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Driving the classics: Ford Fiesta XR2 (1989) review

Published:01 December 2017

Driving the classics: Ford Fiesta XR2 (1989) review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By James Dennison

Junior staff writer on our sister website Parkers and former product 'genius' at Audi and BMW

By James Dennison

Junior staff writer on our sister website Parkers and former product 'genius' at Audi and BMW

► Ford's performance car icon driven
► Forebear to the Fiesta ST
► Is it still as fun?

Ford has always had a certain panache when it comes to building everyday heroes for the humble petrolhead. The Focus, Capri, Sierra, Fiesta and even the Ka were all at some in their lifespan transformed from mundane runabouts into blue-collar road-going weapons capable of lapping an industrial estate in Dagenham faster than a Porsche 911. Probably.

So when the call came through asking whether we’d like to come and drive one of these motoring icons, we obviously couldn’t say no. The car in question? A 1989 Ford Fiesta XR2.

What is it?

For our younger readers, the Fiesta XR2 is essentially an 80s predecessor to the Ford Fiesta ST. The ‘X’ stands for ‘X Pack’ – performance addenda that customers could buy from Ford dealers – and the ‘R’ for racing.

This particular XR2 sold for £8,430 in 1989, which is around £20,000 in today’s money – enough to land you a high-spec Fiesta ST (while they were still on sale, of course). Ford invested your hard-earned cash on goodies such as a full bodykit (with rally car style spotlights at the front), improved suspension, ventilated front disc brakes, an uprated exhaust, those charming pepper pot alloys and, of course, more power.

Ford Fiesta XR2 front quarter

Mk.1 XR2s were lumbered with a 84bhp 1.6-litre engine, yet the Mk.2 (the one we’re driving) benefited from a punchier 96bhp 1.6-litre CVH unit stolen from the Escort XR3. And while you’d probably get more today from an off-the-shelf Flymo, 96bhp in a car weighing just 839kg was not to be sniffed at – especially in the 80s.

So it’s fast then?

For the time it was sold in, yes it was rather nippy. Not as quick as a Volkswagen GTi, but unlikely to get left behind at the lights all the same. However, things have changed since 1989…

Accelerating from 0-60mph takes a whole 10.2 seconds, while top speed is 110mph. Slow, by today’s standards, but in truth you really wouldn’t want any more speed. Sat low to the ground with minimal sound insulation, it’s about as close to back-to-basics motoring as you’ll get without having to start the car with a handle.

Turn the key, feather the throttle to get the juices flowing, find a forward gear and you’re off. The exhausts buzzes away out back while the front of the car tips its squared-off nose towards the horizon. You’re only doing 40mph, but sitting inside the XR2 you feel like you’re razzing along at 80 and breaking every rule in the book.

Ford Fiesta XR2 rear tracking

Then you go for the brakes and remember exactly why we don’t all run around in cars from the 80s. Crikey do they need persuasion – well in advance for that matter. The steering is far better, mind, and with no power assistance you may as well be running your fingers along the surface of the road for all the feedback you get.

Tip into a corner and the bodyroll is prominent, but that only adds to the fun. For a reviewer who has been brought up on the molly-coddling, safety-obsessed cars of the 21st century, the XR2 is a welcome step into comparatively uncomplicated cars of yesteryear.

Could you drive it every day?

You know what – yes, you probably could. Living in a warm country, not living far from work and having a basic mechanical knowledge would be preferable, but it’s not as if the XR2 is the lavatorial equivalent of a hole in the ground.

Ford Fiesta XR2 interior

There’s a heater for when it gets chilly, lights on the front and back for when it gets dark, plus a radio that I managed to listen to my favourite station on – even if it did sound like it was being played through a Fisher Price walkie-talkie.

Verdict

It’s not hard to see how the fabulous fast Ford hatchbacks of today came about. Much of their essence and appeal can be seen in the XR2, from its everyday capabilities to its uncanny knack of putting a smile on your face at half the speed limit.

If you fancy one, get in now as prices are on the up – even if they are yet to reach silly money. For example, we found a tidy 1989 example listed at just under £6,000 at the time of writing. 

Check out our classic review of the Ford Racing Puma

Specs

Price when new: £8,430
On sale in the UK: 1981-1989
Engine: 1597cc four-cylinder, naturally aspirated, 96bhp
Transmission: Front-wheel drive, five-speed manual
Performance: 10.2sec, 112mph, N/A mpg, N/A CO2
Weight / material: 839kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):

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  • Driving the classics: Ford Fiesta XR2 (1989) review
  • Driving the classics: Ford Fiesta XR2 (1989) review
  • Driving the classics: Ford Fiesta XR2 (1989) review
  • Driving the classics: Ford Fiesta XR2 (1989) review
  • Driving the classics: Ford Fiesta XR2 (1989) review
  • Driving the classics: Ford Fiesta XR2 (1989) review

By James Dennison

Junior staff writer on our sister website Parkers and former product 'genius' at Audi and BMW

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