On 10 January 1981, we subjected the third-generation Ford Escort to our Road Test in its most practical form. How was it against the likes of the Peugeot 305, Renault 18 and Vauxhall Astra?

As with the Anglia that preceded it, and indeed the Focus that succeeded it, the Ford Escort found continual favour throughout its long life as one of Britain’s best-selling cars.

The original Escort launched in 1968, the second in 1974 and the third in 1980.

We tested the latter in its fast form, the XR3, on 15 November 1980, and were mightily impressed, but on 10 January 1981, we found it how it would cope with its natural role, that of a spacious family transporter, in Estate form.

Equipped with a four-cylinder 1.6-litre petrol engine, producing 79bhp and 92lb ft, a four-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive, our test car, the 1.6 L, was priced at £4717.

This put it on equal footing with its, er, esteemed contingent of rivals comprised of the Morris Ital, Peugeot 305, Renault 18, Talbot Avenger and Vauxhall Astra Estates.

In our test Escort Estate, we achieved 0-30mph in 4.0sec, while 0-60 took a “most creditable” 11.9sec – “in the same class as an Alfa Romeo Alfasud 1300Ti, Fiat Super Milafiori or Triumph Dolomite”.

The engine itself proved to be “reasonably flexible”, and with a “nice, fast idle”. It also had a “sensibly high top gear figure of 19.2mph/1000rpm,” making it “reasonably quiet at 90-plus mph, and more importantly, sensibly economical". We achieved an average of 32.1mpg – much better than the 28.7mpg of the Escort 1.3 Ghia and more frugal than all of its five rivals.

Top speed was 102mph, reached at 5300rpm, although when really pushed, the engine would “nerve-stretchingly scream” to 6520rpm.

The gearchange, meanwhile, we found to have “positive movements” and a light clutch with “progressive take-up and no judder”.

Noise on the move we found to be “acceptable,” with Ford having done a good job of preventing the Escort’s bigger derrière from becoming an echo chamber.

Ride, while vastly improved over earlier prototypes we had tried, was still not “open to any particular compliments,” feeling harsh, especially when compared with its amenable aforementioned French rivals.

The Escort’s employment of independent rear suspension was more visible in the Estate model, which adopted a “slightly awkward-looking negative camber attitude at the rear when fully laden,” although with a little tyre pressure adjustment any negative effect this may have had on the handling was completely negated.

This was a good job, too, because, as it is today, handling was one of the better attributes of the family Ford. We found the Escort Estate to handle “extremely well,” being “easy to handle in crowded town streets and easily manageable even at parking speeds,” while at higher speeds it only understeered when you pushed very hard. Our qualms were a slight leftward wander at the steering's straight-ahead and the unusually prevalent effect of the wake of lorries upon the car when on the motorway.

What of practicality, though, the main purpose of an estate car? Well, although just right for the average man, taller drivers found their legs up against the steering wheel. The seats themselves were firm and comfortable – and had head restraints (a £25.53 extra!).

The dashboard was neat and tidily laid out in our opinion, although our car was in mid-range L spec, meaning many of the features we considered necessities (such as rear wipers and electronic monitoring systems) weren't fitted.

The boot was impressively practical. “The hatchback has become the practical man’s car, but the estate still wins when it comes to sheer carrying ability,” we said. The rear seat bench folded as standard, giving a load area nearly 62in long, over 39in wide and 33.5in high – “a volume of 27.5cu.ft with the seat in place, or 57.6 with it folded.” Plus, the tailgate was helpfully held open by gas struts, while the ribbed-steel floor had an easily removable protective mat.

There were seven models in the Escort range. Base trim (from £3757) came with the 1.1 and 1.3 engines, L offered added a 1.6 unit to that list, while range-topping GL cars offered the two bigger units.

In conclusion, we said of the Escort Estate 1.6 L: “The original rear-drive Escorts had reputations of being hard-working but rather basic workhorses. The new model is something of a revelation in just what steps can be made, for the test car was the one-up-from-base model. The 1.6 engine proved to be both lively and economical.

We deemed it marginally better than the Astra and 305, but the albeit-priciest 18 was our pick of the range. The Avenger and Ital also had benefits in their greater mechanical simplicity, but overall, while in a tight market, we correctly predicted that “despite its rather harsh ride, the Escort will have all the success of its predecessor".

Our Verdict

Ford Focus

Britain's biggest-selling family hatchback gets a mid-life refresh, but can the Ford Focus hold off the likes of the Volkswagen Golf and the Seat Leon?

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Comments
15

6 April 2017
I had one of those. It was an embarrassment to Ford. It was tinny to the point that it would fold up in an accident. The engine's auto choke was such a mess that I had it converted to manual choke! It was flimsy inside - like a 1960s Skoda. Ford should never have made this Escort.

4 May 2017
Bazzer wrote:

I had one of those. It was an embarrassment to Ford. It was tinny to the point that it would fold up in an accident. The engine's auto choke was such a mess that I had it converted to manual choke! It was flimsy inside - like a 1960s Skoda. Ford should never have made this Escort.

But it sold by the millions! What an idiotic comment. Tinny and fragile compared to today's cars but in 1980 it felt a real step up from what went before

6 April 2017
How would an estate car like this be marketed today? Would it be a shooting brake, a touring, a tourer, a sports tourer? How many levels of trim would be available? How many engine sizes and fuels?

6 April 2017
Autocar - we correctly predicted that “despite its rather harsh ride, the Escort will have all the success of its predecessor".

Prediciting the Escort / Focus will have all the success of it's predecessors? Nobody would bet against the next Focus having all the success of it's predecessors and we haven't even seen the thing.

Has the Escort / Focus ever been out of the top three best selling cars in the UK?

4 May 2017
scotty5 wrote:

Autocar - we correctly predicted that “despite its rather harsh ride, the Escort will have all the success of its predecessor".

Prediciting the Escort / Focus will have all the success of it's predecessors? Nobody would bet against the next Focus having all the success of it's predecessors and we haven't even seen the thing.

Has the Escort / Focus ever been out of the top three best selling cars in the UK?

Yes - this month beaten by the the Merc C class and A class

6 April 2017
I've often wondered how BL could possibly have kept the Marina (Ital) in production so long but I think we often overestimate what it was up against. This is the brand new Escort and inside and out and there doesn't seem to be that much progress in ten years over the much lambasted Marina.
The car market is MUCH less forgiving these days.
I also think that when we all lay into BL we tend to give the competition too easy a time. This looks incredibly basic and had a whole host of problems of it's own (as did the rest).
Saying that, I'm not a BL fan I just think that with slightly better management and worker relations we might still have a home-grown car industry.

6 April 2017
I'd have thought the Austin Allegro would have been a more obvious competitor than the Marina/Ital!

One benefit old cars had though was visibility, that Escort estate has masses of glass when compared to modern vehicles with their thick pillars and shallow side windows

6 April 2017
The first and last ford I ever owned...put me off fords for life, all of it was awful, I can't think of anything that was good about it except they were cheep and plentiful. Coarse Vibaration and Harshness was what the CVH engine stood for.

6 April 2017
I Preferred the look of the MK1 over the MK11. I guess this was the time when people realised that the Jap cars had superior reliability and then it was goodbye to the likes of BL and Austin.


6 April 2017
Now there's a niche body style you need to relaunch amongst all the fastbacks, SUV coupes, 4 door coupes etc

 

 

 

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