New & Used Ford Escort: In Depth
1998 Ford Escort LXEnlarge Photo
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The Ford Escort was the Detroit carmaker's first front-wheel-drive compact car, launched in 1981 and finally replaced in 2000 by the more modern Ford Focus. Through three generations of Escort over 20 years, the car went from relatively advanced to behind the curve, as fresher and more frequently updated Japanese compact cars overtook it. By the end of its life, the Escort was outdated, but it proved relatively durable in its later years, and there are still Escorts showing up here and there as used cars.
The third and last generation of Escort, launched in 1997, restyled the previous version and brought the car into Ford's then-prevalent design language, with more curves to the body shape and an oval grille with rounded oblong headlamp and side lamp units. In 1999, the interior was refreshed. The 1997-2002 Escorts featured a 110-horsepower four-cylinder engine mated to either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission. Trim levels started with the base, moved up to the mid-level LX, and topped out at the SE.
Offered initially as a four-door sedan and a five-door wagon, the Escort line gained a coupe known as the ZX2 in 1998 to replace both the previous Escort GT and the discontinued Probe coupe. The ZX2 became its own model in 2001, when Escorts were limited to the fleet market. All ZX2s used a more powerful 130-hp 2.0-liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine, and that model lasted through the 2003 model year. The wagon was discontinued in 2000--replaced by the Focus wagon--and the related Mercury Tracer sedan and wagon were also discontinued that year.
The second-generation Escort, launched in 1991, shared underpinnings with the then-current Mazda 323 and Protege compacts. It featured all-new styling compared to the first generation, and came in four different body styles: three- and five-door hatchbacks, a four-door sedan, and a five-door wagon. The sedan, launched one year later than the hatchbacks, helped to boost sales. In the early years, trim levels were the base Pony (replaced in 1993 by the Standard), the mid-level LX, and the sporty GT model. There was also an Escort Sport model with the visual changes of the GT, but without its more powerful engine.
The 1991-1996 Ford Escort used an 88-hp 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine, paired with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic. The sportier Escort GT, however, used a smaller but more powerful 127-hp 1.8-liter Mazda dual-overhead-came engine, with a five-speed stick only.
First-generation Escort models, sold from 1981 through 1990 as three-door and five-door hatchbacks and a five-door wagon, were intended to be Ford's very first "world car." But they famously had almost no parts that actually interchanged with their European counterparts, which looked quite similar. These cars are now rare found on the used-car market.