1991 Mercury Capri
History buffs will recall that Australia was raised by and then weaned from Great Britain. The British left behind many of their customs and traditions, their language and legal system, and - apparently - their knack for building great looking cars that are slapped together with reckless abandon. Famous British sports cars like MG, Triumph, and Austin-Healey, offered a lot of fun per dollar, but were anointed with numerous reliability and build problems. Turns out the Australian-built Capri also offers a lot of fun per dollar, but there are few questions marks in my mind about the car's build quality. Is the Capri the modern incarnation of an MG, Triumph or Healey? A plastic trim piece on the dash vibrated loose and fell off. The metal base of the radio antenna was not attached. The engine temperature and oil pressure worried me. The brake pedal felt spongy. I sent the Capri back to the dealership thinking history was repeating itself all over again, that this was really a British sports cars in disguise. According to Lincoln-Mercury, the XR2's engine is supposed to run at about 225 degrees - one click of the temperature gauge away from overheating. Lincoln-Mercury also says that the oil pressure should be between 30 and 60 pounds - in the lower quadrant of the 120-pound gauge. Ford needs to redesign these gauges so they don't appear to be signaling an engine teetering on the brink of disaster. The brakes were normal, I was told. The piece of trim on the dash had a loose clip. The antenna was easily fixed. Though unsettling, such quirks as these helped give British sports cars some of their uniquely strange character. ENGINE, TRANSMISSION, PERFORMANCE The 132-horsepower Capri is a front-wheel-drive car based on the Mazda 323 platform, and it is powered by a 1.6-liter, 16-valve, double overhead cam four-cylinder built by Mazda. In XR2 trim, the Capri is available only with a five-speedmanual transmission. I found the engine to be responsive, though not muscular, and fairly economical, even when driven hard. In city driving with the air conditioning on, the Capri returned 22 miles per gallon. That figure is closer to 30 in highway driving. That's not bad for a sports car. The transmission and shifter are excellent. Tight, precise and with well-spaced gears, the five-speed manual is a perfect match for the engine. Thanks to the turbo, the snappy little four-cylinder pulls cleanly and strongly in most every gear. Several enthusiasts magazines have clocked the Capri XR2 at just over 8 seconds in 0 to 60 mph tests. This is faster than the Mazda Miata. Th exhaust lacks a sports car growl. STEERING, HANDLING, BRAKING For the most part, the Capri is a very capable handling machine. I only encountered one instance where the front wheel drive asserted itself to my disliking: Under heavy acceleration with the turbo at full boost, I fo und myself wrestling with the steering wheel trying to straighten the car coming out of a tight curve. Most people don't drive like that often, so it won't be much of a problem. The Capri is blessed with a large amount of oversteer. That is, with most of the weight up front, the front tires have more traction than the rear tires. The rear end gets loose in such a maneuver because the the car's four-wheel-disc brakes haul the Capri to a stop very efficiently. The Capri is at its best, though, on long highway cruises. FIT, FINISH, CONTROLS The XR2 comes loaded with a bevy of standard equipment that makes it almost a steal for its $15,522 base price tag. Electrically adjustable mirrors, power steering and brakes, power windows and door locks, air conditioning and a host of other items give the Capri a big price edge over its chief competitor, the Mazda Miata. The premium AM/FM cassette stereo was a $280 option and well worth it. The convertible top n eds a zip-out rear window. At speeds of 60 mph or more wind leaks in around the lower sides of the top, which clips sloppily under a piece of trim on the body. The air conditioner is truly awesome, one of the best I've seen in a small car. Most knobs, switches, buttons and controls are within easy reach. The seats have a multitude of adjustments and are luxurious for a sports car. The rear seats are best used for grocery bags or small children. There is a waiting list for the car, but, unlike what has happened with the Miata, you will not have to pay a greedy dealer thousands over sticker price. The Capri sells for the manufacturer's suggested retail price, despite heavy demand. All things considered, the Capri XR2 Turbo - Australian quirkiness and all - is a blast to drive and it should be a big winner for Mercury.
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