements across the board. The most noticeable improvements are in the powertrain and ride quality. New sheet metal gives the Escort a rounder, more aerodynamic appearance as well. The GT hatchback version is dropped.
The Escort has been Ford's bread-and-butter car for the last 14 years. Think of it as the car that brings consumers into the Ford family. The Escort's low price, decent reliability and above average crash test scores have consistently offered recent college grads and young families an attractive set of American wheels. Recently, however, a rash of excellent cars from Dodge, Honda and Geo has really put the Escort on the defensive. Why buy an 88-horsepower Escort LX, when the Dodge Neon is offering 132 horsepower? Why get an Escort covered in poor-fitting plastic that is a bit too shiny, when the immensely refined Geo Prizm is available? Why get the noisy, vibrating Escort when the smooth quietness of a Honda Civic beckons? Apparently enough people were asking these questions that the gang at the Blue Oval decided to update their entry-level offering. The Escort needed help in three major areas; the first is power. The old 1.9-liter four-banger just wasn't getting the job done against the newer cars. Heck, the lowly Hyundai Accent and Suzuki Esteem had more power available than the base 1996 Escort. To tackle this, Ford replaced the old powerplant with a 2-liter overhead-cam engine that produces 25 percent more horsepower and 14 percent more torque than last year's model. This difference in engines is most readily noticed under hard acceleration; what was once a noisy bumpy affair is now a smooth, quite one. Coupe versions of the Escort are available with an even more potent engine, a 2.0-liter ZETEC powerplant taken from the Contour. This engine provides 130 eager ponies and 127 foot-pounds of torque.Ford's second area of concern was with body stiffness and vibration. Previous Escorts are notoriously wiggly over rough surfaces. The Escort's tendency to shake, which leads to a lot of rattle-and-roll, can really punish passengers on long commutes. One-piece body construction, a cross-car beam and stiffer stabilizer bars solve this problem by radically improving the Escort's torsional stiffness.Fit and finish, the Escort's third problem area, are also refined by the one-piece body construction; windows and doors fit better and are less likely to let in the weather. The instrument panel, a long-standing sore spot among Escort owners, has been brought up to speed by the introduction of Ford's Integrated Control Panel, first seen on the 1996 Taurus. The ICP reduces dashboard clutter by combining the stereo and climate controls. The single-unit ICP is very easy to use and allows eyes-on-the-road operation of its systems. Further interior improvements include rear-seat heater ducts, an upgraded six-speaker audio system and nicer upholstery and dashboard materials.Of lesser importance, is the Escort's new sheetmetal. Striking a more mature chord, the new Escort has fewer cut-lines and a more polished demeanor than previous models. We find this ironic considering how much more fun the new one promises to be. In the end, we feel that Escort is a real winner; no more increased blood pressure when merging with freeway traffic, no more shaking like a willow when driving over uneven pavement. Ford has done a fine job bringing this car up-to-date. We expect to see quite a few of these new Escorts on the road.