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What Car? says

1 out of 5 stars

For It's super-cheap to buy and run

Against Getting old now, not very reliable and likely to be rusty

Verdict Aim for one of the last cars if you’re determined to buy one

Go for… 1.6 Finesse

Avoid… 1.8 Tdi Flight

Ford Escort Hatchback
  • 1. Watch out for the rust that can eat through rear chassis rails and rear wheelarches
  • 2. Check the shock absorbers and suspension bushes, as they can wear after 50,000 miles and cause MoT test failure
  • 3. All models have driver's airbags but anti-lock brakes were optional, so you may need to hunt hard for a used car with them fitted
  • 4. Rust can start at the bottom of the fuse box and under the battery, and fixing it can cost more than the car's worth
  • 5. Only buy a car with a full service history because the engines corrode and blow head gaskets if oil and coolant changes are missed
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Ford Escort Hatchback full review with expert trade views

The Escort’s chassis and engines date from the 1980s, but Ford fettled them to keep the Escort competitive in its day, tuning the engines and strengthening the body. The result was that in 1999 Euro NCAP awarded it two stars out of five for occupant safety - that's poor by today's standards, but passable for a mid-1990s car.

Sales ended in 2001 and models from the last couple of years had loads of equipment to keep them selling. The cabin is roomy in the front and the curvy dash still looks okay, with big buttons for the minor controls and radio that make it easy to use. You'll have no complaints about the driving position, and the boot is a good size and shape, too.

However, the rear legroom is tight, and there's little pleasure to be had from driving an Escort. The steering is lifeless and the firm ride is jolting in town.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Still a good, cheap reliable hack but avoid clanky diesels. Cosworth values rising

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

Buy as new a car as you can and, preferably, a Finesse model with a 1.6 petrol engine. In its last years, the Escort range shrank to just two models, and this was clearly the better one. It has metallic paint, alloy wheels, air-con and a CD player as standard.

There's also a cheaper model, the Flight, but this has no air-con or alloy wheels, so we wouldn't bother with it.

Our favourite 1.6-litre engine may be a bit coarse but it is willing, tough and reasonably economical. There was also a fairly frugal 1.8, introduced in 1998 in higher-trimmed cars, but the 1.6 is good enough to make it relatively pointless.

The real alternative is the 1.8 turbodiesel, which is noisy, slow and thirsty. It also needs frequent maintenance, so we'd steer well clear of it.

Whatever you choose, hunt down a one-owner, low-miler from the classifieds.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Late model '98-00 Finesse with air-con is the one, others are bangers

James Ruppert
Used car guru

Mostly, the Escort shouldn't be too dear to run. Insurance is cheap because Flights and Finesses all come within group 4. And, while servicing is needed every year or 10,000 miles, it's a job any self-respecting local garage should be capable of. Watch they don't cut corners with cheap oil or brake parts, though.

However, running one may not prove as inexpensive as you'd think. Fuel economy is only average, for example. Expect the 1.6 petrol to return up to 35mpg overall, and the 1.8 about 38mpg, while the diesel is (in theory) capable of 43mpg. However, the Escort's age and poor reliability record suggests you should budget for frequent repairs.

Likewise, while spare parts are usually cheap and the car is straightforward to work on, some jobs take longer or need doing more often than they would on a more modern car.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Still a good, cheap reliable hack but avoid clanky diesels. Cosworth values rising

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

In a word, rust. It munches through the rear chassis rails, the rear wheel-arches, the bottom of the fuse box and under the battery. It can be halted but the cost of a professional repair could easily add up to what you paid for the car.

A service history, backed with receipts, is also vital because the engines corrode and blow head gaskets if oil and coolant changes are missed. They can last beyond 100,000 miles if they're looked after, but the diesels need their timing belts changed every three years or 36,000 miles; for petrols it's five years or 60,000 miles.

After 50,000 miles, the shock absorbers and suspension bushes can wear and cause MoT test failure. Replacing them isn't an expensive job, but the cost soon adds up if you need to replace them all.

Electrical faults are thankfully rare, but the fuse box can rot through and cause all kinds of problems.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Late model '98-00 Finesse with air-con is the one, others are bangers

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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