Though it wouldn't be evident on the road until middecade, Ford 2000 seemed a prudent plan in light of the automobile industry's ever-increasing globalization. Meantime, Ford Division had redesigned its Escort for the first time since the 1981 original.
Arriving in spring 1990 as an early-'91 model, it was another "world car," though in the same way as Probe. Here, Ford applied "mini-Taurus" styling to the latest version of Mazda's small, front-drive 323/Protege to produce a competent Japanese-style subcompact with much greater sales appeal against rival Toyotas, Hondas, and Nissans.
Initial body styles were the same as before. So was the basic "CVH" engine retained for all Escorts save the sporty GT three-door. That one benefited greatly from a new twincam, 1.8-liter Mazda four with 16 valves and 127 lively horses.
Though the CVH gained sequential-port fuel injection and distributorless electronic ignition, it remained a gruff and noisy slogger with just 88 horsepower. At least it was cheap, and that combined with more efficient production in Mexico as well as Michigan to make for very low list prices: $7976 for the stark three-door Pony to more than $11 grand for the GT. A crisp four-door notchback bowed for 1992 in mid-range LX trim, and there was a sporty LX-E version with the GT's engine and firm suspension, plus rear disc brakes -- a kind of pint-size Taurus SHO.
Only evolutionary changes would occur through 1996, save the admirable adoption of a standard passenger airbag for '95 supplementing the already included driver's restraint. An optional fold-out child safety seat was also added that year.
Sales remained strong despite the yearly sameness. A clever new "one price" program helped. Begun in 1992, this offered any of the four LX models with several popular options for just $10,899 with five-speed manual transmission or $11,631 with optional four-speed automatic.
Ford was copying the no-hassle price policy of GM's Saturn subsidiary, but it was nonetheless a timely counter to Chevy's Cavalier, which was doing the same thing -- not to mention Japanese small cars that were rapidly moving up the scale due to a strengthened yen.
Unfortunately, everyday Escorts couldn't match many import-brand competitors for pep and refinement, so it's just as well that the freshened '97s went on sale in early 1996.
For more on the amazing Ford, old and new, see:
- Ford New Car Reviews and Prices
- Ford Used Car Reviews and Prices