Driving the classics: Ford Escort Cosworth review

Published:30 December 2018

Ford Escort Cosworth Monte Carlo review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

► Ford Escort Cosworth review
► We drive the 1990s Cassie
► Tested here in Monte Carlo spec

Never meet your heroes, they say. Well I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, obsessed with the rally-bred super-hatches such as the Ford Escort Cosworth - products of the alchemy that took humble shopping trolley and transformed it into race-winning magic. Integrales, Cosworths, WRXes and more were catnip to performance-obsessed youngsters such as myself.

So when the chance came to drive this low-mileage 1994 Cossie from the Ford Heritage Collection on my way to the 2018 Goodwood Revival, I couldn’t resist. Surely it wouldn’t disappoint, crushing a thousand schoolboy dreams?

This is a deliciously period, pampered and low-mileage example. With only 41,094 miles on the odometer in 24 years, it’s lived a sheltered life and a plaque inside confirms it as development car 003. It’s a time-warp example of the breed.

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What’s with the Ford Escort Cosworth’s burgundy paint and wheels? 

This is the rare Monte Carlo special edition, see. That means it had the choice of Ash Black, Mallard Green or Jewel Violet paint (as shown), an array of interior cosmetic flourishes and each has grippy Motorsport cloth seats as standard. Just 43 were made in right-hand drive as a swansong at the end of the Cossie’s life and Ford reckons it’s worth some £70k today (it listed at £25,590 when new).

Ford Escort Cosworth review

Not that you’re focused on such details as you approach it for the first time. No, it’s all about that HUGE REAR WING! Forgive the caps-lock, but this is one of the shoutiest cars you’ll ever encounter on the road - from any era.

The whaletail was big news at the time and still dominates much of the driving experience today, bisecting the view out of the rear-view mirror, an omnipresent reminder that you’re driving a rally-bred special. Although it slices and dices visibility, you can thankfully still see out the back window easily enough. The tray was said to produce 20kg of downforce at motorway speeds, helping to squash the rear wheels into the tarmac.

First impressions inside the Cossie

Only the three-door Escort was upgraded to Cosworth spec (the Sierra came in three-door hatch or four-door Sapphire saloon) and once ensconced in the snug sports seats, I’m struck by how diminutive the Escort bodyshell was. Today’s Focus is 1825mm wide, a startling 9cm broader than this car. This Nineties museum piece feels narrow and my elbow digs into the door card, though not as badly as in a straitjacketed Land Rover Defender.

Ford Escort Cosworth interior and cabin

The Escort’s seats surprise me with their comfort, their Motorsport script marking them as Cosworth Monte Carlo spec body-huggers. As we’ll find out soon, they hold you in place even during spirited cornering. Mid-90s velour is a reminder of the step back in time and they’ve worn well.

Overall, the Escort Cosworth feels old inside. No shizzle, Sherlock; this car is quarter of a century old, don’t forget. But it’s still an evocative trip down memory lane to see the RDS stereo and grossly misshapen steering wheel, swollen by the recent arrival of SRS airbags.

Monte Carlo spec was pretty plush back in period and our car’s air-con and sunroof are welcome on a warm September day; everything works a treat and it feels robust, built to last. Alas I forget to dust down my cassette copy of Primal Scream and D:Ream to store in the retro tape rack in the armrest…

How does the 1994 Ford Escort Cosworth Monte Carlo drive?

Twist the key (no namby-pamby keyless entry or ignition here) and the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine fires up and settles to a lumpy idle. It’s a docile car at low speeds, a slightly baggy gearchange and long-travel clutch the only clues that this is a sports car slayer in Essex high-street drag.

Ford Escort Cosworth Monte Carlo rear spoiler whale tail

We pull out of town, the fluids are warmed-up and the traffic thins. You would, wouldn’t you? A prod of the throttle and the Weber-Marelli electronic multi-point injection catches up, spitting fuel and air to spin the single T3/T04B turbocharger into action.

It’s quick and we spear forwards, the 227bhp and 224lb ft easily overcoming the 1418kg kerbweight. Our performance benchmarks have changed and it no longer feels shockingly fast, as it would have done in 1994. But make no mistake: the Cossie still packs a punch.

We didn’t test the 140mph top speed, but the original 6.1sec 0-60mph claim is very credible. There’s less turbo whoosh than I was expecting and there’s noticeable lag until around 3500rpm when the needle on the boost gauge spins up towards its 1.3 bar maximum. Full on Cosworth welly is now on the cards.

Ride and handling

That the Escort Cosworth is quick and ludicrously good fun is likely little surprise. As you might expect on an older car, the brakes feel less powerful than you’d like in a car this rapid, but rally-derived all-wheel drive means that traction is exemplary. You’ll struggle to get the wheels to chirrup, even pulling briskly out of a T-junction.

Ford Escort Cosworth Monte Carlo road test, specs and prices: now worth around £70,000

The steering tugs a little under acceleration and there are shimmies and shudders as we encounter bumpier Sussex back roads. It’s a reminder of how sanitised modern cars have become. The Escort Cosworth wouldn’t see which way a Honda Civic Type R had gone, though its driver might arguably wear a bigger smile.

This is a nimble, lightweight car and it’s surprisingly agile through the corners: as with many older cars, the ride is winningly supple, those 16-inch 225/45 Pirelli P-Zeroes providing ample cushion where modern low-profile rubber jars. Please bring back taller tyres, folks!

Speaking of tyres, a large chunk of the bootspace is gobbled up by a full-size spare sitting atop the carpet. You’re left in no doubt about the priorities of this modern classic.

Ford Escort Cosworth boot is dominated by the spare wheel

We go for one last blast along country lanes. The Cossie doesn’t like labouring in taller gears and prefers that you snick down to get the engine stoked; we keep our toe in and chase the redline, the 1994cc Cosworth YB 16-valve four finally getting into full voice over the last 500rpm of the rev range. It really does feel like a rally car for the road, as we spear along a sun-dappled British B-road, grins as wide as that whaletail.

Verdict

The Ford Escort Cosworth holds a special place in many enthusiasts’ hearts, representing a different, more thuggish period of car culture. It still delivers today and the Monte Carlo reflects its 400bhp rally-bred parentage in every pore.

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Specs

Price when new: £22,050
On sale in the UK: 1994
Engine: 1993cc four-cylinder turbo, 227bhp @ 6250rpm, 224lb ft @ 3500rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Performance: 6.1sec 0-62mph, 140mph
Weight / material: 1418kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4211/1738/1405mm

Rivals

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Photo Gallery

  • Our Ford Escort Cosworth is in the rare Jewel Violet paint
  • Three-door Ford Escort profile lifted by outrageous Cosworth whaletail spoiler
  • 16-inch OZ alloy wheels original on this time-warp Ford Escort Cosworth heritage example
  • Twin vents punctuate Ford Escort Cosworth bonnet
  • Huge whaletail spoiler dominates rear of Ford Escort Cosworth
  • 16-inch OZ alloy wheels wear remarkably modest Pirelli P Zero tyres
  • Cosworth badging marks this out as a rather special Ford Escort
  • Your rear view is bisected by that rear wing
  • Extra air vents on bonnet feed the 1994cc Cosworth YB 16-valve four-cylinder engine
  • Ford Escort Cosworth review

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

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