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Feature Test - Butch Baby
With a selection of Ford's own Rally Sport X-Pack options, including a 1600 engine, the Escort's kid brother packs a potent punch
Few car makers have been as successful as Ford at producing "go-faster" versions of their standard saloons. Memorable examples include the original Mk 1 Lotus Cortina, the Escort Twin Cam and, more recently, the Escort RS 2000. Even with the closure of the production line at Ford's Advanced Vehicle Operations centre nearly six years ago, demand from enthusiasts has kept the tradition alive: witness the overtly sporting XR3 version of the new Escort.
The X-pack programme is further evidence that Ford's commercial sporting streak lives on. Announced three years ago as a more flexible alternative to buying 'off-the-peg' Rally Sport specials like the RS 2000, it allows the customer the scope to modify his Fiesta, Escort, Cortina or Capri by stages - cosmetic, mechanical or both; the range of Rally Sport options (from appointed RS dealers) is almost endless. Nor is there any specific limit on the age or mileage of the car to be modified, and the standard warranty remains valid.
Regular readers may remember we tested an X-pack Capri this time last year and came away impressed, but not convinced that all its options were worthwhile or particularly good value. Like that car, the Fiesta we test here is virtually the "full-house" package with modifications to suspension, brakes and bodywork and a larger, modified, 1.6-litre engine - £1,674-worth in all (excluding VAT and labour). In detail, the conversion (to a 1.3 GL, S, or Ghia Fiesta) comprises harder front springs, gas-filled Bilstein dampers, stronger tie bars, a larger diameter anti-roll bar (front) and larger diameter front discs (totalling £376); 13 X 6 in RS alloy wheels shod with 185/60 HR Pirelli P6 tyres (£274); moulded black polyurethane wheel arch extensions, spoilers front and rear and a special RS steering wheel (£179). The transversely mounted engine is something of a hybrid, using the pistons, cylinder head and ancillaries from the 1598cc Escort Sport "Kent" engine fitted to the "Federal" 1.6 Fiesta block. Complete with a four-branch exhaust manifold (£79), an exhaust resonator box (£23), an oil cooler kit (£50) and a rejetted 34 DATR progressive twin-choke Weber (twin-carb kits are available for the 1300), the new engine assembly totals £799. The standard 1300 clutch and drive train are deemed strong enough to cope with the extra power and torque.
Ford estimates that the total cost of our test car, including all labour charges, would be in the region of £6,400. That's a lot of money when you consider that the X-pack Fiesta must compete against such formidable hatchbacks as the VW Golf GTi (£5,700), Ford's own Escort XR3 (£5,123) and Capri 3.0 S (£6,252), Renault's remarkably quick 5 Gordini (£5,326) and Alfa Romeo's bargain-priced Alfasud 1.5 Ti Veloce (£4,800) - all of which undercut the Fiesta, some substantially. Bear in mind, however, that the initial outlay could be usefully cut by basing the conversion on a good used Fiesta and its burden eased by tackling the conversion time.
With 90 bhp at 5500 rpm and 94 Ib ft of torque delivered at 3500 rpm (figures for the 1300 are 66/5600 and 68/3250) and only marginally more weight to propel, this Fiesta certainly doesn't drag its heels, though it isn't as quick as you might expect from its specification and appearance. We recorded a top speed of 102.6 mph (against 96.6 mph for the 1.3 S). At this speed the engine is pulling nearly 6300 rpm, some 700 rpm beyond maximum power. In fact, due to the smaller rolling radius of its 185/60 HR 13 P6 tyres, the X-pack Fiesta's 16.3 mph/1000 rpm gearing in top is actually lower than that of the 1.3 S whose final drive and internal ratios it shares. This means that the Fiesta's top speed is limited by revs rather than power and that its gearing feels uncomfortably low for prolonged high speed cruising. But it also means that its top gear pull in the lower speed ranges is very respectable: 30-50 and 50-70 mph are covered in 8.3 and 9.4 sec respectively (against 11.0 and 12.9 sec for the 1.3 S). It is interesting to note, however, that the smaller-engined - - though similarly powerful - Renault 5 Gordini, perhaps the Fiesta's most natural rival, can cover the same increments in 7.7 and 8.3 sec in fourth with another gear to go for motorway cruising.
With 0-60 and 0-80 mph times of 9.5 and 17.8 sec respectively, the Fiesta turns the tables on the Gordini (9.7 and 19.5 sec), though the "cheaper" VW Golf GTi (8.2 and 14.4 sec) and Escort XR3 (8.7 and 15.5 sec) comfortably out-sprint it and, indeed, set the performance standards for the 1.6-litre class.
Figures aside, the Fiesta's low gearing, light weight and torquey engine characteristics combine to make it feel satisfyingly potent and effective on the road, especially when overtaking. The point to make here is that despite its aggressively sporting appearance, the X-pack Fiesta does not have a tuned engine: the special RS 1.6-litre unit is as tractable and untemperamental as the standard 1.3-litre unit it replaces and, to our surprise, somewhat.....