What it’s like behind the wheel of a true Blue Oval legend…
The excitement and drama of the Escort RS Cosworth experience begins long before you hit full boost on the open road. In fact, it starts before you even get in the car. Just one look at the legendary fast Ford is enough to get the senses tingling! Those aggressive lines, flared arches, iconic chunky five-spoke alloys, and huge bonnet vents just ooze motorsport pedigree. And then there’s that huge whale tail! And those iconic words on the tailgate that read ‘Escort RS’ and ‘Cosworth’. It’s enough to make you come over all goosepimply!
The drama builds as you open the door and slip into the hip-hugging Recaros. The car I’m driving here – an early prototype belonging to Ford’s Heritage Collection – is fitted with one-off bucket seats trimmed in Raven Flow cloth (possibly as a precursor to the Motorsport-labelled seats in the later Monte editions), which do hug you particularly tightly. Personally, I prefer the Recaros that the production models came with, but you can’t deny they help add to the sense of occasion. Then, looking back at you in the rear-view mirror is that ever-present rear wing, dominating proceedings like an enormous chilli on a tiny microwave pizza! But huge rear spoiler aside, there’s plenty more in the cabin to let you know this is no ordinary Mk5 Escort. Unsurprisingly it does feel a lot more like a Sierra than an Escort, but that’s because it is!
Fire up the fabled YB motor up front and you can’t help but grin. That’s a noise you’ll never tire of. Slide it into first gear and you’re away, about to embark on one of life’s real pleasures. Avoiding the temptation to dump the clutch and hang in for dear life straight out of the gate, I was uncharacteristically kind to the Cossie. I’ve every confidence the Escort would have lapped it up, but seeing as it is now 25 years old – and conscious that this particular car has had a harder life than most earning its keep with the motoring press for over two decades – I decided to take a gentler approach.
At this point I start to notice little flaws and faults with Escort Cossie. Some could just be a result of wear with age, while others are more fundamental. The gearbox, for example, isn’t particularly smooth – in fact it’s like stirring a box of broken tiles; very clunky and you’re never quite sure if it’s going to slot neatly into place or explode into a million pieces. Also, the trim is really quite rattily, the driving position is horrid – especially if you’re over 6ft tall and fat like I am! (although I suspect some of this can be blamed on those one-off seats) – and the whole car feels quite flimsy and not very substantial by modern day standards.
But all that goes away when you start to explore the Cossie’s performance potential! The Escort Cosworth is not a car to potter around in. It doesn’t do car parks, kids, and traffic jams. That’s not what it was built for. This car was built so Ford could win rallies!
As such, and thanks to the good ol’ days of homologation regulations, designers of the Escort Cosworth weren’t concerned with whether the dash would rattle or not in 25 years’ time, or whether some lanky fat bloke would feel comfortable in it two and half decades down the line. Instead, their brief was simply to build a car that would dominate the rally stages of the world.
And that’s why, when you start to push on a little harder in an Escort Cosworth, things get better and better. The faster you go the more planted the car seems to be. It encourages you to explore the levels on grip on offer, but no matter how hard you push you never feel as though you will run out of grip. And when you do start to reach the limits of adhesion the squat 205/40×16 tyres serve up, rather than the snappy, tail-happy, ‘I’m going to kill you’ antics of its Cosworth-badged predecessors, the Escort just gives you a quick slap across the knuckles with some fun-curtailing understeer just to let you know enough is enough. Even then, you still feel completely in control, which only serves to fill you with even more confidence.
The car I’m driving here is a ‘Big Turbo’ T34 car, and while it is not quite as punchy off the line or out of slower speed corners as its smaller turbo successor, it definitely doesn’t feel as laggy as people would have you believe. By 3000rpm the turbo is spinning nicely and you’ve got a nice spread of power to play with right round to 6250rpm where the Cossie makes its peak figure. The YBT’s 227bhp may not seem a lot by today’s standards, but the peak figure really does only tell half the story with the Escort Cosworth. The Escort is comparatively light compared to modern cars – it’s about 250kg lighter than the Mk3 Focus RS for example! – which means it still feels sprightly, even by today’s standards. That’s something backed up by the stats too – the Cossie is 0.6 seconds quicker at the 0-60mph sprint than either the Mk2 or Mk3 Focus ST, both with similar 225-250bhp power outputs.
The power delivery is completely different too, the YB punch is much more old-school. I really love the non-linear way it kicks you in the backside as the boost spikes. It makes the car feel alive, and you’ve got to have your wits about you to tame the beast.
But the key to the Cossie’s universal appeal has nothing to do with the stats, performance figures, or lap times – it’s all about how it makes you feel. Whether you wanted to pretend you were Francois Delecour sliding your way to victory in Monte Carlo, enjoyed the thrill of embarrassing supercar owners in their Italian exotica, or simply relished watching excitable school kids point in amazement at that huge rear wing as you roll past, the Escort Cosworth made you feel special, very special. And over the last 25 years, as the Cossie has been elevated to genuine motoring icon status, that feeling has only intensified. Take one out today and you won’t get 100 yards without someone pointing, smiling, giving you the thumbs up, or wanting to talk to about it. Yes, it may have its flaws, but the Escort Cossie is undeniably a fast Ford legend. I love it!