Condition: About as close to showroom as you’re likely to find
Advert: Car & Classic Auctions
Few Fords come more maligned than the fifth-generation Escort. Aside from perhaps the bug-eyed Scorpio, the Mk5 Escort was Ford’s lowest ebb in the 1990s, brutalised by the press, rapidly and comprehensively updated by Ford in the years after its launch, and then forgotten about as quickly as possible once the Focus arrived in 1998 and became a class-leader.
Mk5 Escorts were everywhere in the 1990s: that’s what you get from having the biggest dealer network of any manufacturer selling in the UK, and decades of name recognition and goodwill from consistently topping the sales charts.
But that didn’t make it a good car. This was the model that Autocar gave a 2 out of 10 star rating in its 1990 road test, and included in a ‘100 Greatest Road Tests’ magazine in 2003, not because it was one of the best they’d ever tested, but because it was one of the most significant, for showing what can happen when a manufacturer is utterly complacent of its target audience.
Ford, thankfully, has not repeated the same mistake since – though the Ecosport crossover hastily rushed into the European market from India to compete with the Capturs, Jukes, and 2008s of the world got disturbingly close. [Fusion? Third-gen Ka? Ed.] Instead, the panning seemed to galvanise Ford, and it closed out the decade with one of the best lineups the maker has ever fielded.
Escorts did become more competitive towards the end, and rallying exploits with both the Cosworth (which wasn’t really an Escort) and the RS2000-based kit cars (which were) gave the model an image boost. But it was not a high point for the nameplate.
The car you see here meanwhile, up for auction soon with Car & Classic, was an interim step between the smoothed-off later Escorts, and the first, uncompetitive Mk5s. Ford rushed out a facelift barely two years after launching the original, wearing a smiley corporate grille, a set of rounded-off tail lights, and several small improvements both under the skin and to the car’s options list, one of which was the introduction of 16v ‘Zeta’ four-cylinders.
Our Unexceptional Classified does not have one of these Zetas – in fact, it has the basic 1.3-litre ‘Kent’ engine that found its way into the even later Escorts, as well as the Fiesta and eventually, the Ka. It was no powerhouse, its 60bhp thirteen down on even the 1.4 LX that Autocar had found no more than acceptable.
It was cheap though, only available in the car’s base specification, not even given a “Popular” or “L” trim level. £9145 was your lot in the three-door form seen here, or a shade under £18k in 2022 – less, even than a basic Fiesta today.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t look too austere. Witness body-coloured bumpers, a line of chrome trim around the car, a full set of wheel trims (seemingly original here, which is impressive), and even a splash of colour to the patterned interior trim, as well as a manual sunroof.
There are a lot of switch blanks and that steering wheel – sporty though it looks – has no airbag, and a close look at the instrument cluster reveals that Ford base-model trope of a graphic of the car rather than a rev counter, so the signs are there.
Clearly, this one has been looked after properly too. It’s only covered 11,819 miles, saving it from the rigours of heavy use, and there’s a large history file with the car. It’s been parked somewhere dry since new too.
This is not an unexceptional classic that will thrill you with the way it drives. But it gets the time-capsule thing spot on, and if you believe the idea that any press is good press, perhaps even the Mk5 Escort’s story of scorn and poor reviews adds to the experience – it’s something to talk about, at least.