FORD SCORPIO (1994 – 1998)

December 5, 2007

To put it mildly, Ford’s Scorpio was one of the more unusual executive offerings of recent years. Its styling couldn’t have been more different from the conservative looks of the car it replaced, the dear old Granada. Certainly, it took both buyers and competitors in the boardroom sector by surprise. Whether this ‘blend for the Nineties’ was successful depends on who you speak to. Ford executives always maintained that production was sold out for months ahead, but were always unwilling to specify what the production level actually was. Below what Ford of Europe would have liked it to be, certainly. But that market uncertainty is good news for today’s second-hand buyer. Regardless of what you think of the looks, the Scorpio drives brilliantly and prices are tempting.

The Scorpio was introduced in October 1994, replacing the much-loved Granada as Ford’s executive flagship. Its unusual looks caused an instant furore not helped by the fact that no one at Ford admitted overall responsibility for creating them. Don’t be confused, by the way, by the new look Scorpio and the Scorpio level of specification available for top-line versions of the previous Granada. Early models were offered with a choice of four main petrol powerplants – a 2.0-litre ‘four’ – offered in either 8v or 16v forms – and both 12v and 24v versions of the 2.9-litre V6. There was also a 2.5-litre turbo diesel. Executive, Ghia and Ultima trim levels were all offered. In August 1996, the handling was improved and the range rationalised. Trim levels were now known as Ghia, Ghia X and Ultima but more significantly, a new 2.3-litre 16v engine (developed, like the 24v V6, by Cosworth) added to the range. Ford fiercely defended those unusual looks all through the car’s life but bowed to public pressure in early 1998 by reducing the amount of chrome around the bodywork. You’ll notice these rare cars by their body-coloured front grille surrounds, darkened headlights and the saloon’s restyled tail lights. The Scorpio was gradually phased out during the second half of 1998. A rather dowdy image, but a lot of car. Basically, it drives better than it looks. Scorpios always cruised well on the motorway and with the chassis improvements introduced in 1996, they also handled the twisty stuff pretty well too. The estate version is huge – but doesn’t have the option of a third row of seats. Equipment levels are high and maintenance is cheap for this used car.

Those controversial looks haven’t helped the car’s values on the used market and you may find good examples of the final ’94 and ’95 Granadas priced higher than the equivalent Scorpios. Though some dealers persist with hopeful Scorpio sticker prices, the majority of cars you’ll find – if you shop around – are fine value for money. By and large, the advice has to be to steer clear of the underpowered entry-level 2.0-litre 8v models in Executive spec. The better 16v models start at about £1,800 in Executive form on a 94M-plate and run up to just over £2,700 for 96P-reg examples. Better, if you can afford it to go for the Cosworth-engineered 2.3-litre model introduced in 1996. Prices start at around £3,000 for an entry-level Ghia and go all the way up to about £5,000 for a 98S Ultima automatic estate. Or you could have a 2.9-litre V6. The 12v models are undistinguished; try for the road-burning Cosworth-engineered 24v (from around £2,000 on a 94M-plate in Executive form). Finally, there was a turbo diesel which now costs around £2,000 on a 95M plate. Though all the figures here quoted are for Executive spec, it’s better to pay the £200-£300 or so extra it will cost to graduate to Ghia spec if you can. Ghia X and Ultima spec lie above this. And estates? Add a premium of around £200-£400 in each case. Avoid lack-lustre 2.0-litre and 12v V6 models and spurn the Executive trim level (look around and you’ll always find a plusher Ghia for not much more). Be careful if you’re buying a turbo diesel to make sure that it isn’t a high mileage ex-taxi. Check for signs of ‘clocking’. Avoid manual four-cylinder models – they’ll be difficult to sell on. Look out for clattery 2.0-litres and smoky V6s. The estate models are so large that many tradesmen use them instead of vans. Steer clear of high mileage examples; the odometer might lie but sagging driver’s seats and shiny steering wheel rims won’t. Watch out for sticking throttle assemblies due to the Scorpio’s wide front grille collecting too much road muck. Finally, ensure that all the electrical gadgets work – they’ll be pricey to put right. In the final analysis, Ford’s flagship is certainly good enough to win over buyers on its own merits. If you doubt that, try a Scorpio against, say a Rover 800, and you’ll realise that the men of the blue oval produce the better product. Even against more illustrious competition, the car still has a significant amount to offer, especially if all you really need is comfort, refinement and pace. And that styling? Well, it’s a matter of personal opinion of course. For what it’s worth, you have to admire Ford for having the courage to produce such a radical design. If nothing else, it should enable you to discover whether conservatism still reigns in suburbia’s driveways.

(approx based on 1995 2.0 8V excl VAT) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. Front brakepads are around £30, a full exhaust about £620 (inc Catalyst). A headlamp ranges from about £145-240 and a windscreen is around £319.

On the road, the big Ford handles pretty well for a car of its size – though potholes can be a little unsettling for it. The steering, though a little light at first, builds in ‘feel’ as your speed rises enabling the car to be hustled along with surprising pace if the need arises. The 24v V6 is really quick but the pick of the range is the 2.3-litre ‘four’, introduced in 1996. This was the most refined Ford four-cylinder engine ever made, silent when cruising but with a rather exciting growl under heavy acceleration. Pulling power and ultimate speed are excellent, with rest to sixty occupying 9.2s on the way to 130mph. You may be pleasantly surprised at the excellence of the interior, supremely comfortable and ergonomically satisfactory. In places, the quality of plastics isn’t of the best, but there’s lots of wood to compensate which, allied with the leather upholstery, gives the cabin a wonderfully opulent atmosphere. Under its distinctive suit of clothes, the Scorpio is still a Granada at heart, which means that there’s still acres of space for rear seat passengers. The seat cushions don’t adjust like the plushest rivals, but then, they’re so well angled, hugging around you like your favourite armchair, that you don’t really need them too.


FORD PROBE (1994-1998)

December 4, 2007

It’s impossible to talk about the Ford Probe without mentioning two facts. Firstly, it was an American Ford based on Mazda underpinnings and secondly, it was a latter-day replacement for the good old Capri. As such, it did well to recapture all the good things about the original Capri and draw cleverly on that 1990s-style US image – the kind you associate with MTV, Coke and Levi’s. Cool, in a word. Buyers eventually took to the Probe, though not as enthusiastically as Ford would have liked. Often, more than a little help was needed from dealers eager to discount the cars. Both four and six-cylinder versions were generously equipped and drove well. Yet in this part of the market, it’s image that counts: smart and stylish as it was, the Probe never had it.

We didn’t see the first generation Probe, unlike our continental neighbours, due to it being for left-hand drive markets only. The new version, released in March 1994, was designed with big right-hand drive markets like the UK, Japan and Australia in mind. It didn’t feel overly-American and glitzy, unlike its predecessor. Indeed chunky steering wheel aside, the interior styling was very restrained and quite stylish. Two versions exist. One, a 2.0-litre 16-valve four-cylinder car,was the base model and a 24-valve 2.5-litre V6, called ’24V’, was the other choice. Both were introduced at the same time and were modified only slightly since. A sunroof became standard on 2.0-litre cars in June 1995, matching the V6 spec, and there was another minor update for the 1997 model year; the 24V’s wheels were a new design, stereos were uprated and the 2.0-litre gained leather upholstery as standard. The Probe was finally laid to rest in the UK in 1998 when it was replaced by the all new Cougar. Great looks, good performance and loads of equipment. Both cars have central-locking, electric windows and a powered aerial, as well as driver and passenger airbags. The 24v boasts a leather-covered steering wheel to match its seats and a standard electric sunroof. Many cars have the optional air conditioning and it’s definitely worth having as there’s a lot of steeply-angled glass in these cars. Though the cars have four seats, you wouldn’t want to travel in the rear of a Probe for a long distance – there’s simply not enough head and legroom. So good luck if you’re trying to convince the family you’re buying it for them.

There’s a fair selection of used Probes out there and most are 16-valve cars. The earliest examples date from March 1994 and start at under £2,100. The 24Vs of the same vintage can be found as cheap as £2,200. The better-equipped 95N to 98S 16-valvers go for around £2,400 to £3,400 and the 24Vs with the same plates can be had for roughly £2,500-£3,600. These cars haven’t really been on the market long enough for any major problems to have surfaced. Build quality, fit and finish are generally excellent, though. Both engines are Mazda designs also found in the Mazda 626 and MX-6 (the Probe shared its chassis and production line with the US-built MX-6) and have proved reliable. As with any car that has a lot of electrical gadgetry, check that everything works as it should. Don’t forget to test the air-conditioning too, if fitted, and remember that a well-stamped service book always helps when it’s time for you to sell on. If you’re single and not wanting to stay that way, a Probe could be just what you need to attract those admiring glances. It does a good job as a used sports car, even if most Probes spend their lives as runabouts for the upwardly mobile set.

(approx based on a 1996 Probe 2.0 16v) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly will be around £245 and an alternator should be close to £185. Brake pads are around £35 a set; a replacement headlamp is close to £75 and a door mirror should be in the region of £100. A full exhaust is about £450 and a starter motor around £240. A front wing is around £105, a windscreen about £240, a tail lamp about £105 and a catalyst about £400. Front dampers are around £60 each.

The 16-valve has always lived in the shadow of its more powerful 24V stablemate. The V6 version is quite heavy on fuel but a great cruiser and delivers great performance. For an American design, handling is surprisingly precise and ride quality is as smooth as you’d expect from a car made mostly for US consumers who place comfort as a priority. Four-cylinder cars are not exactly slow, but if the budget can be stretched and you can manage the extra fuel bills as well, go for the 24V – it’s far more a sports car.


FORD MONDEO MK2 (1996-2000)

December 4, 2007

Never was a new Ford launched to such popular acclaim as the Mondeo. In 1993, its first year on sale in Britain, nearly 130,000 examples hit the road, making it the country’s best selling car. Other Ford models have had sales success, of course, but none has achieved such critical applause at the same time. The press loved it and major award followed major award, including the European Car of the Year title for 1994. Now, the family-sized Ford Mondeo has become one of the country’s most popular used cars.

The second generation Mondeo was launched to counter increasing competition in October 1996 and was received as enthusiastically as its predecessor. There were new brighter headlights growing outwards from a larger, more prominent oval grille, while around the saloon’s boot, big red rear lamps wrapped around the corners of the car, making it look smaller. Hatchbacks also received larger tail lamps. All versions got chrome around the back number plate and there were new body-coloured bumpers to harmonise the whole effect into a car, which, though discernibly different, was still recognisably Mondeo. There was a revised interior, with more comfortable front seats and extra legroom for passengers at the rear. The same range of body styles and engines were offered as before (though Ford claimed that minor revisions to all the power plants had made them more refined and frugal). Safety received greater emphasis, with optional side airbags and a standard three-point centre seatbelt for back seat occupants. Trim levels were as before, with the exception of the temporary deletion of the V6 Si in favour of a sportier ST-24 saloon-only variant. Later in 1997, satellite navigation became an expensive option and in early 1998 offering it in lieu of the sunroof on LX, GLX and the re-launched Si versions reduced the cost of air conditioning. The Zetec 1.8 and 2.0-litre entry-level hatchbacks and estates arrived early in 1999, better equipped than the basic Aspens but costing less, despite being fitted with the latest zetec engines (hence the name), a body kit and smart alloy wheels. In June 1999, a flagship sporting model, the ST200, was launched, fitted with a 200bhp version of the V6 2.5-litre engine already used in the ST24 (which continued). Early 2000 saw the arrival of a two-litre Zetec-S hatchback with and ST200-lookalike body kit plus a new 1.8-litre entry-level Verona with air conditioning and CD player. This range was replaced with an all-new Mondeo generation the end of 2000. The Mondeo has had its share of hype – but in this case, it’s been well deserved. If all that PR is enough to get you behind the wheel, you won’t be disappointed. Apart from the standard airbag, there is enough technology built into this car to make it a real driver’s machine. Even the most basic Mondeo is pretty well equipped. On most later LX models (by far the best sellers), you’ll find central double locking and Ford’s clever ‘Quickclear’ windscreen. That’s in addition to driver’s airbag, power steering, anti-theft alarm with immobiliser, tinted glass, adjustable steering wheel, ‘lights-on’ warning buzzer, electric front windows, a tilting/sliding sunroof and a good quality stereo radio cassette. You’re unlikely to be excited by the computer-aided styling of the first generation version, but you won’t be offended by it either. In fact, the complete car is a fine piece of design, particularly inside where the elegantly curved dash and door casings are well constructed from sound materials.

Second generation cars from 96P onwards start at about £2,000 for a 1.6LX. A 98R 1.8GLX with air conditioning is about £3,000 and a fully loaded two-litre Ghia X is about £4,900 on 99V plates. Hatchbacks cost about £200 more than saloons and estates are another £500 or so. V6 models cost from £2,400 and diesels start at under £2,200. Special edition 1.8-litre Verona hatchbacks based on the LX are worth up to £300 more; later versions had quite a high specification and are worth a look. The fuel injection systems can get jammed up – you’ll notice poor idling and pick-up. Cylinder head corrosion indicates that the anti-freeze hasn’t been changed on the two-year cycle Ford suggests. The cam belt needs changing at 70,000 miles – check it’s been done. Rust shouldn’t be a problem, though the front sub frame on older cars can be corroded. Rattles from the rear suspension suggest worn dampers. The steering should feel precise. If it doesn’t, check the power-steering drive-belts and beware of leaks around the hose joints. If first gear is difficult to find, a worn selector is the problem. An imprecise, rubbery feel meanwhile, could indicate worn selector rods. Steer clear of high mileage examples, betrayed by sagging driver’s seats and shiny gear knobs. It’s only quite recently that Mondeo prices have started to become sensible on the used market, but now that they have, the car is established as the family second-hand buyer’s Number One choice. And deservedly so. The build quality from the Belgian factory is good, the engines excellent and the handling outstanding. Go for a 1.8 petrol model as a good all-rounder; it’s as fast as the 2.0-litre, but more economical as well as being cheaper to buy and insure. When you add everything up, it’s hard not to recommend Ford’s finest ever all-rounder as great choice of used car!

(approx prices for a 1.6 excl VAT) A front wing costs around £72, a headlamp around £75, a front indicator lens just under £15 and a windscreen just under £105. A clutch kit costs around £90, tyres are just under £90 and a complete exhaust system (including catalytic converter) would set you back about £300. A replacement engine needs a budget of about £1,030. Budget £60, £85 and £120 respectively for lubrication (10,000 miles), intermediate (20,000 miles) and major (30,000 miles) services.

Take a seat behind the wheel and you instantly feel comfortable. The instruments are clear, the stalks logical and sweet in action and the other controls generally well placed. Whichever model you’ve chosen, the seat is supportive, adding to an overall driving position which is excellent thanks to a steering wheel which is adjustable both for rake and for reach. The cabin is spacious, too, unless you’re well over six-foot and seated in the rear. So far, few surprises perhaps – Fords have always been well packaged. The real strengths of the new design emerge once you venture out on the road. Cosworth variants apart, this is the most enjoyable driver’s car the company has ever made. The new engines rev with a sweet purpose that only extra valves can bring. Personally, I’d recommend the 1.8 featured here. It isn’t much slower than the flagship 2.0-litre and feels just as peppy (rest to sixty takes 10.2s on the way to 122mph). These are cars, which feel willing, a quality never possessed by the old Sierra. Overall grip from the front wheel drive layout is really excellent.


FORD MONDEO MK1 (1993-1996)

December 4, 2007

It’s hard to believe the Mondeo has been with us since 1993. Perhaps this is due to the fact that it never had the difficult gestation of cars like the Sierra, Cougar, Scorpio and Ka, models that took time to gain popular acceptance. There was never any rocky probationary period in the public’s view of the Mondeo. The press loved it and major award followed major award, including the European Car of the Year title for 1994. Yes, it may have initially been dubbed the Mundano by some wags, but that’s only because it didn’t represent a quantum leap in styling in much the same way that the Sierra was a generation on from the Cortina. Despite the evolutionary lines, the Mondeo was streets ahead under the skin and represented a constantly moving target that Vauxhall’s Vectra never managed to come to terms with. Oversupply ensured that there were plenty of used bargains about, and it pays to shop around to find one that’s right for your needs, so take your time, look at a few and bargain hard.

Just as the once controversial Sierra was being subsumed into the mainstream, Ford announced the Mondeo to replace it in February 1993. Initially, there was a choice of three petrol engines – a 1.6, a 1.8 and a 2.0-litre, all 16v units. There was also a 1.8-litre turbo diesel. Two spacious bodystyles – a five-door hatch and a saloon – were offered at launch and estates followed a few months later. Specifications? Well, they followed the established Ford path, ranging from base (latterly Aspen) and LX through GLX to Ghia. All were highly specified, with even entry-level cars featuring a driver’s airbag, tinted glass, power steering and an alarm system. Immobilisers were added in August 1994. In October 1994, a V6 24v variant was added to the range in all three bodystyles, with base, Si, and plush Ghia spec. By this time, you could identify all Ghia models by their bright chrome front grille. In January 1995, the Aspen (previously a special edition) became the entry-level model. In April 1995, 2.0-litre 4×4 models were introduced (but lasted less than a year), while in October 1995, Ghia X flagship spec was added as an option for all but 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol models. This allowed Ford to reduce the price of Ghia variants (they also reduced equipment so air conditioning became optional instead of standard). The Mondeo has had its share of hype – but in this case, it’s been well deserved. If all that PR is enough to get you behind the wheel, you won’t be disappointed. Apart from the standard airbag, there is enough technology built into this car to make it a real driver’s machine. Even the most basic Mondeo is pretty well equipped. On most later LX models (by far the best sellers), you’ll find central double locking and Ford’s clever ‘Quickclear’ windscreen. That’s in addition to driver’s airbag, power steering, anti-theft alarm with immobiliser, tinted glass, adjustable steering wheel, ‘lights-on’ warning buzzer, electric front windows, a tilting/sliding sunroof and a good quality stereo radio cassette. You’re unlikely to be excited by the computer-aided styling of the first generation version, but you won’t be offended by it either. In fact, the complete car is a fine piece of design, particularly inside where the elegantly curved dash and door casings are well constructed from sound materials.

Prices start under £1,000 for the first of the first generation 1.6-litre LX cars (though a base model can be had for £100 less). More typically, you’ll pay around £1,700 for a good 96P-registered example. Five doors command up to £100 extra, and estates another £150 or so. Better-equipped GLX models cost about £200 more than LX cars. The 1.8-litre models represented a good package; here again, it should be possible to find a good N or P-registered four or five-door car within a £1,600 budget; pay no more for 2.0-litre power. The V6 models start at around £1,300 (a more typical 96N-plate Ghia X costs about £2,000). The turbo diesels begin at about £1,100 (a more typical 96P-plate LX costs under £1,900). The rare four-wheel drive 2.0-litre models are worth around £200 more than standard 2.0-litre cars. Don’t worry about those wobbly rear valances you see on speeding Mondeos – we’ve not heard of one becoming detached in anything but a touring car race. Of more concern is the fuel injection systems which can get jammed up – you’ll notice poor idling and pick-up. Cylinder head corrosion indicates that the anti-freeze hasn’t been changed on the two-year cycle Ford suggests. The cam belt needs changing at 70,000 miles – check it’s been done. Rust shouldn’t be a problem, though the front subframe on older cars can be corroded. Rattles from the rear suspension suggest worn dampers. The steering should feel precise. If it doesn’t, check the power-steering drive-belts and beware of leaks around the hose joints. If first gear is difficult to find, a worn selector is the problem. An imprecise, rubbery feel meanwhile, could indicate worn selector rods. Steer clear of high mileage examples, betrayed by sagging driver’s seats and shiny gear knobs. Nowadays, Ford Mondeo represents the byword for family saloon excellence, but it’s taken us a while to get ‘on message’. That makes the earlier cars criminally undervalued assets which the canny used buyer would do well to take advantage of. For around £4,000, a well-looked after 1995 V6 Ghia represents a lot of used car with a good deal of life left on the clock. Recommended.

(approx prices for a 1.6 excl VAT) A front wing costs around £72, a headlamp around £75, a front indicator lens just under £15 and a windscreen just under £105. A clutch kit costs around £90, tyres are just under £90 and a complete exhaust system (including catalytic converter) would set you back about £300. A replacement engine needs a budget of about £1,030. Budget £60, £85 and £120 respectively for lubrication (10,000 miles), intermediate (20,000 miles) and major (30,000 miles) services.

Take a seat behind the wheel and you instantly feel comfortable. The instruments are clear, the stalks logical and sweet in action and the other controls generally well placed. Whichever model you’ve chosen, the seat is supportive, adding to an overall driving position which is excellent thanks to a steering wheel which is adjustable both for rake and for reach. The cabin is spacious, too, unless you’re well over six-foot and seated in the rear. So far, few surprises perhaps – Fords have always been well packaged. The real strengths of the design emerge once you venture out on the road. These are some of the most enjoyable driver’s cars the company has ever made.


FORD MAVERICK (1993-1997)

December 3, 2007

The Maverick was one Ford that British buyers never really took to their hearts. It was certainly late to the 4×4 party which started in the early Nineties. Perhaps they never forgave it for that. More likely, however, a lack of image was to blame. Not even the most optimistic of Ford dealers could pretend that this was any kind of Range Rover. The sensible ones concentrated on its more hidden virtues; a rugged build, surprisingly good off road ability and a proven reliability record. These attributes make it a good prospect as a secondhand buy. And despite the fact that relatively few were sold, prices are attractive on the used market.

The Maverick was introduced in June 1993 as a joint venture with Nissan. In fact, to be more accurate, Nissan did all the work and Ford put up the cash. The feel of the car was therefore, not surprisingly, very Japanese, it didn’t help in this respect that most of the interior fittings came straight from a Nissan Primera. Right from the beginning, its identical twin, Nissan’s Terrano II, outsold the Ford handsomely due to sharper pricing and a superior warranty. Both cars shared the same engines – either a 122bhp 2.4-litre petrol unit or a noisy and sluggish 100bhp 2.7-litre turbo diesel. There was the option of either three or five-door bodystyles and you could have either of two trim levels – base and GLX. Two years later, in May 1995, the car came in for its first round of cosmetic prettying (a chrome bar was added to the front grille). The base model was re-named the Aspen and received a canvas spare wheel cover, electric windows and powered/heated door mirrors. The GLX had new seat material, an engine immobiliser and a leather-covered steering wheel. A driver’s airbag was added to both in October 1995. More significant improvements followed in June 1996 when the car was given a heavily chromed front end (supposed to engender ‘an American look’). The 2.4-litre petrol engine was ecologically tweaked, while the 2.7TD got a welcome 25bhp power hike. The Maverick was gradually phased out of production during the first half of 1998 but there were a lot of cars in stock and you’ll find a few on 99S plates. A decent family workhorse. The interior is just like that of any family hatchback. The trim quality is well up to standard and everything falls to hand easily. All the major bits and pieces of equipment are in evidence. On a GLS for example, you’ll find alloy wheels, central locking, a powered sunroof, fog lamps, headlamp washers, electric front windows and heated mirrors. Having said all that, there’s little of the class you’d expect in an up-market family saloon. Hard plastic is everywhere. Still, it’s practical. So is the reliability; Mavericks have a reputation for failing to break down – something many Vauxhall Frontera owners would kill for.

Broadly, the turbo diesel models are worth about £500 more than their petrol counterparts. The earliest 1993 L-reg base 3-door models start at around £2,800 (or £3,200 for the GLX). Add a premium of around £400 if you want a five rather than a three-door. For one of the 1995 first facelift cars (recognisable by the single chrome strip across the front grille), you’ll pay from around £4,100. Second facelift cars (with the fully chromed grille) from June 1996 onwards start from about £5,700. As with any used 4×4, check for signs of heavy off-road use. Few Mavericks will have done any more than mount a grass verge but you can never be too careful. Oil leaks and worn rear shock absorbers have been known. Apparently, some TDs suffered from a vibration in the gearbox area which required a special clutch assembly. If you sense this to be a problem on the test drive, find out if it has been done. And on the subject of turbo diesels, try and stretch to the post-1996 car if you can. Otherwise, resign yourself to the slow lane. The Maverick makes far more sense secondhand than it ever did new. A reasonably priced one is well worth having.

(approx based on 1995 2.4) As you might expect from a Ford, parts are plentiful – but in the case of this model, they’re not particularly cheap. A clutch assembly is around £215. Front brake pads are around £55, a rear exhaust about £55, a catalyst about £760 and an alternator around £230. A headlamp is about £80.

It doesn’t sway about like most 4x4s and holds the road better. What’s more, you can drive it like a car, even when towing a two-tonne trailer. The Maverick is a quieter and much more refined used car than most of its contemporaries. As already mentioned, the original 2.7TD engine is rather slow but that apart, the Maverick is reasonably driver-friendly. Though the car is obviously not designed as an out-and-out mud-plugger, it’s quite competent enough off road to stay with its illustrious rivals over any ploughed field or icy slope. Beyond that, you’d have to concede best to the more accomplished (and expensive) off roaders in the class. Having said that, what’s the point in paying for all that extra mud-plugging ability if you’re not going to use it? What would be useful is the option to use 4WD over reasonably fast road use for peace of mind in slippery conditions. Still, there is a limited slip differential to keep the wheels from spinning too much. Once you’re on the dirt, you can reach for the second gearshift lever to bring full-time 4WD into play. At that point, you must choose between high and low ratios depending on the conditions and suddenly, particularly in turbo diesel form, the impressive low down pulling power of the engine comes into its own.


FORD GALAXY (1995-2000)

November 30, 2007

You’re a parent. You’ve two or three children – maybe more. Probably a dog. Certainly a stack of paraphernalia to carry on almost every journey. For years, you’ve managed quite happily with a family-sized estate car. But then you noticed the growing popularity of People Carriers and wondered whether you could live with one. Your preconceptions suggested a van-like vehicle, heavy to drive, difficult to park and expensive to buy and run. Your preconceptions were wrong. The latest generation of People Carriers handle just like your average family saloon – probably better in fact. Sales have taken off, with one model standing head and shoulders above the rest in terms of volume – Ford’s Galaxy.

Credit for the Galaxy must go not only to Ford but to their development partners Volkswagen. Together, the two companies jointly funded the design programme and built a new factory in Portugal to handle production. By the time the car came to the market, rumours abounded of a less than cordial relationship between the two companies – which both deny. Whether this has had any bearing over their decision to limit the sharing of engines is anybody’s guess. Basically, Ford’s Galaxy and VW’s Sharan share the same 2.8-litre V6 engine (the VR6 unit used in the top VW Golf) and the 90bhp and 110bhp 1.9-litre turbo diesels (also VW-sourced). They do however, go their own separate ways with the 2.0-litre units used in the entry-level models; the Sharan has the VW Passat unit, while the Galaxy’s 2.0-litre engine is from the Mondeo. Subsequently, Ford has added a 2.3-litre-engined option from the Scorpio. The third version of this car is sold by VW-owned SEAT and christened the Alhambra. It uses the VW 2.0-litre and 1.8 Turbo petrol engines plus the 1.9-litre turbo diesels. As far as the Galaxy is concerned, the car was launched in June 1995 and not changed substantially until early 1997. At this point, specifications were revised, with body-coloured bumpers on the entry-level Aspen and standard air conditioning on the GLX. The 2.3-litre models made their debuts at this point, available in GLX, Ghia and new Ghia X trim. A 4×4 version (using VW’s Synchro system) was also launched with V6 power only. At the top of the range, a V6 Ultima version was made available, with wood and leather trim (but quickly dropped). The R-reg ‘plate change saw the introduction of new mid-range Si models, available with both the 2.3-litre and 2.8-litre engines. These cars sported special alloy wheels and a thankfully subtle body kit. Air conditioning was also standardised across the range. Zetec and LX 2.3-litre versions arrived in early 1999. The range was substantially revised in the Summer of 2000, with new styling, interior trim and dashboard. Though at first glance every inch an MPV, the Galaxy, say Ford, is something quite different. Sure enough, though it seats between five and seven people depending on the model you choose, it’s easy to drive, simple to park and no more expensive to run than the car you have at the moment. This, say Ford, is the future; car-like qualities in what, until pre-Galaxy times, was a van-like sector of the market. Prior to the original launch, one of the most comprehensive customer surveys ever undertaken by the company established that though wealthy families would continue to buy large, cumbersome van-based MPVs, everyone else would probably ignore them until they became cheaper and more user-friendly. Hence the demand for what the blue oval calls the Galaxy class vehicle. In the showroom, the car costs about the same as a mid-range Ford Mondeo estate, measures in at about the same length and takes up no more space on the road. Behind the wheel, it’s exactly like a medium range estate – only better, thanks to that high-seated driving position and the glassy cabin. Whichever version you choose, you’ll be looking for flexibility – and you shouldn’t be disappointed. Whatever configuration of seats you choose, you’ll find that all of them can be folded down or unclipped and removed completely. Above Aspen specification, the front seats also swivel round to face the rear passengers, facilitating picnics or on-the-spot conferences.

Prices start from around £4,600 for the first of the M-plated 2.0-litre Aspen entry-level models. The GLX and Ghia models are worth up to £500 more. The 2.3s start at about £6,600 for a 97P GLX with the Si about £300 more and another £300 for a Ghia. You’ll also find LX and Zetec versions on 99S and later plates starting from about £8,100. The turbo diesels are a good option and there are 90bhp and 110bhp versions about – but they tend to be thin on the ground. Prices start from just about £5,400 for a 90bhp Aspen and around £5,700 for a GLX. The six-seater Ghia starts at around £6,000, and the seven-seater at around £7,500. The 110bhp cars arrived on 97R plates in Ghia and Ghia X form and prices start around £8,400. Prices for the V6 start from around £4,900 for a Ghia, interestingly around the same as the more spartan GLX (mainly due to the fact that the Ghia has six, rather than seven, seats). Later versions (which received seven seats) start at £6,500 on 96P plates while the plush Ghia X 7-seater starts at about £6,700 as a 96P. Check for faulty trim and excessive transmission noise caused by the specially lengthened gear linkages. On the popular 2.0-litre, listen for clattery camshafts and make sure that the drive-belt has been replaced on schedule. If you’re buying a baseline model, make sure you’re getting seven, rather than five seats (some basic cars miss out the back two). Also, all Aspens and early GLX models do without air conditioning (well worth having in a car with this glass area) so think carefully before you do without, remembering that a car with air will be easier to sell on later. Bear in mind too that most Galaxys will have been used by people unused to cars of this size. It’s worth checking therefore for body scrapes and scuffed mirrors. The Galaxy is deservedly leading the way in the expansion of the People Carrying sector to what Ford reckons will soon be nearly half a million vehicles in Europe and at least 7% of the UK market. That means a growing second-hand market for MPVs. Right now, the Galaxy looks the best bet if you’re shopping for one.

(Estimated prices, based on a 2.0 GLX (inc VAT) A clutch assembly is around £110, an exhaust system around £800 (incl. catalytic converter) and an exchange alternator around £320. Front brake pads are around £50 and a headlamp unit will set you back just over £100. Front shock absorbers are about £45 and rears just under £35. The Ford Galaxy represent great value as used cars go if you are after a vehicle to carry your family in comfort and safety.

This car (along with its Sharan and Alhambra stablemates) is the best handling used people carrier you can buy. The Galaxy doesn’t roll, pitch or wallow like many of its MPV counterparts. Nor do you need a period of acclimatisation before you can drive it quickly, as you would, for example, with a fashionable four-wheel drive.


FORD FIESTA (1995-to 1999)

November 22, 2007

The Fiesta had long been a family favourite when the fourth generation Fiesta was launched in October 1995. Popularity doesn’t always equal class competitiveness however, and with a raft of rivals all offering more contemporary styling the Fiesta had to fight back. As well as the traditional Ford virtues of aggressive pricing, a wide dealer network and predictable residual values, the Mk IV Fiesta went to the top of the supermini tree by dint of its superb handling. A product of the Richard Parry-Jones revolution within Ford, this Fiesta was able to divert attention from its venerable underpinnings by offering a formidable fun factor. As a used buy it still makes great sense, just so long as you don’t expect the same sort of space inside as you’d get with one of today’s superminis.

Launched way back in the dark days of the Seventies, the Fiesta’s history is long and convoluted. It wasn’t until the mid nineties that stricter company car regulations and tougher direct competition forced Ford to start producing mainstream cars that real people might buy with real money rather than have foisted upon them. This fourth generation Fiesta range launched in October 1995, though shaped similarly, (apart from the big oval ‘mouth’ front grille and larger rear window) was quite different under the skin from previous models. At a stroke, Ford had transformed their supermini into the best-handling car in the class and, in the 1.25 and 1.4-litre Zetec engines, they also had the finest powertrains. A multitude of trim and engine combinations were available. The engines were either 1.25 16v, 1.3, 1.4 16v petrol or 1.8-litre diesel. Trim levels started with Encore and moved up through LX and Si to Ghia and Ghia X. In Spring 1998, a slightly revised range was announced, with the entry-level car now called the Fusion (renamed the Finesse a few months later). Zetec was now the mid-range trim level (and the entry-level point for 16v buyers) and Ghia models the flagship. The range was revised again in October 1999 with new more angular nose styling, new tailgate badges and various minor interior modifications. In trying to be something it isn’t (a big car), the new fourth generation Fiesta has become not only a best seller but arguably the best used supermini you can buy. Not a bad achievement, considering that in terms of size, today’s variation seems little different to its predecessors. The post-October 1995 fourth generation cars are way ahead of their older brothers in terms of build quality, equipment levels and refinement and their resale value reflects that. There’s a lot of stock about so take your time and choose carefully. Many late models are quite well equipped with items like electric windows, air conditioning and Ford’s clever Quickclear self-de-icing windscreen.

You’ll find third-generation cars in plentiful supply on plates up to 95N so be sure you’re being offered a fourth generation post-October 1995 car by looking for an oval grille, deep tailgate window and curvy dashboard with the glovebox recessed away from the front seat passenger. Prices start around £1,300 and for that you’ll be looking at a three-door 1.3 Encore, which is the base level. An LX on the same 95N plate will be around £100 more. For 98R models, budget about £2,400 for the starter model and another £200 for a five-door. Versions on 99V-plates start at about £3,200. A 1.25-litre three-door car will cost about £1,700 for an early LX and rise to as much as £3,000 for a 98R five-door Ghia. In between, you’ll find examples like a late 1996P three-door 1.25 Si for about £2,200. A 1997 1.4-litre (P-reg) Ghia 5-door will be around £2,500 and the same age Si should be about £150 less. The diesels start around £1,700 for N-plate three-door Encores. A 1996 ‘P’ LX will be close to £2,100 and a 99S under £3,000. Add about £150 for the five-door models. Engines are, on the whole, reliable, but watch for the usual signs of wear and signs of hard fleet or company use such as worn carpets or scuffed trim. Rust shouldn’t be a problem on these cars as Dagenham build quality is reasonably good but check the bottom and opening edges of the doors, and the tailgate, for user-inflicted damage that can lead to corrosion. Remember that a full service history always helps when selling on, too. Arguably, the Fiesta’s the best little small car on the market if you take into account the huge dealer network, affordable part prices and the vast choice offered at sensible prices. The fourth generation car made its predecessors look pedestrian as a driver’s machine. If you can afford it, this is the Fiesta to buy.

(approx based on a Fiesta 1.4 Zetec) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly and an alternator will both be around £75. Front brake pads are around £25 a set and the rears £20, a replacement headlamp is close to £50 and a manual door mirror should be in the region of £40. A full exhaust is about £80 and a catalyst is about £200. A starter motor around is around £110, front wing is around £60, a windscreen about £70, a tail lamp about £30 and a catalyst about £200. Front dampers are around £55 each and rears around £50 each.

Certainly, the performance and fuel economy figures are good – but that isn’t what counts. No, what matters is that this Fiesta is fun, with a capital ‘F’. Put your foot down and it’s hard to credit that there’s not a larger engine under the bonnet, so instant is the response. The same is true cruising at or above the legal limit – not an enjoyable experience in the old model, which, like most small-engined cars, sounded so strained that you quickly returned it to the school run. The ‘95-on 1.25 and 1.4-litre Fiestas are a different story altogether – and their impressive refinement is no accident. Early customer clinics furnished Ford with the surprising finding that the sound of the new car would be as important as the way it looked. Hence the assembly of the company’s own Juke Box Jury panel to listen to the note of the new Zetec engines and fine tune it to the most pleasing sound. If that sounds a bit over the top in theory on the road, it’s hard to argue that the time hasn’t been well spent. If I had to have a small used car that would go long distances, a Fiesta, without question, is the one I’d choose.