Review and road test of the Ford Escort RS Cosworth (1992 - 1996)
ON A WING AND A PRAYER?
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The Ford Escort Cosworth seems to have entered popular folklore as the car that, for a while at least, killed the hot hatch. Here was a car so quick, so capable and yet so desirable to ne'er-do-wells that the insurance industry threw a hissy fit, made it all but uninsurable and applied the same policy to anything with a GTi badge on it. Whilst history may record a black mark against the Escort Cosworth, anybody who ever drove it could almost understand frustrated young men wanting to get behind the wheel at any cost. It was that good. Even by today's standards it more than shapes up, making tracking down a decent used example a fascinating experience.
2.0-litre three-door hatch [RS Cosworth, RS Cosworth Lux]
The Escort RS Cosworth was born from a desire within Ford to develop a more compact version of the Sierra Cosworth to homologate in order to go rallying. That it proved to be a hugely successful road car came as something of a pleasant surprise to Ford. Built on a truncated version of the Sierra Cosworth chassis, the RS Cosworth was quite unlike other Escorts. With its 2.0-litre turbocharged longitudinally-mounted engine driving all four wheels it was effectively a sawn-off Sierra with faux Escort panelling and a rear wing that made that sported by the original Sierra RS Cosworth appear almost understated. Designed at Boreham and assembled by Karmann in Germany, this was a big budget undertaking. Two models were available, a standard car priced upon introduction at £21,380 or a Lux version with electric windows, heated screen, sunroof, Recaro seats and rear headrests.
With 227bhp at its disposal, the Escort was far from backwards about coming forwards, but purists bemoaned its turbo lag. Ford soon sold the 2500 cars it needed to facilitate its entry into rallying and then set about improving the Escort RS Cosworth as a road car. The 'big' Garrett T3 turbocharger was replaced by the smaller T25 unit in May 1994, giving the car a more measured throttle response. The Escort was at the same time decimating rivals in rallying, winning the 1994 Monte Carlo rally in the hands of Francois Delecour, while Tommi Makinen claimed that season's Thousand Lakes in his native Finland. A limited edition Monte Carlo version was subsequently launched.
A mild facelift was visited upon the RS Cosworth in 1995, with a wider honeycomb grille, restyled bumpers, a more attractive fascia and revised alloy wheels amongst the revisions. The car carried on in this form until it was finally discontinued in January 1996 due to ever-tightening Euro emissions regulations.
What You Get
An icon. That and a supremely practical hatchback to go with the loud suit.
What to Look For
Plenty to look out for here. Early 'big turbo' models have been known to blow their turbochargers, the evidence being a cloud of white smoke from the exhaust at start up and upon throttle load. Acceleration will also be reduced. The engine block is sound although be wary if the car has been 'chipped' without any other modifications.
Clutches are good for around 300bhp, whilst the MT75 gearbox can handle 375bhp without too much difficulty. If the car has been modified above these thresholds without extensive accompanying work, walk away. Watch out for cars that have been lowered. Most owners opted for the no-cost Aero Pack, only to divest themselves of their front spoilers at the first sniff of a speed hump.
The major issue is bodywork. Pieced together painstakingly by men in white coats at the Karmann factory, the Escort RS Cosworth doesn't repair easily should you take an agricultural excursion. Look closely at seams, panel and gaps and check that the vehicle is HPI clear and not a stolen/recovered or a damaged repairable. When Cosworths spear off the Queen's Highway, you can bet they weren't dawdling.
(approx based on a 1994 Escort RS Cosworth) On the one hand you expect a premium performance car to cost yet on the other you remind yourself it's a Ford. Well, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Spares for the Cosworth are reassuringly expensive. If you get 8,000 miles out of the 225/45ZR16 tyres you're not driving it properly, and brake discs are around £150 a pair up front and £140 a pair at the back. Brake calipers are around £90, ignition leads £45 and don't even ask about body panels.
On the Road
Superb. The only area in which the Escort RS Cosworth feels a little old fashioned is in its sit-up-and-beg driving position, but otherwise it's still got the wherewithal to show any of today's hot hatch pretenders its chubby behind and that includes the cream of the crop like the Audi S3 and the Renault Clio V6. Chalking up performance figures of 0-60 in 5.7 seconds, the Escort feels beautifully balanced at all times, the four-wheel drive split with a rearwards bias to satisfy gung-ho drivers. Few four-wheel drive sports cars are easy to balance in a drift but the Escort Cosworth makes such antics easy.
The later small turbo cars are probably the driver's choice, despite 'only' packing 220bhp up front. Top speed was 140mph with the rear wing in place or 147mph should you choose to remove it. Do bear in mind that driving an Escort RS Cosworth still appears to be viewed as an offence by many constabularies.
As long as you can afford the insurance and don't mind the slightly thuggish image, the Escort RS Cosworth is a car that can delight like few others. Despite being the car that temporarily killed the GTi genre, there's never been anything quite like it before or since. A classic in the making.
Ford Escort RS Cosworth (1992 - 1996) review by ANDY ENRIGHT