Top 10 Fast Fords

We pick ten of the best fast and attainable Fords that you can use in the real world

Escort RS Cosworth

Styled by Steve Harper and built by Karmann, this whale-tailed wild child went on sale in February 1992 in assorted specs, with 7145 being made to January ’96. These included the Monte Carlo limited edition (launched to honour François Delecour’s victory on the ’94 Monte Carlo Rally) and the ‘small turbo’ version, which had a lesser Garrett T25 turbo for improved throttle response. The RS Cosworth claimed ten World Rally Championship rally victories from 1993-’97, along with British and European rally titles. It also proved its worth on-track in ProdSaloons and GT racing, making it a true all-rounder.

AutoFact: An Escort RS Cosworth won the last-ever Willhire 24 Hours in 1994.

Fiesta XR2 Mk2

When the first-series XR2 arrived back in 1981, it packed only 84bhp. The Mk2 version, by contrast, was equipped with a new 1.6-litre CVH four-banger which resulted in a useful hike in power to 96bhp. It may not have been as quick as a Volkswagen Golf GTI, but it wasn’t far behind. It was also much cheaper. The Mk2 looked the part thanks to chunky wheelarch extensions, extra foglamps and red stripes on the bumpers. It may have had a few rough edges, but the Mk2 was one of the most fun cars to drive of its generation.

AutoFact: Its grooviest feature? That would be the roof-mounted digital clock.

Focus RS

It’s hard not to love the turbo Zetec-engined RS. It was fully deserving of the Rallye Sport moniker thanks to its blistering straight-line performance, molten grip and scalpel-sharp steering. It also looked superb, distilling some physical elements of the Focus WRC contender, not least the deep, vented front bumper, large 18-inch alloys and spoiler mounted atop the rear hatch. If there was a downside, it was the epic torquesteer on rough surfaces, thanks in part to the limited-slip diff up front. It’s flawed but, on the right road, epically good fun.

AutoFact: The RS was available in any colour you liked – as long as it was blue.

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1991-’96 Escort RS2000 MkV

This may seem like an odd choice, not least because it’s virtually forgotten these days. That, and the fact that the regular Escort MkV was met with derision at its launch back in 1990. The thing is, the RS2000 version was a much better car than normal variants, not least because of its all-new 2-litre, 16-valve ‘four’. Inside there were the obligatory Recaro seats and racy white gauges. It had power to match more exalted rivals, with chassis balance to match. And don’t forget that the MkV won its class in the ’96 British Rally Championship.

AutoFact: MkVs also won their class on the RAC Rally of Great Britain in 1994-95.

1983-’85 Sierra XR4i

While it may languish in the shadow of the Sierra Cosworth, the earlier XR4i was – and remains – a fine car. The German-made machine polarised opinion in period, with some arbiters of beauty being unable to get their heads around the unusual side-glazing arrangement and ‘biplane’ rear spoiler. To drive, though, the XR4i was a hoot, thanks in part to its ‘Cologne’ V6 that it shared with the Capri 2.8i. A 2.3-litre US-market Merkur variant claimed the 1985 British Touring Car Championship with veteran charger Andy Rouse at the helm, let’s not forget. It opened the floodgates for Sierra domination.

AutoFact: In South Africa, there was a 3-litre V6 version, dubbed the XR6, and the 302ci V8 XR8s.

Escort XR3/XR3i:

Whether in carburetted or injected forms, the first-series front-wheel-drive Escorts continue to appeal. Quite aside from their crisp looks (at best with the distinctive ‘pepper pot’ alloys), they have tenacious handling despite a fair amount of body roll by modern standards, and serious straight-line performance considering their vintage. The Mk4 version was heavier and correspondingly slower and, as such, the earliest of the breed are now the most coveted. Then there’s the closely related RS1600i, which proved a consistent class winner in the BTCC with Richard Longman driving – but that’s a story for another day.

AutoFact: Ford’s attempt at a rear-wheel-drive Mk3 rally weapon, the RS1700T was axed before it was bloodied in competition.

Sierra Cosworth

Ever since the Capri had been usurped in touring racing in the early ’80s, Ford had relied on the Escort to maintain the brand’s relevance trackside. A new car was needed, and the Sierra was the obvious choice. The turbocharged, be-winged RS Cosworth had shock value but, while it may have looked like a car that was ‘helping the police with their enquiries’, the definitive production car soon found favour among even those who would never have otherwise considered buying a Ford. Officially launched in July ’86, 5545 were manufactured in total – of which 500 were dispatched to Tickford for a makeover…

AutoFact: All told, 1653 were registered in the UK.

Sierra Cosworth RS500

Announced in July 1987, and homologated a month later, this latest variation was a true competition tool. Continuing from where the regular production car left off, the new strain featured what became known as the YBD engine, which was based around a stiffer cylinder block and came equipped with a massive Garrett T04 turbo. That, and a larger air-to-air intercooler. From a road-car perspective, the differences weren’t that marked – a 20bhp hike to 224bhp – but race-tuned engines could exceed even 500bhp, which was hitherto unthinkable. No wonder it became the touring car racing pin-up.

AutoFact: Tickford built 500 cars in just six weeks.

Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth

Given the phenomenal response to the original three-door ‘Cossie’, Ford simply had to respond with a follow-up product. Enter the four-door Cosworth in 1988. It was powered by the YBB engine, while its suspension was essentially the same as before save for some geometry tweaks. A much more discreet-looking car than its predecessor, this super-saloon was slightly more aerodynamic than the three-door, and had a higher top speed – 150mph compared with 149mph. Around 13,000 were made between 1988-’90, although, intriguingly, all left-hand-drive cars made during this period didn’t feature Sapphire badging.

AutoFact: LHD cars were the lightest, thanks a lesser spec level (no air-conditioning etc).

Sierra RS Cosworth 4x4

The Sierra RS Cosworth 4x4 of 1990 was clearly conceived as a road car crossed with a competition weapon; one that was launched to coincide with the facelift that spanned the entire Sierra range that year. Equipped with the improved YBJ engine (of which 80 per cent was new over the previous unit, according to Ford’s PR bumf), and permanent four-wheel drive, it was homologated for international rallying that same year and enabled the works team to contest a full World Championship programme in 1991-’92. The 4x4 variant served up a feast of grip and colossal performance – and off-boost, at least, it was perfectly civilised.

AutoFact: Despite taking several scalps elsewhere, the 4x4 never won a round of the WRC.

Images courtesy of LAT and Rota Archive

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