Ford Motor Co.’s 1993 Probe is one of the better examples of a cooperative automobile venture between Ford and Mazda Motors.

As a front-drive sports coupe that was introduced in May, 1988, the 1989 Probe was a highly successful automobile that went on to account for more than 400,000 units sold to date.

The new version can be expected to do even better, as it is a sleek vehicle that has improved on the myriad of features possessed by its predecessor.

There are increases in size and improvements in styling and appointments that underscore the coupe’s drivability. It gives the appearance of going fast just standing still. It presents a wide stance. And contoured sheet metal is formed in the best aerodynamic tradition.

The ’93 version has a track width that has been widened by more than 2 inches, to 59.8 inches. In keeping with a balanced chassis design, the wheelbase has been lengthened by 3.9 inches. And the body is nearly 2 inches longer and nearly 2 inches wider than the car it replaces.

Built in Mazda plant

Built in Flat Rock, Mich., the coupe is not a big automobile. Yet the Probe that Ford Motor’s Bill Carroll provided for a test car demonstrated ride and comfort characteristics expected of midsized sedans.

Getting in and out is not as convenient as entering and leaving a midsized four-door. But then we didn’t expect it to be, because the two-door has very definite ties to the sports-car category.

Seating, headroom and legroom were quite comfortable. The bucket seats gave good support without binding the body. And you felt you could drive this machine for a long time without great fatigue.

The cabin-forward design incorporates a low, sloping nose; a steeply raked windshield; and a low interior cowl. Compared to the ’92 Probe, the windshield is moved forward 5.5 inches and the cowl is 2.9 inches lower.

Driver has clear view

There is a vast expanse of glass, particularly wraparound rear glass, that provides excellent visibility in all directions.

Ordinarily, that tends to increase interior temperatures under a hot summer sun. However, an air-conditioning system that delivered air as if it were coming right off the North Pole can drop temperatures to any comfort zone desired by driver or passengers.

The new car offers some variants to suit driving styles and personal desires. For the flat-out road-racer types there is a GT with a four-cam, 24-valve, 2.5-liter V-6 and a five-speed manual transmission. Also available is a four-speed automatic.

The GT is more the high-dollar deal. With equipment and anti-lock braking, it’s not too difficult to put close to $19,000 into the vehicle.

There is a more economical Probe with a 2.0-liter, dual-cam, 16-valve, four- cylinder engine that also is available with a five-speed or an automatic. Sort of a day-in, day-out type of vehicle, the standard Probe offers a mix of sporting atmosphere and daily utility use.

The test car was powered by the 2.0-liter engine. And while race drivers may turn up their nose at its automatic, the flexibility indicated the automatic doesn’t give all that much away to a manual shift.

Controls close to driver

Actually driving the Probe was no different than driving any of Ford’s sedans. In the best sports-car tradition, the controls are grouped around the driver a little more closely. But all levers, buttons, switches and the like are conventional in location and operation.

The automobile’s design seats you in a low, reclining position. However, this doesn’t encumber visibility, particularly for the full-scale instrumentation that is directly ahead of the driver.

All gauges are the sweep-hand analog type, and readings can be picked up virtually with a flick of the eye. The tachometer goes with this type of vehicle, but with an automatic the shift points are set so there is no danger of going past the 6,500 rpm redline.

The 122-cubic-inch engine’s 115 horsepower is middle-of-the-road for a double-overh ead-cam four- cylinder. That doesn’t quite make it to the accepted performance standard of one horsepower per cubic inch.

The motor revs quickly, and it goes up through the gears quickly. However, acceleration also is somewhat middle-of- the-road, with the car being just a little bit lazy in going for a downshift quick-passing maneuver.

The 24-valve V-6 with its 164 horsepower is much more suitable for drag-racing activities.

Holds line

The chassis has superb road manners, with high-speed linear motion being arrow straight. And the body laid flat in the turns without the car having a stiff, bone- jarring ride.

The new suspension geometry is another example of today’s engineering thinking, which says control is enhanced by encouraging wheel movement that keeps the tires in contact with the pavement. Despite its sports-car orientation, the Probe has a very decent ride that absorbed rippling pavement without a lot a vibration in the passenger compartment.

The Probe is a personalized type of vehicle that fits into the small-car specialty segment. It does have the advantage over two-seaters of offering a back seat that in an emergency could accommodate three moderately sized people.

But officially the car is classified as a four-passenger, with the rear-seat occupants preferably being little ones.

Ford has gotten an early start on its introduction of 1993 models with this Probe. With its new, more contemporary design and high level of technical sophistication, it can be expected to exert a strong presence in the specialty segment of the market.

1993 Ford Probe Base Price: $12,845.As tested: $16,328.Type: Front-engine, front-drive, four-passenger coupe.Engine: Four cylinders, 2.0 liters, 16 valves, fuel injected, 115 horsepower, 124 foot-pounds of torque.Mileage: 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway.Acceleration: 0-60 mph in 10.2 seconds.Length: 178.9 inches.Wheelbase: 102.9 inches.Curb weight: 2,619 pounds.Options: Air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with cassette and clock, automatic transmission, remote keyless entry, power group, light group, tilt cluster column, electric rear mirrors, rear defroster, rear wiper and washer, convenience group, manual-height-adjustment seat.

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