Ford Escort XR3

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Ford Escort XR3

Convertible - Petrol, Diesel

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88% positive

5 reviews from the community

Review of "Ford Escort XR3"

published 25/03/2017 | RICHADA
Member since : 20/06/2004
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Good
Pro Practical fresh air motoring.
Cons Getting a bit old and creaky now.
exceptional
Value for Money
Road Handling
Comfort
Features
Fuel consumption

"RICHADA'S 1987 & 1989 FORD ESCORT XR3i CONVERTIBLES"

My 1987 Azure blue XR3i Convertible. A stunning looking summer car back then.

My 1987 Azure blue XR3i Convertible. A stunning looking summer car back then.

WAS RICHADA EVER AS COOL AS HIS CARS?

That is a rhetorical question thank you, and I am also aware that in many eyes – especially thirty years later – these particular convertibles will not be viewed as very cool at all, in their day though......

......that being regarded as the mid to late 1980’s, they were “the” car for we, mere mortal, young aspiring yuppies to be seen in.

In truth having owned an XR2 Fiesta, followed by two Escort XR3i hatchbacks, I was looking for something different, which would not break the bank in terms of day to day running costs. I had never seen myself as a convertible, or sports car driver, always liking my creature comforts and an upright driving position too much for that. That was just as well as, although convertible, these Escorts, even badged as XR3i’s were far from sporting and, strange as it may now sound, started my transition into far more sensible wheels during the following quarter of a century. However, for the purposes of this review, press the RICHADA rewind button to 1987 and to the purchase of the first of my two Ford Escort XR3i Convertibles.

WHAT IS IT?

The Escort, when conceived in the mid 1960’s, started out as a very traditional, rear wheel drive, two or four door “three box” (i.e. saloon) car for the masses. The hatchback genre had yet to become popular outside of France. It was a fantastic success from the day in 1968 that it was launched, always top of the European new car sales charts. As one generation of Escort gave way to the next, with front wheel drive after 1981, becoming far more sophisticated and the range ever more complex as motoring tastes developed and the market increasingly more demanding; saloons, vans, hatchbacks, estates and finally, in 1983, this, the Convertible, appeared.

Many magazines at the time described the manufacturers as “chopping the roof off of hatchbacks”, this was to do them a gross injustice as the resources and engineering that went into creating the best convirtibles was vastly more extensive than the casual observer could comprehend. Slicing the roof off of a monocoque car – that is a modern vehicle with a chassis seamlessly integrated with the body – leaves you with a wobbly jelly that is both uncomfortable to drive and lethal to crash in. Strength has to be returned to the structure through the chassis and additional box sections (bracing behind the dashboard and rear seats usually) which adds weight and cost and also changes the driving dynamics of such cars considerably.

Convertibles, re-engineered from mundane hatchbacks or saloons were very much the rage in the “show your money” 1980’s, many of them such as the Fiat Ritmo / Strada and Rover Metro were simply awful, both to look at and to drive, others such as the Ford Escort, Peugeot 205, Vauxhall Astra and VW Golf were actually surprisingly good cars, selling in big numbers.

At that time all of these converted convertibles were virtually hand built in factories such as Bertone, or in the Escort’s case, Karman in Osnabruck, this made them relatively expensive, at least a 30% premium on the “donor” car, but that did not dampen their popularity and the Escort Convertible, also referred to as the Cabriolet, was the biggest seller of all.

WILL IT FIT YOUR GARAGE?

For me, part of the appeal of such a car was that it very much mirrored the donor car dimensionally, indeed in the case of the Convertible XR3i, at 4022mm long, it was 39mm shorter than the XR3i hatch, both being 1640mm wide. In the 1980’s this was not a small car, more an average sized one!

By 2017’s portly standards, that now makes this a Ford Fiesta size car. Equally sobering is its 1015kg weight, a 7% increase on the standard XR3i hatchback, light as that now appears, this was the first car that I owned to exceed a tonne in weight, none subsequently weighing less, my current Volvo XC60 being almost twice as heavy!

WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL?

The heavily facelifted, 1986 model, Ford Escort Convertible came in two versions, a Ghia trimmed, non fuel-injected, 1.6, and the car reviewed here, the 105bhp, fuel injected XR3i, which shared both power train and trim directly from the XR3i hatchback.

The specific model reviewed is the XR3i Cabriolet, produced from 1986 to 1991 when a completely new, much less successful, model of Escort was launched.

IN WHAT CAPACITY AM I REVIEWING THIS CAR?

I recently reviewed the XR3i hatchback and commented that; ‘Having owned a total of four XR3i Escorts, two three door hatchbacks and a couple of Converibles, bought second hand and then new in rotation, I probably have more experience than most with this particular ‘80’s icon, which is now a very rare site on our roads.’ It has since occurred to me that whilst the XR3i hatchback may now be regarded as iconic, the Convertible has really rather fallen by the wayside.

That, in many ways, is a pity as in several respects it was a definite “trade up” from the hatchback and over the three and a half years that I owned these two cars I covered over 26,000 very enjoyable miles in them.

COSTS:

It is rather salient that soft-top conversions of family hatchbacks are extremely few on the market today, that has as much to do with cost as it does changing fashion and safety standards all of which, over the last 25 years, contrived to make this type of car fairly uneconomical to manufacture or buy. For several years now Ford have offered no convertibles in their family car range, the only open top one now available being the Mustang, hardly an affordable alternative to buy or run.

PURCHASE COST 8 / 10

The £10,799, and £13,185 That I paid in 1987 and 1989 for the second hand and subsequent new Escort XR3i Cabriolets is somewhat irrelevant today as no such equivalent model is available, were it to be so, its price would be approaching £30,000.

At the time these were not cheap cars, they did however represent better value than their competitors, particularly the Vauxhall Astra and VW Golf.

THE OPTIONS GAME: 7 / 10

Or “How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?”

During the years in which this model of Escort Convertible was in production, Ford swayed backwards and forwards dramatically with standard and optional equipment and you needed to be something of a geek like me to keep up with what equipment each years’ production model came with.

My original Azure Blue car had just two options, not surprisingly, the gorgeous lustrous deep electric blue metallic paintwork and the rather dating alloy wheels.

Effectively Ford had stripped all of the goodies out of these cars in order to offer them at a list price that the likes of me could afford. Two years later and, in a bid to enhance sales, my new, in 1989, white XR3i Convertible arrived with all of the kit as standard; electric windows, electric folding roof, electric areal, electrically heated front windscreen and door mirrors, auto-reverse stereo / FM radio and driving lights. This was an option list that would have cost over £1200 in 1986/7 when my blue car was registered. The only option on the 1989 invoice remained the alloy wheels.

Heated windscreen (a then new invention) apart, this kit enhanced my enjoyment of the car very little, indeed, having had the blue one for twenty one months, the white one was gone within barely a year.

DEPRECIATION 9 / 10

The value of any second hand convertible car is far more dependent on condition than that of its equivalent hatchback as, if not looked after, these convertibles have a tendency to look very tatty remarkably quickly. Examples as well cared for as mine, definitely rewarded with a premium price come trade in time, and, all these years later, there are a small number of cherished Escort Convertibles still available to buy today.

Bearing in mind that the youngest of these cars is 26 years old now, the oldest 30, one in good condition, providing you have somewhere dry to store it, looks like a sound investment to me. The very best appear only to fetch about £10,000, that, ironically, being about half the current value of the best XR3i hatchback, which started life as a cheaper, less well built, car in the first place!

If interested in a Ford Escort XR3i Convertible my advice would to be buy now whilst you still can, kept in good condition the value can only go up from here.

FUEL ECONOMY 9 / 10

Back in the 1980’s fuel was relatively cheap and fuel economy tended not to be a priority with buyers of such cars, who tended to cover a fairly low annual mileage anyway. By this time my annual mileage was around 12,000 and I was very pleased to find both of these cars capable on a gentle run of delivering close to 40mpg, whilst my stop start, around town daily routine produced 28mpg, still not a bad figure for a fairly swift 1600cc car in those days.

SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 9 / 10

A big advantage of basing a convertible on a much more humble car is that as far as spares and servicing is concerned they were just as cheap to service as any mainstream Ford and in those days that was cheap.

An 18,000 mile service, which included replacement front brake pads, on the first XR3i Convertible came to £136.00, from my records that appear to be the most that I ever spent with the Ford dealer servicing either of these cars.

Incidentally many spares are still available for Escorts of this era, the big one though – a hood replacement – is a highly specialised job and could simply prove uneconomical to carry out, the hood structure being a very complex one, especially when electrically operated. This may explain why the Convertibles are worth so much less than the hatchback equivalents now.

THE EXTERIOR: STYLING 9 / 10

There is little doubt that the XR3i Convertible was the best looking of the 1980’s converted hatchbacks, but then so too was the donor car, with the possible exception of the streamlined Astra hatchback, which did not translate all that well into a convertible, at least not aesthetically speaking.

The 1986 Convertibles still had the big basket roll hoop, as did all of the converted hatchbacks of the day. In the Escorts case it actually integrated surprisingly well with the cars angular, upright, styling. As I driver I also found it a surprising comfort, the hoop looked strong enough to support the car if the worst happened and also provided a solid seat belt top anchor at the right height.

The square boot lid was the main departure from the hatchback, but Ford had managed a clean styling job on this and it suited the plastic bumper (post-1986) model Escort Convertible rather better than the earlier, metal bumpered model.

Defining points of the XR3i were a plastic side rubbing strip with a thin red insert in them as well as the front and rear bumpers. This looked particularly good on my second, white, XR3i which was also adorned with red, rather than black, XR3i and Escort logos. I added a red pinstripe at waist height on mine, which visually elongated the look of the car very effectively.

So far not mentioned is the white hood on my “all white” car. An absolute pain to keep clean (my reason for that cars early departure indeed) when new it looked superb. In hindsight, the black roof on the original blue one was a much better idea!

OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 7 / 10

Does it look as though it was slung together?

Being largely hand built by Karman in Osnabruck, the quality of these XR3i Convertibles varied somewhat. This was also exaggerated by the way that some owners treated them, the gulf, even when new was a large one, now the difference between a cherished one of these and a tatty one is just huge, the latter only being fit for scrap, rather than any form of restoration.

My two were the same, but different! The blue, 1986 built car was better screwed together, there were less squeaks and rattles and in my 21 months ownership it developed no faults or failures. By comparison, the all white, all electric 1989 car was plagued by annoying little build faults, nuts inside the hood coming undone, permanent rattles and even a windscreen wiper falling off! Unlike the blue XR3i, I had purchased the white one new.

Looking at the fit and finish of a late 1980’s car shows us just how far car manufacturing techniques have come over the last thirty years, the fit of bumpers, lights and doors are all vastly superior now on even the cheapest of new cars.

SAFETY 8 / 10

If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it?

It would be very interesting to drive one of these cars today and see how I would assess it in terms of safety. As we grow older we all become more aware of our own mortality, back in the 1980’s, top up or down, I felt in no way less safe driving one of these than I did the hatchback XR3i that preceded them. Indeed, a year after trading in the second one for an Astra GTE Convertible, I had my one and only catastrophic accident – the car was “T-boned” by an old lady, blind as a bat, she had pulled out of a side turning straight into the side of my car. OK that was an Astra, but the reinforcing work (plainly visible with the body panels stripped away) was almost identical to the Escort. The repair was some £2,400 (in 1992), the bodyshop owner remarking that he had no doubt that had it been a hatchback the car would have been written off as the whole shell would have been bent.

A “converted” convertible then was not such a bad car to have an “ordinary” accident in!

Whilst airbags and ABS (an option on the XR3i) were yet to become standard equipment on all cars, the dynamic safety levels were very high, the XR3i being much better on this score than the decidedly floppy 1.6 Ghia model thanks to its vastly superior handling.

THE INTERIOR:

In order to keep production costs as low as possible, all interior features were carried over directly from the XR3i hatchback, the only variation being the electric roof switch down by the gear lever on the all-electric Convertible.

ERGONOMICS 9 / 10

Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the “working environment”. The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively “feel” right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.

Back in those days you did not have the luxury of height adjustable seats and steering wheel either, the designers had to get it right first try and Fords were particularly good at it. Whilst I did not appreciate the look of the all-new 1986 Escort interior, there is no doubt that, as usual in those days, Ford had got the ergonomics spot on.

The driving position was excellent and all the main controls fell intuitively to hand. Once you got used to the tiny indicator and wipers switches with their rotating bezel adjusters, you started to wonder why everyone did not copy this layout, at the time they just looked and felt so much higher quality than the spindly stalks of the day, which really have barely improved over the intervening thirty years!

VISIBILITY: 4 / 10

These XR3i Convertibles improved my mirror skills immeasurably to the extent that I have never had any fear of driving and reverse parking windowless vans. Whilst the front and side vision is as good as any other hatchback, better than most today with their thick windscreen pillars, the rear and rear three quarter visibility – especially with the roof up, was extremely compromised.

Today such a car would come with standard reverse park radar and probably a rear camera too, back in the 1980’s you were left to do your best. A small (heated glass) rear window conspired with very heavy rear three quarter panels and that roll hoop to rob virtually all rear and rear three quarter visibility. With the roof folded, things only improved marginally as the roof did not fold down into the boot space, simply piling up on the rear deck, this made reverse parking a particularly hit and miss experience.

One huge aid to visibility on the 1989 car was the heated electric windscreen, I sold the car in 1991 and only in 2016, with the Volvo XC60 had a second car with this invaluable piece of equipment.

SPACE: 7 / 10

Whilst it may seem unfair to mark the XR3i Convertible down in this department, it was after all the most spacious of its ilk, Ford fitting the narrowed rear bench seat with three seat belts was a bit of a joke. The central, non-inertia reel, one stayed tucked under the folding rear seat on mine.

Boot space was surprisingly good, usefully square and with a decent sized opening, these cars were far from impractical. Interior storage space was also remarkably good too. Trading this car in for an Astra Convertible only highlighted the relative spaciousness of the Escort.

STYLE 5 / 10

Personally I much preferred the original XR3i interior styling to the completely revamped 1986 interior, even if the newer ones did suffer from fewer squeaks and rattles.

In an attempt to “soft edge” everything in the interior, the dashboard, steering wheel and door panels all ended up looking quite ugly and more plasticky than the sharp edged original.

There were some elegant touches though, the circular touch / touch switches looked particularly elegant, as did the electric door switches integrated with the door pull on the second Convertible.

MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 4 / 10

Aspreys or Ratners?

This was not a quality interior, most of the plastic surfaces were cheap and flimsy. Thirty years later you would be lucky to find even a good one with a decent looking interior, both door and dashboard mouldings are likely to be showing signs of creasing, cracking and discolouration.

A notable exception to this appears to be the seats, remarked upon at the time for their excellence, on examples that I have seen recently, the cloth seats appear to have lasted their time extraordinarily well.

AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 5 / 10:

Climate control came in the form of a folding roof on these cars! As far as heating and ventilation was concerned, the 1986 model Escorts took a retrograde step, what lay behind the dashboard was the same but the controls were not as good. Added to this the fact that with the top up there was a woeful lack of through flow ventilation and on a hot, but wet summers day the XR3i Convertible was an uncomfortably stuffy place to be.

Audio controls in those days were simply buttons on the front of a radio cassette player. The one that my 1987 car came with was pitifully poor, I replaced it with an after-market Blaupunkt set, the 1989 car came with a vastly superior Ford auto-reverse FM stereo, mated to an electric aerial. Sound quality was pretty good with four large speakers, better than the original hatchbacks.

ON THE ROAD……

……Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.

NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 7 / 10

Silk purse or sow’s ear?

Funnily enough, the XR3i Convertibles could be a touch of both, which I found rather appealing about them. Driven gently these cars were refined and tractable, easy to drive smoothly. Open it up and they had quite a rorty exhaust note, sounding much more powerful than they actually were.

Having said that, the 1600 CVH Ford engine of the day was not inherently the most refined, their quality varied a lot too, each of the four I had showed slightly different characteristics, the blue Cabriolets probably being the best all round, the 1989 models the worst, it was never as smooth or as vibration free as the car it replaced.

Being a convertible you expect extra shakes and shudders, particularly with the roof down, here the XR3i was actually pretty good, the suspension settings were softer than the hatchbacks and that tended to mask any body flexing and gave both car and passengers an easier going ride.

As far as noise is concerned, top up this was quieter than the equivalent hatchback, only a little extra wind noise around the door pillars spoiled the refinement here, top down, in the front at least, the drive was a surprisingly quiet one. Sitting in the rear was an isolating experience as due to the wind flow you could not hear what was being said in the front, making conversation, even at town speeds almost impossible.

PERFORMANCE 6 / 10

Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise?

The extra weight of the Convertible body shell took the edge off of the XR3i’s performance to the extent of reducing the 0-60 time by a second from 8.5 to 9.5. However, bald performance is not what convertible motoring is all about, stay clear of the asthmatic top end of the rev range and the XR3i is / was powerful enough.

If this is your idea of a practical, modern classic now, then it is enough to know that it has adequate performance for modern day motoring needs. If you are looking for a sports car, then the XR3i Cabriolet is not a car you would be considering anyway.

RIDE & HANDLING 7 / 10

In the vein of the last paragraph, I really liked the Convertible XR3i for its ride and handling compromise. Softer undeniably than the hatchback, it made for a much more comfortable long distance car thanks to that extra compliance.

The other advantage to my Convertibles was that the steering had become tolerably rather than impossibly heavy. None of these cars had power steering, all needed it as they were a pain to park. However, once above walking pace they had a quality of steering feel and balance that is near impossible to engineer into a power assisted steering system, this made them very good fun to drive quickly down twisty roads which could be tackled far more confidently in these cars than in the Astra that replaced them, that car having featherweight “dead” power steering.

CONCLUSION

Would I buy one and would we travel 1150 miles in a day in it to Poland?

Well I bought not one, but two of them, actually living to regret the purchase of the second as, unlike its XR3i hatchback predecessor, it failed to live up to the promises made by the first.

In the 1980’s I was not undertaking transcontinental journeys, but see no real reason why an XR3i Convertible would not have been up to that task, only the stuffy interior ambiance going against it, you cannot travel hundreds of miles at a sitting with the roof down.

Would I buy one of these now? No, as a practical classic the hatchback makes more sense and I can understand why there has been a juxtaposition in values. In hindsight though, the Escort XR3i was a vastly superior product to the Astra Convertibles that I ran for the following three and a half years.

FINAL SCORE: 120 / 170

Putting that score into perspective are a bunch of ancient and modern Fords scored on an identical basis:

FORD FIESTA XR2 – 1983 – 72.3%
FORD FIESTA 1.0T ST-LINE BLACK EDITION – 2016 – 76.5%
FORD ESCORT XR3i – 1984 / 1985 – 75.9%

FORD ESCORT XR3i CONVERTIBLE – 1987 / 1989 – 70.6%

FORD FOCUS 2.0 TDCi TITANIUM X – 2017 – 74.7%
(c) RICHADA CIAO 24.03.2017

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Comments on this review

  • Pointress published 05/04/2017
    Of its time. E!
  • DodoRabbit published 03/04/2017
    Wow! £30,000! Looks like I'll be searching elsewhere for a reasonably priced escort...
  • Chippytarka published 31/03/2017
    Excellent write up and observations as always!x
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Product Information : Ford Escort XR3

Manufacturer's product description

Convertible - Petrol, Diesel

Product Details

Body Type: Convertible

Fuel Type: Petrol; Diesel

Range: Ford Escort

Manufacturer: Ford

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