For the follow-up XR2i, however, the sporty hatch gained fuel injection as well as a price tag of almost £10,000 – about £1200 more than the XR2. Suddenly the fast Fiesta was positioned against the Renault 5 GT Turbo, Peugeot 205 GTI and Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Under its bonnet was a new version of the CVH 1.6-litre engine, a development of the unit found in the Escort XR3i, with a power output of 110bhp giving it a 14bhp advantage over the outgoing XR2. Backing it up was 102lb ft at 2800rpm.
Those figures placed the £9995 hot Ford mid-way up the performance ladder, about a rung down from the most accomplished contender, the 115bhp, £9835 Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6. It was that six-year-old model, in many respects still the pacesetter, that Autocar lined up as a rival for a comparison test on Dartmoor.
“The XR2i has certainly got what it takes to stay with the 205 in any bar-room contest and comfortably shadows the French car on the road,” wrote our testers. “The 205 holds a 5bhp power advantage, the Ford a 4lb ft torque advantage. These are small margins but accurate pointers to how the pair feel in practice: the XR2i is more energetic low down, the 205 crisper high up.
“On the road, the Fiesta is far from outclassed. Its low-end torque actually makes for more effortless progress, as it allows the driver the luxury of foregoing the occasional downchange and revelling in the bubbly, Alfa-esque exhaust note the engine produces as it hauls up to peak torque at 2800rpm.
“But as the pace goes up, the enjoyment of using the CVH engine goes down. At 4000rpm, when the Peugeot’s XU engine is hitting its stride, the Ford’s motor becomes harsh and thrashy. And while the 205 spins eagerly to its redline, the Fiesta driver is deciding whether to endure the din beyond 5000rpm.”
When it came to handling, the 205 GTI ran rings around the Ford. “The XR2i’s troubles begin with its steering. Ford gives it a low ratio – 4.25 turns lock to lock – but the steering is still heavy at parking speeds and demands energetic twirling on fast, twisting roads. It is a compromise that doesn’t work.
“The 205 isn’t dogged by such indecision; its steering is hard work at low speeds but high-speed precision is superb. It is not particularly fast-geared at 3.75 turns across locks, but turn-in is razor sharp and the chassis’ fine balance virtually eliminates understeer, so all movement at the steering wheel is resolved at the front wheels.
“Quite simply, the 205’s chassis does what a driver asks of it; the Fiesta’s can’t muster a definitive response.”
The two cars were similar in terms of ride, both being “firm around town but acceptably smooth across country and on the motorway”. With the testers raving about the 205’s “blindingly fast” gearchange compared with the XR2i’s “smooth but longwinded” action, the comparison stacked up in the French car’s favour. “The XR2i has enough grip, though too much power is wasted in wheelspin at times, and its overall balance is safe. What the Ford ultimately lacks compared with the Peugeot, and most other GTIs, is clarity of purpose and the ability to entertain.”