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Expert Reviews 1 of 3
By Richard Truett
May 3, 1990
Here's one of my secrets in trying to determine how well a new car isbuilt: I wash it.I stick my face up real close and see how well the paint is put on, look athow the trim pieces go together and see how flush the body panels fit.So, early
one morning while washing a 1991 Escort LX in the Sentinel'sparking lot, a co-worker walks up, looks the car over and offers this bit ofwisdom: ''There's no way you can convince me that a Ford Escort isn't a pieceof junk.''I didn't even try.I
handed her the keys and let her take it around the block a few times.It took about two miles to shatter her idea of what the new Ford Escort isall about. The Escort's performance, the car's solid feel and the way theinterior is designed impressed
her.''I like the way this car holds the road and handles. I don't rememberFords being this way. It's cute. The cup holders alone will sell it,'' shesaid. But she, like many who have bought American cars and have gotten burnedbecause of poor quality,
had some reservations.It's that lingering perception of poor quality in American cars thatcontinues to hurt the domestic auto industry. How will the Big Three evercompete if it can't even get its cars on peoples' shopping lists?Building cars like
the 1991 Ford Escort LX is how. Vehicles like this canslowly do away with the now old-fashioned notion that America can't make greatcars anymore.After spending a week with the new Escort, I asked myself what Ford couldhave done to make this car
better. I didn't come up with much.The Escort needs an air bag. The consumer has spoken, and air bags are in.They save lives. Ford really could have knocked the competition on its ear ifthe new Escort had an air bag.It soon will.Ford Vice
President Thomas Wagner says that an air bag for the Escort isabout two years off. He admits Ford got caught off-guard when redesigning theEscort, and didn't think the air bag would be embraced so warmly by carbuyers.With that aside, let's get to the
heart of the matter here. The new Escortrolled into showrooms last week and is available in three body styles:four-door sedan hatchback, two-door hatchback and station wagon. All three arepowered by an energetic 88-horsepower, 1.9-liter overhead cam
four-cylinderengine designed by Ford.The GT version of the two-door comes with a Mazda-built, 127-horsepower,1.8-liter double overhead cam four-cylinder.The reason the GT comes with a Mazda engine is because Ford owns 25 percentof Mazda. Indeed,
the Japanese company played a large part in engineering thenew Escort, while Ford concentrated on styling the car. However, the Escort isnot a Japanese car. Escorts are built in a remodeled factory in Michigan andin a fairly new factory in Mexico.The
Escort LX has features that are surprising for a small car and unheardof in a small American car with a price tag of about $10,000. The test carfeatured an electrically operated sunroof, like
those in expensive midsizeimports. It also featured electrically operated side mirrors and a superbAM-FM cassette sound system.Though the exterior dimensions are roughly the same as the old Escort,inside it's a different ballgame.Where there once
was only an acceptable amount of room for feet and cargo,there is now roominess that approaches best in class. Headroom for tallpeople, though, is tight. If you are much taller than 6 feet, you are apt tobe uncomfortable.There is now a
high-performance air conditioning system that rivalsanything found in more expensive cars. There are now seats, firm, comfortableand supportive, that would still be complimented if they were bolted to carsthat cost three times as much. Where once
visibility was only decent, now itis excellent.Switches, gauges, knobs and buttons all are designed to be reached easilyand operated without distracting your attention from the road. There are twocup holders designed into the shifter console
that underscore some of theuseful ''driver-friendly'' features found in the new Escort.Split fold down rear seats make the four-door a versatile vehicle capableof transporting both cargo and people comfortably.As for performance, the
fuel-injected, four-cylinder engine runs with thesmoothness of a Swiss watch. Performance is lively. One thing I've alwaysdisliked about four-cylinder cars is that the air conditioner tends to absorba lot of power. But not in the Escort. I hardly could
feel the difference inperformance whether the air conditioner was on or off.The power-assisted steering required more effort of the driver than onewould expect in a small car. But the Escort is not hard to steer by any means.Instead, Ford opted to
give the driver a good feel for the road, not make thesteering so light that one could get into trouble by making a quick movement.The brakes also get high marks for providing quick, trauma-free stops.The test car had an electronically controlled
four-speed automatic. Afive-speed manual is available. I've driven both and prefer the manual gearboxsimply because it is a more efficient way to get the power to the wheels. Butdon't get the impression the automatic is anything less than excellent.
Itgoes through the gears smoothly and handles quick downshifting (such as whenpassing) gracefully.In the efficiency department, the Escort traveled 271 miles in city drivingand used only 9.2 gallons of unleaded regular. In round numbers that
equalsabout 30 miles per gallon. Most of the time the air conditioning was on.That's economy many people can live with.The highest marks, though, are to be given out for the car's styling. Itconveys class - from every rounded aerodynamic angle. The
Escort's nose is asmaller version of the one currently fronting the Taurus. Big windows allround give you a commanding view of the road. You never feel claustrophobicdriving the new Escort.Perhaps my most memorable experience came while I was parked
at aconvenience store. A man in a white BMW convertible drove up and asked me if Iwas driving one of the new Saabs.The fact that Ford leaned on Mazda for some help with the Escort is aperfect example of how the business of building cars has become a
globalaffair. The fact that there are Japanese parts in the new Escort doesn't makeit a Japanese car any more than the General Motors components in Jaguars makethem American cars.Aggressively priced, attractively styled and built right, the new Escort
isthe first car of the new decade that can be considered a milestone vehicle.