Overhyped and over here : Ford Escort XR3/XR3i

Mike Humble with the second of an occasional series where AROnline pours scorn like used engine oil over some of the scene’s most highly prized old clunkers.

Ford’s (incorrect) answer to the Volkswagen Golf GTi Mk1: The Ford Escort XR3

Having worked in and around the motor trade most of my professional life, I have been lucky to drive many makes and models of motor cars. Some underwhelm, some disappoint and some make you loathe them, in extreme cases some cars can manage all three, and in my opinion one model captures all three of the previous factors – The Escort XR3i. The Escort MkIII was launched onto the motoring scene in 1980, seemingly ticking all the boxes and offering what Ford had always done – keen pricing, a dealer on every street corner, huge model range and being cheap to run.

The medium family hatchback had the rules re-written thanks to the new Escort with its all new CVH engine, all round independent suspension and practical 3- or 5-door body shell. Lacking the charm and pedigree of Escorts from the previous generations, the new Escort soon became another sales hit which other makers would simply follow in the popularity charts.

At the time of the Escort launch, the hot hatch market comprised of just one serious car – the Volkswagen Golf 1600 GTi. Ford saw a gap in the market for a sporting hatchback to battle with the legendary (yet expensive) Golf. The XR3 was born offering a 1.6 engine with a twin choke Weber carb along with sports seats, alloy wheels and a final drive offering decent pace between the gears. Volkswagen then upped the ante by offering a 1.8 fuel injected engine over the previous 1.6, Ford followed suit and subsequently offered a fuel injected 1600 CVH power unit with a 5 speed gearbox for the 83 model year.

Whereby the Golf GTi had a rock solid image for quality, nimble road manners and being a premium brand which also proved classless, the Escort XR3i became popular with boy racers, yuppies and members of the modern money club thus quickly gaining an image of vulgarity, drunken Essex girls and drag racing along Southend sea front.

Taking the keen pricing out of the equation, the XR3i wasn’t even a good car, it had awful handling with a back breakingly harsh ride, the brakes were rubbish, its refinement was horrific – with its screaming 1600 CVH engine which was as pleasant to listen to as floor boards being pulled up. They rusted away like there was no tomorrow, and in my mechanic days, even a simple task such as replacing the battery could result in a whole new battery tray having to be welded into the engine bay.

Matters got even worse as Ford’s bean counters sourced cheap steel from the Soviet Union in 1986, D-registered cars became known as “D for Doom” as the whole Ford range disintegrated in front of your very eyes rusting away from every possible area. Ford got their act together by late 1989 but rivals including the Rover 200 GTi of 1990 and the 16v Astra GTE were vastly superior cars in every sense.

What hamstrung the XR3i was its ghastly CVH engine which on face value looked quite high tech but was in fact noisy, gutless and mechanically fragile. Rampant insurance price rises pretty much killed off the XR3i in the early 1990s –  and good riddance to bad rubbish. The XR3i had no class, a poor image and even to this day, are followed loyally by people who wear baseball caps the wrong way and their pants round their knees!

Oh no! I really do feel sick!
Mike Humble


  1. Harsh comments from Mike but I have to agree he’s probably right. My experience with Escorts were that I had a couple of MK4 Escort 1.3 company cars (with the 1.3 Valencia engine). Nowhere in the same power league as an XR3i. Although I sort of liked the XR3 series I agree it had and still does have a boy racer charver image!

  2. i am suprised how much this looks like a mazda 323, and ford laser, of the same vintage.

    ford escort versions mark one and two were huge sellers in new zealand, but hardly any of this model ever got down here.

  3. Wasnt that the engine you could hear coming from 3 miles away and had tappet clatter that could be conducted, aka uncle bucks Cadillac?
    Not to mention Fords other masterpiece, if I remember called lean burn or High Compression Swirl or something equally gormless. It admittedly was lean burn, but only because it had a Petter Stationary somewhere in its ancestry and preferred its own oil over the petrol kindly provided for it.
    Thankfully the last Ford we ever had was one of the phase II Mark 4 Cortina Ghia’s – my father took one look at the jellymold and we had a Cavalier.
    I did have one driving experince with the CVH/HVS engines, an Orion, gutless and the only car I have been in that came out of a bend a different shape to when it went in. I felt safer on a pushbike. Mum managed to write it off, and there was no more fitting tribute to its utter awfulness.
    Oddly I had a soft spot for the XR cars.. Up to the point the horse I was inexpertly riding decided that the XR2 that just passed was challenging him to a drag race… Not one of my more pleasant memories.

  4. Harsh.
    My mate had 4 Escorts….XR3,XR3i, and 2 MK II RS Turbo`s.
    Only problems he had were valve stem seals at about 70k on both XR`s, hardly an expensive job like a head gasket imploding…..and the RS`s like eating disk and pads at a regular rate.

  5. Lol! Great styling though – sorry ARG guys, but it made the MG Maestro look like a fridge-freezer! And it sold in droves – I know, so do Lady Gaga records, but, it must have pressed some buttons?

  6. If I remember correctly, the 1.6 CVH had a reputation for snapping its crankshaft (or so I was told by the mechanic when my brother’s car did just that).

  7. My brother had a 1987 1.4 Escort for 1998-2001.

    It was fairly reliable for most of that time, but eventually it kept jumping out of 5th gear at random moments & wasn’t worth fixing.

  8. Never been a fan, but I love the alloys on the XR3 pictured. Reminds me of my childhood – Escort XR3 Scalextric set!

    Is it true the CVH morphed into the Zetec in the 90s?

    • No, the Zetec engine were completely new units – and completely different to the CVHs. Ford started making the Zetec engines from scratch which were (so I believe) co-developed with Yahama.

  9. I agree that in its basic form, the MK3/4 Escort was at best mediocre and was essentially a triumph of marketing over engineering by Fords global product army.

    …however, the XR3 and XR2 were examples of what Ford even to this day, do better than all the rest – apply some skillfully placed plastic body add-onns, big wheels, bucket seats, and hey presto! an icon is born. Like it or not, the XR3 was a hugely influential car in its day, and like all ‘Fast Fords’ is a guaranteed future classic, that will keep rising in value- (1600E/Mexico/Cosworth/any Capri/etc etc.
    I believe the reason for this is quite simple – Fast fords were always quite expensive new for what they were, but nevertheless sold well. We all grew up with them, and to a lesser or greater extent, aspired to own one. Always placed in the hit TV show of the day (Sweeny/Minder/Spender etc) they were never far from our affection. But once they hit 6/7 years old,and are approaching banger status, they fall into the hands of the Halfords brigade, and all of a sudden, there are very few good examples left, and up goes the price!
    They are part of our heritage – love them or loathe them, but god bless-em!

  10. Never thought of it before, but was this the start of the boy racer-mobile?

    Once they entered the used market, these cars became the favourite to be tarted up and tastelessly customised. The XR3 was the start of the line which has led us to the Corsas and 306s and XR2s and BMW 3s much beloved of the kids today.

    If the XR3 wasn’t the start of that, which model was used by boy racers before it?

    • e993a sit up and beg ford populars were being boy raced with cheap fiberglass kits in the fifties. Stirling Moss boy raced a Standard 8 in the sixties. Nobody ever made a Cortina mk1 into a lotus clone or jacked up the rear end to fit oversize wheels and flame paint work. There is absolutely no record of capris and mk 1 & 2 Escorts being modified any where at all (lol)

    • Graham Hill had a “popped up” Austin A30 or 35 in his early racing days.

      A lot of early kit cars were essentially a sporting body on the chassis of a bog standard car, with the option of the owner installing a more powerful engine to make it go as fast it looked.

  11. Intersting point here KC, and it would be good to hear opinions of others on this one…..
    From memory, the Car of choice for the Urban racer pre-XR3 was stuff like MK1/2 Escorts of course/Capris/Cortinas/Dolly Sprint/Marina TC&Coupe/Viva/Mini/Datsun 120Y/Cavalier sports hatch?
    We have to remember that back then, the Supermini class was not properly up and running, and insurance was not an issue, so many kids drove quite large cars I seem to remember.

    • In Cumbria( Whitehaven anyway), slightly better off boy racers, usually final year apprentices, favoured Vauxhall Magnums in the late seventies as well as the more obvious products from Ford. The Magnum was quite a deceptive car as most people would assume it was a Viva with four headlights and better equipment, but was fitted with Victor engines and in 2300 form was a real Q car. Also prior to this, FD VX 4/90s had a following due to their two litre engines and overdrive and Americanised styling.

  12. Had a cabriolet (or, as most proud owners would say, ‘cabby’) one of these.

    Had all the structural integrity of an MFI wardrobe (though maybe that’s a bit unfair on MFI).
    Felt like I was sitting in one car and steering another.

    Heavy steering and rubbery gearchange, but liked the speaker fade-balance ‘joystick’ and the wiper delay control (up to half a minute gap possible).

  13. I found out a year ago that the MK3 Escort cabriolet was based on the 3 door estate car not the hatchback.

    Since then I keep noticing the estate car lines and tail on anyone of them i see. It also shows the cabriolet has outlived the MK3/4 estates,vans even most hatchbacks on the roads were i stay.

    These surviers have had lots of owners from new and some are in bad shape due to years of drivers having one and its novelty wears off after year and latter its sold on again. I bet Mike Humble has seen this on similar cars in the trade.

  14. The only decent Escort was the Escort Cosworth but that wasn’t an Escort, it was a Sierra.

    Was never a fan of XR3s, RS 1600i or RS Turbos. I always liked the XR4i though. I oved the unique bodyshell. How Ford signed that off, I don’t know; far too expensive ! but then, if it were meant to replace the Capri…

  15. The shaddow of the old RWD Escort RS range always hampered the XR3 and XR3i, indeed even when the ‘new’ MK5 Escort RS2000 was launched in the early 1990s Ford never published the 0-60 times in bold print on any advertising due to the fact the old RWD RS2000 was quicker…

  16. I didn’t mind the XR3i to be honest, and I do have a soft spot for the cooking blue oval models. Ford’s marketing men knew their onions when it came to knowing what sold. The MG1600 Maestro wasnt a rival for the XR or the GTI golf, simply because it blew up way too easily, and had comedy electrics. I owned the 2.0EFI, and yes it did handle better than the Escy, but the electrics were still crap, and it rusted faster than the Escort, even in some very strange places, plus the E-Z crack bumpers on it….
    Also Fords still are cheap to modify, and the parts lists for them is almost endless, and there are specialists everywhere. That explains why they will always be popular.

  17. Nicw styling and wheels, a bit rough rounds the edges, rusts. That is my assessment. The Alfasud was the target car for Project Erica apparently?


  18. “Lacking the charm and pedigree of Escorts from the previous generations,” What? All Escorts have always been VERY ordinary cars, well-marketed.

    The XR3 was a better looking car than pretty much all its rivals. I had a Maestro instead, mostly out of patriotism. A terrible car. No wonder th eEscort was successful. It might not have been very good, but the opposition were shooting themselves in the foot.

  19. It might not be the best hot hatch ever, or even the best car ever, but let’s not forget that the XR3/XR3i gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure.

  20. For many years the smart mans money in the range really layed with the Orion 1600 Ghia, as it had the XR3is fuel injected engine and performance, but a lower insurance premium and a more ‘luxurious’ interior.

  21. I feel that the site is on dodgy ground with this feature, it’s not as if the BL/Austin/Morris/Rover cars over the years have been worldbeaters is it?

    Pot calling the kettle black I think…….

  22. I think the one in the pictures is without engine, or are they all so high up on their front wheels to suggest acceleration? Can’t take them seriously…

  23. The XR3 was cheaper than the Golf but was rubbish in comparison. The XR2 was no better – my uncle had one and he burned the clutch out at a very high rate. The battery tray was one of those deliteful designs that Ford engineers bodged to get to market – a bit like the radiators that did not fit in Cortina 2.3’s so were installed with a wooden block and 2lb hammer!

  24. And Austin Rover were capable of better, were they? Of course they were – which explains why Ford is still a major global automotive player and AR is in the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

    The Mk3 was a near-revolutionary, distinctive design, albeit sometimes imperfect mechanically. It was brilliantly marketed and sold by the zillion – quantities that whinging Brummies could only dream of.

    “A bit harsh”? What a nasty, clueless, crap article which this site certainly doesn’t deserve. Oh – and that dashboard is from a Mk4; you can’t even get your facts right. Suggestion: stick to writing about AR rather than bashing other companies’ success.

  25. Jemma’s post made me LOL – really well-written!

    I always wondered why the D-reg ones rusted faster than the Lancia Beta. Yet all you heard was “you can’t go wrong with Fords” which shows how moronic received wisdom is.

    OK, the cooking Erika wasn’t a bad car in its day, in a lowest common denominator sort of way.

    CVHs fouled up due to poor oil vaopur venting & if you even parked hard, the chassis leg moved back exactly 1 1/4″ which you saw by the R10 style backset front wheel…

    Then there were the Xmas tree rear lights, because the earth had rusted away.

    I hated Fords with a passion. Funnily enough, now they’re actually half-decent, everyone wants VAGes or BorgwardsMachtWeiter instead…

  26. I remember notcing that the Mk 3/4 cabriolets had the estate rear lights, but I didn’t realised it shared much else.

    The Mk5 cabriolets had the Orion rear end IIRC.

  27. I’ve owned 2 of these now, a late 90-spec xr3i for myself, with heated front screen, variable speed wipers and leccy windows and mirrors. And a pink “cabby” 88-spec for the missus.

    And i have to agree with magnus, Austin Rover really did throw out some rubbish, which makes me question the somewhat tasteless sereies of articles written about opposition cars, which for their day were quite good.

    I’m all for constructive critisism, but this is a little vulgar.

    (oh, and the dash isn’t even from an xr, its from an RS, given away by the fuel computer just behind and to the right of the wiper stalk)


  28. I had a 1.3 HCS (High Compression Swirl) 1989 Escort Bonus 90 as my first car. It had 17,000 miles on the clock (garaged every night, polished every week) in only five years when I bought it for three grand. The engine, despite being related to one from a Ford Anglia, was not too bad – far better than the CVH ones. It did 37-42 mpg despite being thrashed mercilessly by me. However, even with that low mileage, I had the Christmas Tree back lights (due to bad earthing) and a horrible tapping sound from the pushrods. The battery tray was starting to rust as well, although, strangely, the body was rust-free. What really stands out looking back now is just how measly Ford were with the car’s specification – or rather, lack of it. It was a special edition, in Mercury Grey metallic, based on an Escort Popular. The extras were the aforementioned metallic paint and a set of wheeltrims. Amongst many items that it didn’t feature were a cigarette lighter (as I found out when I was going to use a tyre compressor and literally almost stabbed the plastic blanking plate with the plug – I’d just assumed that all cars had them). It also had a four speed gearbox (in 1989!) and a single piece rear seat – no split fold from Uncle Henry unless you upgraded to an L. Oh, and a digital radio that looked like it contained a cassette facility – but didn’t. It also had a huge clock where the rev counter would have been on a posher model.

    The handling was truly atrocious, too. I aspired at the time to an XR3i until I drove one – it drove like a slightly more powerful version of my 1.3, handled badly and had an engine that sounded like it was eating itself alive. I was a big Ford fan for years (despite every one rusting away in front of my eyes and going wrong all the time) until, one day, at the end of my tether with my Mondeo 2.0 Ghia and it’s constant faults, I bought an N reg Nissan Primera SE, with leather, CD and all the toys. It did 40k in two years and never let me down – fantastic car to drive, too. I replaced it with a Honda Accord and have driven Hondas ever since.

    Ford did, however, manage to sucker the buyer in and sell mediocre cars very well – their marketing machine was truly astonishing at the time. Everyone I knew drove a Ford. Incidentally, at the same time as I owned that Escort (1994), a friend’s grandfather had a Montego Estate the same age as my Escort that he’d owned from new. Despite being garaged every night and only having 26k on the clock, it was rusting everywhere by the time it was part exchanged for a few hundred pounds for a Toyota Rav-4, so the AR stuff was no better at the time! The MG Maestro, good car though it was, looked ten years out of date (which it was) and was only a five door, at a time when three door hot hatches ruled. I did, however, drive a 1990 Maestro 2.0 Diesel LX in 1996 and was pleasantly surprised what a good car it was to drive, far more powerful and torquey than my 1991 Mark 5 Escort Diesel (don’t even get me started on the Mark 5 Escort!)

  29. I never understood the appeal of the Escort?

    All shouted cheap to me with poor build quality and unsupportive seats.

    Ford as a company made money because they sold a poor product at an inflated price.
    Austin-Rover on the other-hand: sold a superior product at too lower price that’s why they needed government support.
    Think about it, which buyer got better value, and a better car for their money?

  30. It may have been rubbish, but they were cool and trendy and as a 20 year old lad I remember hankering for one of these badly. My then girlfriends neighbour had a brand new one and it so made my ‘just about roadworthy’ 1975 Wolseley Wedge look bloody naff!

  31. And I do recall that Jackie Stewart was involved in the development of the XR3i, so it did have a bit of pedigree.

  32. You got quite a lot of horses per cc with a CVH – 75, 90 & 105hp depending on whether you got a 1.4, 1.6 carb or EFi engine or even 108hp on the later 1.6s.

    They may have been unrefined but at least they kept their same tone unlike a Valencia with malajusted valve clearance or a less gutsy Pinto with worn cam lobes.

  33. Ford produced mediocre cars, but costed them and marketed them brilliantly. When they got their act together, and produced a car (the Mk1 Focus) that also drove brilliantly, Rover was in serious trouble…

  34. I won’t defend the Escort like I did the Golf. I will say that the designer of the wheels was an obvious admirer of the 928 just like the designer of the Sierra XR4i was.

  35. I think the appeal of the Escort (at the time) was it’s popularity – all those drivers couldn’t be wrong, could they? It took a few years before I realised that they were utter rubbish and that French and Japanese cars were far better to drive (and you got reliability with the Japanese cars too). It’s the same story these days with the 3 series BMW – loads of people buy them because everyone else does, I know a couple of people with 318i models and they don’t even know that it is rear wheel drive!

  36. Everyone goes on about the Golf GTi, but I always thought it was overhyped to be honest. It was too subtle for the time and was like a coal bunker inside with its acres of black trim. Too much of a “sensible” choice in a market for cars that grabbed the heart. I reckon that the Escort XR3i succeeded because of its looks – even non car people could tell what it was. Vulgar, yes, but the Eighties was a very vulgar decade!

    For my money, the best hot hatch of the Eighties was the 205 GTi – drove superbly, great looking interior and you could tell it was the sports version without having to squint at the badges, unlike today’s hot hatches. I don’t know about you, but if I buy a hot hatch, I don’t want people to confuse it with the 0% finance 1.0 special edition with alloy wheels!

  37. Dave has hit the nail on the head – the wheels were obviously inspired by the Porsche 928’s alloys. Plus, the bumper colour coding and the rear spoiler to my eyes were inspired by the contemporary 911. The addition of the black tape around the windows to my mind was a touch of genius – it made the glasshouse look completely different from a normal Escort.

  38. Ford were certainly great marketers in the 1970s and 1980s who sold an incredibly expansive range, which were top sellers in their respective sectors of the market.

    What escaped the journalists was that Ford were in direct competition with a few Japanese and Italian manufacturers in the rustproofing stakes. Lets just say that a number of Cortinas, Escorts and Fiestas lasted only 7 to 10 years on average before being sent to the crusher.

  39. Hi

    Loving this article lol i’m an avid mk3 fan , own four of the bugger’s , 2 of them daily drives , yes they are noisy , and to todays standard’s flaming slow lol ,think the boyracer image has long gone with them now , most of the fella’s i know with them are all over 35 , but there very easy to maintain even for a women like me , but i just love em for nostalgia reason’s i suppose ?? always wanted an xr3i back when i was 17 , never got one mind , so now i’m living the dream lol

  40. What amazes me is that my Mk2 Golf GTI is worth half what one of these is… which is amazing given the XR3i is half the car teh golf is. As for being better than a meastro or montego.. that’s another joke. Just a pity AR did not have the PR staff that ford did

  41. Im glad I made someone smile, I can still remember that horse and the aches afterwards. Unlike Amanda i’ve never really felt the urge to seek out a dagenham dustbin for my chariot, I prefer Renault, Humber, but a nice Manta with the lotus carlton engine *happy sigh*.
    Oddly enough even the safrane is fairly easy to work on, the last of the halcyon ‘oh look, I can see the engine’ era. Although the less said about 306’s the better.. My hands are still sliced to ribbons.
    Oh those rose tinted memories of the cold war days, when once budding executives winced at the sound of ford starters, now they tremble at the drone of the hybrid car fanatic… (apologies to Tom Clancy).
    Must resist line about there being so many sunk cars in the Channel that you could walk from Calais to Aldernay to Dover without getting your feet wet…

  42. I owned a number of Fords during the 80s including an original Mk3 Escort and a 86 Facelift. Both where fine and competitive with anything the competition could throw wt them. A quick look on Ebay shows there are still plenty of tidy Escort Mk3’s and Orions still around – even D reg ones! Being British of course we have to knock Fords – Success is something we dont like at all!

  43. I loved the looks of this car from the moment I first saw it when I was 10 years old. They were very rare in Barbados, though (our Ford dealer started sourcing cars from markets other than Europe in the early 80s)with a few surfacing as personal imports. I was looking at a website yesterday showing bodykit options available for the XR3i – it’s amazing what the passage of time can do, because what looked fantastic then looks absolutely garish now! To my mind also, the mk. 3 looked better than the mk. 4.

  44. I know the Escorts werent Dagenham natives as such, Germany if I recall correctly but I might be wrong. Round my way anything ford was automatically referred to as a dagenham dustbin. I live within 40 miles of the place, so its probably a local thing.
    Ive nothing against them, but theyve never appealed, and the Mk 4 orion was downright dangerous. I’ve always liked the slightly unusual, three sceptres and a hankering for a Tatra 603, not to mention actually considering renault execs as good, which they are. My dads old boss was most put out when he found he preferred my dads new Safrane @ £22k odd, to his new Merc at almost three times the price…
    I can still hear the clarion call of an Hopeless Clattery and Slow in my minds ear, that and the CVH – traffic-light-weapons of a more civilised age.
    You know, I think I’d prefer Reagan, Thatcher and the cold war over Facebook any day.

  45. The vast majority of UK Escorts where built at Halewood on Merseyside – the plant now building the new Range Rover Evoque. Saarlouis in Germany topped up supply when needed – or When Halewood was on strike!

  46. Can we just get something straight? There where only 4 marks of Escort:

    Mk1 – 1968 to 1975
    Mk2 – 1975 to 1980
    Mk3 – 1980 to 1990 with Facelift in 1986
    Mk4 – 1990 to 2000 with Facelifts in 1992 and 1995.

  47. Oh dear. The rose tinted specs need to be taken off with regards to the comparison between the Golf GTI and the fast Ford of the time. For a start the brakes on the Golf were worse than those of the Escort, borne of a lack of servo assistance thanks to a lazy left to right-hand drive conversion that also resulted in the door mirrors being angled incorrectly and the wipers being on the wrong side – issues that weren’t corrected until the facelift MkII Golf!!

    The last Escort was a very sorted car (and it’s suspension set up lives on today in the still lauded Fiesta chassis!)

  48. I think quite a few boys and girls missed the whole point:

    Not ONCE have I ever claimed the Maestro was the better car (even if it did have better performance, handling, interior space)

    It just goes to prove that this offering from Ford was a tribute of marketing over susbstance. Designed on a budget that was vastly bigger than anything BL had ever seen, Ford still managed to make a rather average car with some serious shortcomings.

  49. When I was small, like 7, my Mates Mum used to pick her up in a mk3 cabby..

    A few times she’d show up in something different (I’ve always been freakishly obsessed with cars)……

    That thing used to get stolen as much as it got serviced….but maybe that’s more a comment of the 90’s youths of Nottingham… as a few years later my Dad, and then my Mum had a mk3 Cavalier… It ended up being nik named the boomerang because it got stolen 4 times, and always came back… one time it was literally around the corner from our house? (THe police said they’d left another car there, used ours for mis behaving, and then gone back for the “clean” car)

  50. I have some quite fond memories of these Mk3 Escorts and I still like the styling (especially the wheels) to this day.

    My fondness for this car is mainly nostalgic/irrational however and I do accept Mike Humble’s point – although competitive it was an average car made on an above average budget, which sold well due to marketing of an image that people wanted to buy into (in the case of the XR range). Certainly by the facelift in ’86, things were beginning to feel very old and unrefined and that image was beginning to be tarnished by the yuppie and later the boy racer set.

    Re Steve Bailey’s comment about the equipment levels – yes Ford were not especially forthcoming with the extras (I remember the ‘Bonus 90’ edition Escort well!), however lets put this in context: this was a time when ‘Special edition’ generally meant the addition of some dealer stripes.

    Our ’89 Metro, itself a ‘Special Edition’ did without a cig lighter and my Golf only had a 4spd gearbox and no radio (althogh it quickly gained one!)and this was a Mk3 purchased in 1994! In fact the Germans were well known for being especially tight with the extra kit – the reason why my Dad specced his E class Mercedes without electric windows in the mid 90s…

  51. @Enrico Vanni:
    Err no servo? every GTI had a servo! and very good brakes thank you. The LHD wipers aren’t an issue.. not like the galloping rust on the fords, the engine does not rattle (the CHV really was a dog), neither does the shell. And mine is an early 1/4 light Mk2 Golf, the mirrors are fine if you sit up! and dont drive like a boy racer with the seat reclined right back and one hand on the top of the wheel. The fact the Golf is still common and they have thanfully all rotted away tells you which was the better car

  52. And a large amount of the suspesion on the Mk2 is shared with the current audi TT, A3, and Mk5 golf.. the 1800 engine is the underpinings of the current 4 cyl range as well

  53. @VAG Dave

    Shocked at Volkswagen’s tightness – can’t believe they were knocking out four speed boxes on the Golf in ’94! Even Ford had five speeds on the Escort range by then!

    I remember my excitement when I got my J reg Escort LX Diesel in 1996 (I had an appalling taste in cars for a 20 year old) and being excited by the fact it had electric front windows and (intermittently working) key operated central locking! Youngsters don’t know they’re born today!

  54. The Lean Burn thing was touched upon, and it was the 1.4 litre engine that had this feature. At the end of the eighties, this was Ford’s attempt to reduce emissions, and it worked well, though a law change forced Ford to abandon it and go for catalysts and injection. Lean burn and catalysts don’t go as cats need a stoichiometric mix. There was a lot of pressure to fit cats, but the truth is that Lean Burn was a better way to reduce emissions, and worked from the off, unlike cats which don’t work until they are warmed up. This was usually after about 5 miles, and, given that the average journey for many people is not much more than this, cats were a retrograde step. HCS was an attempt to get Lean Burn into the old pushrod engine, and it did result in 5 extra horses being found. I think AR also went down the Lean Burn route for a short while before cats killed it off.
    I had an ’89 Lean Burn escort as a company car, and commuted 50 miles each way to work in it, 6 days a week for 3 years, and it never let me down, though as it headed towards 90k miles it needed a new carburettor. At the end of the lease I was given a ’92 eascort with the same engine, which also did 70k miles with me. These were not inspiring cars, but when you do a lot of miles reliability is key, and both these cars delivered on that.

  55. Never liked them. FWD Escorts, that is. Liked RWD Escorts even less.

    Personal history, I suppose.

    My father bought his only new car a 1.3GL Erika in bronze. Later on I inadvertently caused it to crash. And while it was being repaired my sister, our spaniel and I, had to crash around in the back of my father’s RWD Escort van.

    And the 1.3GL Erika nearly poisoned us – pa, ma, maternal grandparents, sister, and I – once with horrible fumes on the way back from a jaunt to Swansea(!)

    So I hate them. All Escorts.

    Except Ford knew the worth of showroom appeal. And it wasn’t a bad car. It was no Ital. “Car” may have railed against the XR3 brigade, preferring the Maestro 2.0EFi, but look at the two together. If you knew nothing about cars you’d buy Henry’s effort because it was so damned handsome, so damned crisp. It looks desirable even today, and it was truly distinctive back in the day – had we ever seen a two-and-a-half box car – Ford called its rump the bustle – before?

    We saw it later on the R8, of course. One of few latter-day products from BMC>Bust that had showroom appeal.

  56. Not a recommended car, but as Ford always seem to do, they had the right product at the right price at the right time and it sold by the bucket loads.

  57. It’s funny, everyone now laughs at the XR3i, yet if you read the contemporary road tests, the XR3i was not as far behind the Golf GTi as you’d think. By far the best Escort in my opinion wasn’t an Escort at all. It was the Orion 1.6 Injection Ghia. It had a similar (possibly the same?) suspension set-up as the XR3i, but handled better as saloons are inherently more rigid than their hatchback cousins. It was a very subtle looking car, and had a very high level of specification, yet cost about the same as the XR3i which, specification-wise, was probably akin to an L with the addition of a rev-counter.

    Writing this has made me quite fancy an old Orion Ghia Injection…must get a grip!

  58. The ultimate Yuppy car of the 80s, the convertible was a real posers car,especially if it was all white!
    Sold loads, drove dozens, best was the 85/86 pre mk4 models.Probably more nicked and stripped than any escort ever made.Bad points and the first of the electronic generation problems, that awful dipstick level indicator and pad warning lights!.

  59. Find it amusing that people still talk about the Orion as if it was a seperate model to the Escort, fact is it was an Escort with a boot. Exactly the same way as the jetta/Golf, Astra/Belmont, 200/400. However people seemed to think that because it had a boot it was some how a better class of car? I remember a Belmont owner telling me once how it was a far superior car to the Astra, he just wouldnt have it that it was exactly the same car!

    We always hear how BL/AR products were rust buckets, which THEY WERE. However it seems to escape people that Fords and Vauxhalls of the time WERE JUST AS BAD. With the escort it got better by the end of the 80’s with the late MK4’s. Even the mk5 & mk6 still suffered from Ford’s trademark rotting rear wheel arches though, Rover had cured their rust problems by then! 80’s Fords were terrible for rot.

    As regards to the ‘marks’ The mk5 (early 90’s) was known in the trade as being a dog, they had all sorts of reliability problems. When the Mk6 (’96) came out they had changed an awful lot and sorted most of it, really earning the right to call it a new mark rather than a facelift. We need to get away from ‘marks’ as they don’t really work, which is why manufacturers use ‘model years’. All mark really describes is the bodyshell, even then you can have several differences in a shell across it’s life.

    I notice someone mentioned the ‘Bonus’ as being a special edition, this is marketing again, it was basically a Popular with free metalic paint and wheel trims. The populars were real poverty spec cars, if they could have got away with flogging them with wooden slatted seats at a cheaper price they would have done. They were much like the ‘city’ models that AR were making, the Bonus being similar to the ‘City X’. Thing is the Popular models always looked sufficiently similar to the higher up models that people would happily buy them at the bargain price. Whereas the City models from AR usually used old pre-facelift parts, so they looked cheap and dated!

  60. i liked the look of the MK3 escorts, far better than the hideous MK4/5, looking now they look dreadful, but in testament to the cars there are a lot of the escorts (all MK’s) still around.

  61. One has to wonder if there were too many compromises done to be able to make and sell the Escort in the USA/NA market. The FWD Escort was one of Ford’s first ‘world cars’, a way to use their Euro division’s knowlege of small cars to reduced costs for a badly needed small car in the NA market against the onslaught of the Japanese cars.

  62. Sorry guys, I loved my XR2, Fiesta RS Turbo & Escort RS Turbo S1…I had so much fun and they never let me down…ever! They looked and handle amazingly, they were reliable and efficient and the icing on the cake…I pulled so many women in these cars, what more do you want !

  63. Steve,

    I had a friend who really wanted the Onion Injection trim in the Escort shape – he disliked the boyracer package. Even Fraud cannot please everyone.

    I’m surprised everyone’s overlooked the Kadett GTE; by that time, Opel had figured out how to case harden camshafts and despite the low-geared steering, lumpy suspansion and stupidly unergonomic pedals (still today the Germans cannot get it right which is why they are out of contention for me) so as an overall package, it was way better than the XR3i.

    Then there were the oversteery Pugs and the dated but fun Italians…later came Honda with their funny little cars with mental DOHC engines…

  64. This reminds me, how did they get away with selling the cabrio? It was structurally unsound from new! I remember sitting in the back of a week old one and asking the owner if the rear of the doors were supposed to move in relation to the body when he took a corner….. Later on I found this was normal. What possesse max power readers to fit RS turbo engins to such a car I have no idea!

  65. “…the XR3i wasn’t even a good car, it had awful handling with a back breakingly harsh ride, the brakes were rubbish, its refinement was horrific – with its screaming 1600 CVH engine which was as pleasant to listen to as floor boards being pulled up”

    Oh, so true. Never mind the fact that the early ones were completely useless in rain or snow due to excessive wheel camber. Never mind that they wore tyres unevenly. Never mind the Airfix plastic interior. Never mind the lacquer peeling off the alloys, warped and faded exterior plastic or the paint that didn’t match between the plastic add-ons and the main bodywork. Never mind the cambelt failures on the CVH, or the valve guides wearing prematurely, leaking core plugs and broken cranks.

    Nope, the Mk3 Escort was a truly horrible car. Thankfully, many of them died young by being wrapped round lamp posts.

    There were many dire cars round in the early 80’s, the Mk3 XR3 / XR3i was among the worst IHMO.

    I had a lean burn 1.4CVH too, and it was pretty dreadful, rattly, not particularly economical and the carb used to go out of tune necessating a carb rebuild to cure flat spots. Oh, and the rust in the rear arches and under the bumper.

    Never had a Ford since.

  66. Nick mentioned the Astra/Kadett GTE – I loved these at the time, the first generation was a very competent, quick car (yet they hardly sold any in the UK when compared to the competition) and the second generation (’85-on) was so advanced styling-wise. The only thing against them judging by contemporary road tests was the ride/handling, although everyone I knew who had one loved them and they were ridiculously fast. The best hot hatch bargain was the run-out Astra SXi with the 1.8i engine, sports trim, sports suspension and electric pack. A friend bought one nearly new and it was a superb understated fast and comfortable car. I especially loved them in the estate bodystyle (came out as an LXi then became an SXi).

  67. I had 3 of these in various guises.
    ” 2 x 1.6 petrol and a cut and shut 1.8 diesel ex copcar …..which was the best of the lot tbh!
    Rust on the earlier models was just terrible
    The last one, a 1989 model , was ok….apart from the bent chassis!
    I d come from a JPS capri to a Sierra (which actually very nice)to these 3 heaps of crap.Put me of Fords fo life…A fact born out recently by a Mondeo TDDi with poltergeist electrics which lasted 4 days only before I bombed it off.
    The only thing going for these MK3 escorts was the cheap as chips parts availability and I found the handling good when shod with decent wider tyres.
    Nowaday I stick to highmiler Pugs which are going the same way and my beloved Marina!


  68. And here all of these years we in the States have been jealous because your version of this Escort looked so much better than ours! Instead we should thank God that we were not saddled with such a heap. Then again, we also had the gutless CVH engine, which Ford deemed fit to keep in production for about 10 years. Our Escort handled poorly, didn’t go very quickly and was terribly noisy under “acceleration.” Thankfully, we were spared the 1.3 CVH at the last minute when Ford’s U.S. product planners realized it didn’t have the power to pull an old lady off the toilet, much less merge with traffic. And to think, this was a “world” car that, when it finally entered production, shared only the horse collar (the radiator support) with the British version!

  69. I don’t agree that VW was “a premium brand” at the time of the XR3. It has, for reasons I don’t understand, come to be regarded as one more recently.

  70. Hey Mike stop knocking the “Essex Express” – back in the early 80’s these were the hot ticket, a bit too hot infact that come 1991 when I could drive, I couldn’t insure one!

    So I bought a Golf instead, then another! But they never stopped half as well, and yes mark 1 Golfs rusted with the best off them.

    The best thing ARG could have done, is stood outside the gates of Warely waving fistfulls of cash, snaring every marketing man they could!

  71. They were pretty ordinary under the skin, but to the 16 year-old me the XR3 looked absolutely awesome in 1980. A few years later a colleague had an XR3 cabrio with the full body kit etc, which was instantly nicknamed ‘throb’. Can’t help thinking that said it all, really.

  72. CVH (compound valve hemispherical) was an old mazda engine first used in the early 323, as said it was noisey and had nasty valve stem oil seals, cloud of oil smoke at startup
    and most wouldnt do more than about 90,000 miles, horrible engine.
    Infact to be honest the old 1600cc Kent engine found in the mark2 escort even though it was ohv was more refined than the cvh.
    Anybody remember the first mark3 escorts with the 1.3cvh engine? the ghia version had allsorts of diagnostic tools for the engine talk about malfunctioning, if you had taken notice of your dashboard youd have never driven the car LOL.

    • I found the Mark 2 Escort to be a better car, if a little thirsty on petrol for its size. A late model 1.3 Ghia in metallic gold with a black vinyl roof and the Ghia interior was like Ford resurrecting the Vanden Plas 1300 for the late seventies, and it was a refined, pleasant car to drive. The Mark 3 to me was blighted by its harsh ride, anonymous looks, noisy engines and indifferent reliability.

      • One of my friends had a MKII Escort Ghia and I agree it was a nicely finished car inside… lots better than another friend’s Escort Pop.

        • The Escort Ghia really was an attempt by Ford to make a decent small luxury car and they succeeded. Remember, the energy crisis and recession in 1974-75 had seen a fall in sales of large cars and there was an increase in luxurious small cars on the market such as Ghia badged Escorts, Renault 12 TS and the Chrysler Avenger GLS. Also some had an increase in power over the more basic models.

          • Talking about Escort Ghia’s brings back memories of those days and other Ghia badged Fords. Particularly the MK2 Capri Ghia, MK1 Granada Ghia & the MKIV Cortina Ghia (one of my favourites). One of my employers clients got a brown metallic Cortina 2.0 Ghia with cream vinyl roof soon after launch

          • Having gotten rid of their premium brands, it’s something Ford is trying again with their Vignale spec. The tweaks to the Mondeo are good looking.

  73. LQTM!

    A little harsh on the Ford methinks.

    Granted there will always be a somewhat biased and rose tinted view of AR product vs The Rest but let’s be brutally open and honest shall we?

    Like many I’ve owned plenty of AR and Ford cars in my time and they all had their pros and cons….mostly cons but that was half the fun, wasn’t it?

    In the 80s/90s, unless you paid big bucks, you were guranteed to have to by a new car which wasn’t exactly brilliant.

    Ford capitalised on the halo effect from their high end models – especially using the old ‘Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday’ routine. It was all meat and potato pie engineering as far as they were concerned for those run of the mill models and good old Joe Public lapped it up.

    AR suffered by dishing up beige tripe and onions too many times and it was always best avoided – IMVHO. Comfy seats and nice carpets do not a good car make. The only AR cars I ever really liked owning were Minis.

    I had an MG Metro – unreliable piece of junk – got rid in very short order. Montego – rusting, unreliable piece of junk – I could hear it rusting as I drove! – also binned in short order. Made sure I steered clear of the Maestro (if ever a car was misnamed….!) as I wasn’t a 60 year old spinster with a blue rinse!

    I spent many a happy mile tooling about in an Orion 1.6i Ghia – a much better motor than the EsseXR3i, nicely trimmed and understated. Sadly it was nicked and written off.

    Happily, Rover pulled the rabbit out of the hat with the R8 and I owned a rather tasty 214, which got pinched! Then a really nice BRG 414 which was superb until the gearbox imploded at just 30k.

    Since then I’ve stuck with reliable oil burners from PSA, VAG and Ford – which is essentially PSA powered. The last UK car I owned was a Focus 1.6TDCi Ghia – a superb car.

    Now I am out in sunny old KSA I hustle about in a late series 1 Disco V8 which (apart from its typical AR-esque penchant for slowly falling to bits!) is a real blast.

    So, despite the obvious bias against non BL/AR product on a BL/AR fan site, Ford dished up product that people would buy – happily and in their hundreds of thousands. Mostly marketing smoke and mirrors? Probably, but it worked and look where BL/AR/MGRover are now…..

    p.s. my cousin had an early EsseXR3 (carb model) in black and it looked the business….standing still. All show and not a great deal of go, sadly. His Mk2 RS2000 was sooo much nicer…..with the theme from The Professionals thumping on the early tape deck! Those were the days! 😀

  74. I’m really not sure if an AR website is the place for an article like this.

    Regardless of whether or not the criticisms are valid (and others have already pointed out there are a few factual inaccuracies), reading them here, of all places, one can’t help but think of words like “pot and kettle”, “glass houses and stones”, “sour and grapes”…

    As a car lover I often frequent this site, and am frequently struck by how a nation’s car production mirrors its characteristics. So many of the British cars on this site possess the grace, elegance, and class of which the British people are so proud.

    This article, however, reflects the other, less savoury side of the British character – the mean-spirited jealousy, the bitter refusal to take any pleasure from the success of others, the need to “take ’em down a peg or two” by standing on the sidelines hurling abuse, and of course, the inverted snobbery.

    XR3s were popular along Southend seafront? Oh, how simply GHASTLY. I might point out though, I used to frequent Southend seafront of a weekend evening because I love cars (and I’m not a snob), and I seem to remember there were also plenty of Maestros and Montegos down there. In fact, I seem to remember most of their owners claiming they were only driving them until they could afford a Ford. And now, all those years later, the XR3, for good or bad reasons, has become part of the language of petrol heads in a way no AR product could ever hope for.

    In the past I found the amateur tone of this site quite charming. The lack of attention to grammar, syntax and punctuation, the non sequiturs, the shabby menu system – I love it, it shows this is a place run by and for enthusiasts (and let’s face it, your average AR worker never showed any attention to quality or detail in the cars he made, so why should you?).

    However, if this is the way AROnline is going, enviously slinging mud at easy, more succesful targets, I fear this vitriol and poison could contaminate the atmosphere of the whole site.

    Let’s have more carlove, less snidey whingeing, eh?

  75. The cvh engine was horrible and rough designed in the early seventies,was rough for one reason and one reason alone, ford could not make a smooth I4 engine to save its life,hence them taking a controlling interest in mazda and like most jap car makers know a thing or two about making smooth reliable petrol engines.The cvh was renowned for sludging and gumming up piston rings due to blow by from rings or lean burn characteristics of the 1.4.they never responded well to rebores or new rings in terms of oil consumption,well when the 16v astra arrived…..that thing destroyed everything in its path- be it rs,gti or an hedge!even a greater manchester police driver told me he preferred it to the sapphire cosworths they had on the fleet be cauase they could catch the car thieves in them!i own a garaged w reg xr3 which i never thought a great car at all but i derived pleasure from the fact that it is such a simple car-compare the new focus almost twice the size certainly twice as heavy and my old w reg (mint 45k miles)will still show it a clean pair of heels wheres the progress?

  76. iv had 3 xr3i and 3 rs turbo 2 xr and 2 rs got stolen of my drive. bad times. but had my last 2 for 9 years now. no problems at all. only with the road tax.

  77. Ohh the XR turd, such memories and judging by the comments quite Harsh words…. I fell in love with Fords of the 60s right upto the late 80s then fell out of Love by the mid 90s, Sad I know but even Billy Basic models somehow appeared to “Right” (at the time) and the XR3i, was the one I always wanted but never got there.
    The Garage I used to work in always had an Escort in, mostly the poverty spec but sometimes the sporting models which was always a treat to a young apprentice, for me this was the model that always stood out more “showroom appeal” as the 3 i models had light crushed velour seats and door trims, that thin bit of fake darkwood on the doors (strangely it didn’t continue on the dashboard?) 2 tone soft feel (was it a form of card? as it was flimsy if I recall, later used on Metros/Maestros/Montegos?) dashboards, whilst basic models got just solid plastic items, Ohh and the roof mounted digital clock.
    Whist outside even Grannies knew it was “Boy Racers Dream” However jumping into a Golf GTi was like the black death, only the deckchair stripy seats saved the interior and not every GTi got the small LCD trip computer (was this an optional extra?) as some were just a clock.
    Astra GSI’s were getting close but somehow missed the mark? Early MG Maestro had an awful looking steering wheel, Later ones 2.0i were much nicer, If I recall very few had the digital dash, though not as good as the Astra it did have a trip computer!
    However driving the XR I was astonished by the level of grip (3i model) as I was used to a Fiesta Diesel, the ride was firm and could be knocked off course easily, Biggest fault was the Engine, though willing it always sounded strained, you soon mastered to keep the revs low and this was coming from a very noisy Diesel car.
    The Golf GTi was although slightly more noise lower down it was much quieter higher up the revs which you couldn’t help take advantage of, The gearchange was nicer and it just steered and handled in a different league, Brakes were a different matter though.
    The Orion 1.6i was a nicer car to drive as it was a Ghia model so all the sound deadening was used but still the same old exhaust drone, Later cars (mk4) had higher gearing so not quite as fast but perhaps nicer to live with, though the lack of torque meant you had to push it harder which defied the point of the revised gears.
    But the mk4 although had nicer dash and some worthwhile improvements suffered from the penny pinching brigade, remember the awful looking steering wheels.
    For me the biggest disappointment was the RS Turbo, whilst looking the everybit young boys wet dream, The one and only version I drove wasn’t that fast and sounded like it was grinding itself to bits…and this was the “improved mk4 version”.
    You still have to hand it to Ford sales/marketing. As for actually buying an old skool Hot Hatch, A Lancia Delta HF Turbo….?

  78. Lay Off!! I learned to drive in a Mark III, and I owned two of them thank you very much and would happily have one again for pure nostalgia value. Rusty maybe, not that great to drive but then weren’t most mass market cars of the era in that category. I’d say it was a competitive car for its day, otherwise why did it sell so well, and don’t forget, it WAS European Car of The Year in 1981, which says a lot!

  79. ive had 3 fords that had the cvh engine in them i personally liked them I had a 1.3 mark 3 5door cvh on a d plate which was high mileage 90000+miles which for mileage was ok but not great on performance it would do 105mph flat out on the motorway also had an e plate xr2 that was very high mileage round the clock that topped out at 110 i think it must of been fukked i thrashed it &so did previous owner but the best one i had was a low mileage 3 door mark 3 escort 1.3 cvh 46000onclock & owned by a oap all its life this was a great little car that used to go like stink for a 1.3 only a 4 speed but thrashed it used to do 35mph in 1st 60 in second 90 in 3rd and onto 120 in 4th tgis was a awsome little car faster than the xr2 i owned. in my opinion its down to how well the engines have been looked after over their lives. it deffo has something to do with it wish i never sold it now. shame about their rust problems and lack of handling and slightly under tuned engines they would of been banging cars the mk 3 escorts probs aside

  80. There is nothing wrong with the HSC lump as found with multipoint fuel injection in the Ka. It’s torque is delivered low down giving good economy if you don’t thrash it. I used to get 45mpg from mine by changing up early and keeping my speed below 80mph.

  81. Bit harsh this article and clearly written with an agenda. I seem to remmmber the press being quite kind to the XR3, even the early non-injection version. Motor spoke very warmly of their long term car which they reckoned was a better car in evry respect than the old RS2000 and indeed competitive with the Golf GTi. When the XR3i was launched in 1983 CAR magazine even reckoned it was a better car than the GTi. Despite its popularity though, Ford didnt really develop the model. By the time the 86 facelift car came out the XR3i had been left well behind by the MK2 Golf and Astra GTE. As for CVH thrashiness, I dont remember the Maestros O series being considered a paragon of refinement either.

  82. Im sorry…these were horrible.

    I had a Lancia Delta HF, nothing from ford in that era could keep up with it.

    nasty CVH engine too.


  83. @87, Paul,

    Would you be the same Paul who’s only comment in the Nissan Leaf article was the single word ‘shite’?

    I’ve never driven the XR3i but I have driven the carbed XR3 version. Seemed quite torquey, but awful dead steering and poor ride, and a really tacky interior. And those ugly ‘runny poached egg’ wheels…

    One of my earliest cars was an A reg 1.3L with the dreaded CVH which I managed to live with for a couple of years. Horribly unreliable, uncomfortable, rust prone, and had an unhelpful tendency to cut out spontaneously in damp or wet conditions. It may have been a cut above the FSO Polonez that proceeded it (at least the passenger door didn’t open by itself when in motion) but that ain’t saying much.

    People knock the Mk4 Escort, and that car was no peach, but by the early 1990s the car industry was turning the corner quality-wise. By the end of the 90s most cars were rust-resistant to a greater extent and much more reliable than many of their 1980s forbears. Of course there are exceptions…

  84. 80’s and 90’s escort’s are brill, I still have a 1983 XR3i today and it brings back memories for everyone that see’s it.
    She even still keeps up with everyday cars what more could you ask for.
    Some harsh words above but then everyone is entitled to there opinion.

  85. Well sorry to say for this article, I dont think that the author went through all the trouble to really know the vehicle.
    I inherited the XR3 from my dad who bought it new and guess what, I still have it today. I overhauled the engine at about 700 000 km on the clock and that was only due to the fact that i never really looked after the car that well as i was not employed for a long time. Besides the fact that I had a souped up cam, banana branches and full stainless steel exhaust system it really ran like stink and still does. I am so proud of this little car and intend keeping it for as long as I live. I have done other modifications to it like adding a turbo, solid lifters and fuel injection with really good fuel consumption. So after all this said, what makes the car so bad? If it was really that bad why on earth did they put the very same CVH engine in the mexican or brazillian golfs?

    It all boils down to how you respect/love/care for your car.

    Ive heard many stories about ford products as a whole especially the XR3 but then why oh why if VW is soooo good are there engine and gearboxes falling out of VW polo’s in 2008 (my friends brand new polo btw)?

    No need to drive or like the car but please respect it for what it is and where it came from.

    I have only had ford in my garage and recently bought a focus ST (which by the way is better than the GTI 6 and 7 IMO)

    Ford rocks!!!!
    (except the service in SA)

  86. I’m wondering if anybody could help ,I was on the motorway when my car a ford fiesta 1.4 ,06 when blue smoke gushed out from the exhaust and the engine was reving like mad I managed to get on the hard shoulder and turned the car off but the engine was still running for about 10 seconds then turned off their was black sut on the floor near the exhaust and the water was running out from under the bonnet if anybody could plc help in what could be wrong with it ,

  87. @91 – I most certainly am not @89 – Read what I actually said. I think I did contribute and didnt whinge once! Just because I dont agree wuth your agenda…….

  88. the Xr3 had a rear suspension “funny” it would jig up down up down, what was the cause ., too much “stiction2 in the rear axle?

    Best feature of the Mk 3, the heater, instant heat within a mile, even in winter, try that in a Cortina, 5 miles+

  89. THe XR3i soon acquired the Essex is Cr*p image. It became a social embaressmnet to have one, except for those of a certain lack of breeding. Shell suits, a Garfield cat on the rear parcel shelf and George Michael sounds.

    Such taste! —- Eurotrash for the proles.

  90. Mid 80s, from memory, the XR3i accounted for a full 1% of the British car sales figure, by the late 80s, the Lawson boom having collapsed into economic mire, the XR3i becmae Britains most likely repossesion/insurance stolen and torched insurance scam.

  91. #94, check the oil level by reading the dipstick, your diesel engined car has runaway. it has started to burn its own crankcase oil from the engine sump.

  92. My mate sold an escort mexico to buy one of these lots of injection problems but at his first Mot the tester passed it but said get rid of it Asap;On a lighter note Did you hear about the guy who called his one Dino because it was sleek fast and Ferrari red? His mate said Why dont you call it clitoris its red and every xxxx’s got one

  93. Essex is important in this context because half the population at a conservative pulling a statistic out of thin air estimate had a current or retired relative with a ford new car discount.So they were buying these things at a price well below the normal rate.Ford dealerships hated them. I had no such advantage so \any comment I might make is probably sour grapes

  94. This topic leads to the Insurance rate hike of the early 90s, The XR3 premiums skyrocketed overnightto the point where young Gavin and young Tracey’s mum could not afford them.

    Also The Sierra Cosworth, £9995 on the sticker at the Ford dealership low mileage on a J plate, a car less than a year old

  95. Mike Humble, you are a fool. To blatantly slate a car that was enormously popular is ridiculous.

    This website should be ashamed of itself, putting a review of an Escort up, written by an Escort hater!

    The MK3 / MK4 was an excellent car of its time. The CVH was fine. They didn’t all rot away. Battery trays didn’t automatically rot, soviet steel wasn’t used at all.

    And, the VW Golf wasn’t a better car! The MK1 Golf drove pretty much awful. MK2 Golfs were introduced in 84, MK2 Astra in 84.. this is a 1980 model car.. not very fair to compare.

    Each to their own, but don’t sit there talking about XR3i owners wearing baseball caps etc, as the same can be said about any 80’s Hot Hatch.. MK1/2 Golf drivers don’t exactly wear dinner jackets do they.

    Just because you are a mechanic and have sold a MG Rovers doesn’t make you right at all.

  96. Whether it was technically a good car or not.. It did something right.. How many other cars 30 years later gather so many opinions on a web page?? This car represented a time and a feeling and that’s what people look back and remember… I have an ’85 original grey cabby because when I was 14 I was obsessed with Dempsey and Makepeace and she had one, it took me 20 years before I got one and every time I look at it, I’m 14 again… I don’t look at it for its technical prowess, it stirs memories of a time that was good for me… Oh and for the record, it’s done 127k miles and never even had an advisory on any single MoT..

  97. While hindsight is a wonderful thing, Ford could have certainly fought much harder in the Hot Hatch wars with the mk3/4 Escort.

    The Escort XR3/XR3i should have featured Fuel-Injection and the 115 hp output from the Escort RS1600i from the outset, then there is the 16-valve prototype version of the 1.6 CVH engine by Schrick (famous German Cam producer) that produced 135 hp.

    Had the 135 hp Escort XR3i 16v gone into production, it would have allowed the mk3/4 Escort RS Turbo to go down the Lancia Delta HF Turbo to Integrale route by adopting AWD and further increasing the power of an engine considered to be detuned from the factory (yet strong enough to produce much more power).

  98. Oh dear.
    Mr Humble, unfortunately doesn’t act as his name would suggest…
    Also, a lot of uninformed predjudiced as idiotic comments on this “article”.

    I don’t know where Mr HUmble gets the idea that the CVH engine was “fragile”?
    It did, as did many other belt driven OHC engines (VW,Vauxhall etc) have a tendency to drop the odd valve due to a failed cam belt.

    Otherwise, the engines did not pack up, the tappets were also noisy if you didn’t regularly change the engine oil, but again many of the early hydraulic tappet engines sufferred the same fate (as did the SACHS cam chain tensioners on the (’97 on XJ/XK) V8 Jag engines).

    These weren’t great cars but they weren’t bad either. The Escort most certainly had more appeal than anything AR could offer (especially the tepid Maestro). The only way AR could make inroads into Ford/Vauxhall sales was to intorduce “nutter” versions of their bland models, i.e. the MG version, preferrably with a turbo to boot.

    The Escort’s booted cousin the Orion (especially in Ghia trim) was a very sought after car that had a lot of goodies for your money.

    To finish, a piece of advice for our author friend, if you can’t produce a slightly more balanced piece let somebody else write one…

  99. I owned 2 XR3s -a Y reg uninjected and an A reg i. I drove them all over the south of England,usually before and after the rush hours on A roads and M’ways, Day in day out, I was amazed by how good a car it was, even laden with the back seats down.
    In the days before cameras,when drivers were judged on technical comepetence appropriate to the prevailing conditions, I was able to really test it and all I can say is that the gearing/power was just right for A road driving though it could have done with a 1.8/2.0 for longer motorway journeys. I trusted it as a motor car in same way I had trusted my 66 Mustang and Porsche 924 around the canyon roads in S California.
    The Golf GTI was certainly quicker and I recall having to let a (grinning) Jodie Foster lookalike in dark rimmed glasses overtake at ‘well over’ 115mph on a quiet M2 in perfect driving conditions and then she accellerated! Shame the image became so tarnished but personally I couldn’t give a damn about that and would certainly be happy to drive around in one today not least because, unlike modern cars with their narrow, vision blocking rear windows, you can see all around effortlessly when you’re on the road.
    Ironically, the only place anyone tried to steal it was when I was working on the then new Basildon shopping mall in 1984.The c**ts failed!

  100. BTW I’m sure a lot of the problems people report were down to not getting cars properly serviced, trying to corner at ridiculous speeds and generally not respecting the vehicle. Funny how motor cars can look after you when you look after them.

  101. Ive had 18 escorts in my time, mk2 to mk6 but the car I keep coming back to is the mk3 xr’s as they are the most cars ive had over the 130 odd vehicles ive owned.
    Ive also owned quite a few 80s hot hatches including the mk1 and mk2 golf gtis, mk1 astra gtes, 205 gti, scirocco gtx etc,
    But still I keep coming back to the mk3 xr3 as it was the best vehicle out the bunch. fun to drive, handled superbly, very very reliable with the mfi cvh engine. The mk4 xr3i were ok but was not as peppy as its predecessor, probably due to its lean burn cvh engine or as sharp styled but still fun despite being a little outdated by the late 80s.
    The only difference I found from the golf and escorts was purely the people who owned them, and since ive owned both the sporting model escorts xr’s and rs’s and golf gti’s i’ll still plump for the escort that had the sole rather than the clinical golf.

  102. I have to say Mike on reading your review whilst all opinions are subjective (clearly mine included) your review is more harsh than the engine you so criticise.
    Let’s start with VW Golf Gti being classless. Far from it, indeed it was anything but. You were more likely going to see Quentin Wilson driving one than Ian Rush, the VW was as pretentious as the adverts wanted it to be and very expensive. Was the golf better built and more reliable? Well history and industry figures say not, indeed it’s hyped with just enough pretense that the buyer believes because the advert has told it to believe and during the 80’s it was all about Thatcherism class. What Ford did was much as they’ve always done, appeal to the backbone of Britain, not the painted finger nails and cigars of the boardroom. Much like anything that’s popular it is plentiful and with it becomes low prices, low second hand values and third generation none careful owners who have limited budgets. Then of course becomes poor servicing and poor maintenence. The problem with Ford is due to popularity it is usually everyone’s first taste of transport, cars are plentiful and cheap, they are generally on their 5th owner and by the time it reaches the 17yr old first time driver or the kid on the estate it is far past its best. Naive and restrictive budgets then make the 6th owner care for the car even less, ultimately this leads to poor ownership and poor reliability giving first time drivers a bad experience of Ford. The next generation then question their rattly old Ford and blame the manufacturer for their poor experience, as their salaries increase and Thatcherite devolution of industry took place nobody wanted to be associated with Phil from depot Street in a 2 up 2 down, oh no the best thing to do was to borrow and spend on VW or other pretentious socially decisive machines that would take us away from phil! or at least give us that image whilst taking a look at ourselves driving past John Lewis on a Saturday evening and parking just opposite the window reflecting the image of our borrowed success.
    The XR3i was a great car, yes the engine was a little harsh and outstayed it’s welcome by three years but it looked good, and drive well. I don’t have a clue what you mean about handling poorly, you clearly cannot drive. They are predictable controllable and as for brakes they were equally as good as it’s completion, the only negative was the early ABS which was an option and appalling if you were unlucky enough to find a rare animal. I agree there were a batch of Fords with BL quality metal but this was only a two month supply, the issue here is the volume sold exasperatng the problem. The battery tray would rot due to poor maintenance and poor mechanical care. Every car has it faults, certainly cars of this period
    The real issue with the XR3I was it’s none pretensious image. I think it apparent that only Clarkson seams to be able to overcome this and recognise old and new Fords for their true value. If you want a pompous review go and see Quentin Wilson but if you want accuracy go and speak to the man who may punch people allegedly if there isn’t adequate cuisine.
    To sum up the XR3i was a recognisable unassuming, fast, well designed, good handling car that was cheap to run, offered good value for money and put a smile on your face when sat behind the wheel. What it suffered for in the way of image years later is now seen as a cult car with a good following. It’s funny as a child you never remember with fondness what apple you had in your lunchbox or your mum’s friends coming for coffee but you do remember you dad’s car, slinkys’ and having chips and beans. You also remember the XR3i that we all wanted. Why? Because children aren’t interested in preteniousness or class, they just recognise modernism, excitement and style. Hence why XR3i and Ford Escorts are collectable. Take the 60k RS Turbo recently sold at the NEC. I just cannot see a Golf gaining such interest.

  103. Hi, I’ve had my 5 speed XR3 not i from new & now over 35 years & although I have 2 modern performance cars, I still luv my XR3 & will never part with her.

    • Hi,
      I have a 1988 XR3I from new with 200K and few problems.No rust at all maybe because I am in Spain and not in England where all the car I had over 30 years there .ALL die from rust.
      In England when you got to pass the MOT the mecanich go with a hammer bumping the chasis looking for rusting spots .In Spain they only look for rust if you live near the coast.

  104. It would be an interesting read if an “unbiased” car magazine would perform a back-to-back driving comparison between a 1981 Mk 3 Escort 1.3L and a budget specification 2016/7 Dacia Sandero price £5995, I believe the Sandero would not be disgraced, and the comparison would show us how much the car designers have raised the bar over the decades.

    • The equipment levels wouldn’t be much different, as neither car have a radio as standard and power windows weren’t even available as standard on the Escort Ghia. Also top speed isn’t that much different between a 1.3 Escort and a Sandero Access, as both would struggle to reach 100 mph.
      Where the Sandero would probably win is on economy, 50 mpg against 35 for the Escort, safety features( rear seatbelts were rare in 1981 and airbags were unheard of), refinement( no five speed gearbox on Escorts then) and rust protection and reliability.

  105. the escort xr3i and series 1 rs turbos wer great fun for the era they wer produced a dont know how anyone can say any differant obviously never owned or driven either,call me an old man but like a said they wer great more so the series 1 that was in ur face wen it appeared,it always had that look im ready to go.freddie

  106. @Will M… yes the Vignale trim cars are perhaps modern day Ghia equivalents. I see the new Focus is available in Vignale version too. Stepping into Lexus / Infiniti territory?

  107. Fast Fords always LOOK sharp. When young, I quite fancied the RS1600i, which visually was a step up over the XR3, with nice wheels!

  108. It boils down to how does one define a classic car. Is the XR3 less worthy of being cosseted over than an Allegro or Marina?

    Who cares….in my opinion the Mk1/2 Escorts were always overhyped themselves given their agricultural engineering and their rally successes glossed over the mediocrity of the standard item you could buy in the showroom. The MkIII was superior in every department, was up to the minute, and it was COTY in 1981.

    The boy racers who drove them in their day are now middle aged, and like all classics its the nostalgia factor that drives the restoration movement….just look how much a mint XR3i or RS Turbo will now cost you in the classifieds.

  109. The Mark 3 started well, it looked very up to date and had fwd, but was soon overtaken by rivals like the Mark 2 Volkswagen Golf, and became known for its harsh ride, thrashy engines and horrid base models. However, because it was a Ford and was easy to fix with a dealer on every street, the Escort sold in huge numbers, particularly to fleets. Myself I always found the Mark 1 Astra a far superior car, with sharper styling, better economy, nicer engines and excellent build quality.

  110. The Zetec was defo a new engine over the CVH, launch was delayed due to the valvegear disintegrating on test. Ford also gave Bosch the wrong dimensions for the engine block, we had to machine the casings on the alternators to fit the engine. Absolute nightmare for a Quality Engineer… I always liked driving Mk3/4 Escorts, even my diesel van! A colleague of mine wasn’t keen on the CVH as he blew 2 engines on works cars. A friend had a white RS Turbo, which was a handy tool until it was stolen and stripped for spares.

  111. I was never a fan of the Mark 3 Escort and it was the start of my gradual disillusion with Ford that increased with the Sierra and peaked with the 1990 Escort and the Scorpio. None of the Mark 3s I was a passenger in ( too young to drive when these were new cars) impressed me: the L spec didn’t even have a radio, and even the Ghia looked poor inside compared with the Mark 2. I found the ride bouncy, the seats on cheaper models like bus seats, and the engines noisy. Not impressed when the Mark 1 Vauxhall Astra had smooth, powerful engines, better ride quality and even the base model had a radio.

  112. I’ve no experience of injected CVHs but used to borrow my dad’s mk3 Escort 1.3 L quite often. It was a fair enough drive, a bit vocal and I recall the engine seeming reluctant to rev. The most vivid memory is the heavy, unassisted steering, and the nasty hard plastic, thin rimmed steering wheel. I’ve no doubt GM’s family1 and 2 engines had the CVH well beaten. Not directly comparable, but the injected 1.6 in my Nova GTE was way smoother and freer spinning.

  113. Everybody loved the XR’s in the day. They were just cooler than the Golf, that’s why they featured in all the 80’s shows. Working man’s car. Multiple factory turbo options. Every car made in the 80s rotted away. The roads are hardly choc full of mk1 Golf GTi’s now or 30 years ago for that matter. If you wanted a smoother engine you paid golf money, but the Golf’s were for women.

  114. Wayne and his mates from Basildon going for a day out in Sarfend always come to mind when I see an XR3i. Put a jazz funk tape on the stereo, wear some white socks and it’s back to Essex in 1984.

    • Everyone says sarfend was full of XR3s I the early 80s but what I can remember as child was a lot of XR2s, Novas and a few Capris. It wasn’t until late in the 80s that the XR3s started to appear

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.