Used 1998 Ford Escort Wagon Review




what's new

Packages are reshuffled on Ford's entry-level cars. Available this year as sedans, wagons or stylish coupes, the Ford Escort now qualifies as a low emissions vehicle, thanks to the car's split-port induction 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.

vehicle overview

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 really put the Escort on the defensive. Why buy an 88-horsepower Escort LX, when the Dodge Neon offered 132 horsepower? Why get an Escort covered in poor-fitting plastic that is a bit too shiny, when the immensely refined Geo Prizm was available? Why get the noisy, vibrating Escort when the smooth quietness of a Honda Civic beckoned? Apparently enough people were asking these questions that the gang at the Blue Oval decided to update their entry-level offering.

In 1997, Ford updated their entry-level car by addressing three major areas. The first was 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 2.0-liter overhead-cam engine that produces 20 percent more horsepower and 14 percent more torque than the 1996 motor. 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 firmer 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 maturer chord, the new Escort has fewer cut-lines and a more polished demeanor than previous models. The obvious exception here is the Gen-X-directed ZX2 coupes, which are definitely not meant to attract a mature audience. 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 of updating the Escort.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.