- Economical, loaded with features, and frugal at the gas pump. ZX2 coupe offers surprising performance.
- Sedan and wagon are not too pretty, ZX2 is downright funky.
Ford's entry-level car gets new colors, new interior fabrics and revised options. An AM/FM stereo with cassette is now standard on the Escort SE. An interior trunk release is now standard on all models. The sedans and wagon get all-door remote keyless entry added to their standard equipment lists. An integrated child seat is no longer available.
The Escort has been Ford's bread-and-butter car for the last 15 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. In 1997, Ford decided to redesign its entry-level vehicle.
Ford addressed three major areas when planning the current generation Escort: power, stiffness and build quality. Anyone familiar with the previous Escort's asthmatic engine knows that we are not exaggerating when we say that the new engine is an exponential improvement over the one powering the old model. The current motor is a 2.0-liter overhead cam engine that makes 110 horsepower and 125 foot-pounds of torque, enough to make the Escort sedan and wagon competitive with the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Mazda Protege. The new engine is also quieter than the one it replaces, the overhead-cam design contributing to smoother delivery and more refined operation.
Ford also addressed body stiffness and vibration. Second-generation Escorts were notoriously wiggly over rough surfaces. The Escort's tendency to shake, which led to a lot of rattle-and-roll, could really punish passengers on long commutes. One-piece body construction, a cross-car beam and stiffer stabilizer bars solved this problem by radically improving the current Escort's torsional stiffness.
Fit and finish, the Escort's third problem area, were also refined by the one-piece body construction. This makes the windows and doors fit better, so they are less likely to let the weather in. The secondary control panel, a long-standing sore spot among Escort owners, was brought up to speed with 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 easier to use than the one found in Taurus, however, and allows eyes-on-the-road operation of its systems.
The major change for 1999 includes the addition of a new stereo with cassette to the standard equipment lists of the SE sedan and wagon. Other changes include adding a leather-wrapped steering wheel to the sedan sport group equipment and making all-door remote keyless entry standard on the SE models. Oddly, Ford dropped the integrated child seat from the wagon's optional equipment list. What happened to the safest car manufacturer in America image they've been pushing?
The Escort is a competent sedan in a crowded market. A competitive price, good lease deals, and ever-present incentives make it hard not to recommend the Escort.