December 7, 2007

Find yourself in the market for a used supermini convertible and you tend to be faced with a run of depressing choices. You can either opt for the sort of hatchback conversion that looks like a pram or you can opt for the sort of ‘sporting’ coupe-convertible car with folding metal roofs that tend to malfunction, leaving you drenched in the throes of the British ‘summer’. Most give up on this sector and buy a proper roadster such as an MG TF or a Mazda MX-5 but salvation arrived in 2003 in the pert shape of Ford’s Streetka. It was small, it looked the part and it was fun to drive. Was that really so difficult? Tracking down a used example may be a little more difficult than working up the enthusiasm in the first instance. Although the Streetka sold in decent numbers, owners seem strangely unwilling to divest themselves of the baby Ford. Your best bet may well be a low mileage demonstrator from a Ford franchised dealer. Don’t expect too many outrageous bargains even if you do choose to buy in the traditional convertible ‘dead period’ in late autumn.

Quite why it took fully seven years for Ford to realise that a convertible Ka might make hot cakes look a sticky line is anyone’s guess. Designs for the Streetka had been circulating within the Ford empire for years before a prototype ever saw the light of day, the Turin Show of 2000 being the first public airing for the design. Fortunately for us, Ford timed the production launch of the Streetka to coincide with the introduction into the Ka range of a decently powerful engine in the form of the 95bhp 1.6-litre Duratec. For years enthusiasts had raved over the Ka’s handling prowess and begged Ford to give it more power. The Streetka retains a superb chassis balance and many feel that if a bigger engine would fit beneath that tiny bonnet, the Ka would be more than capable of doing it justice. Winter 2003 saw the launch of the Streetka Winter Edition, a limited run series that included a detachable hard top to keep out the worst ravages of the British elements. The standard Streetka is fitted with anti-lock brakes, a cloth roof, remote central locking, twin airbags, a height adjustable driver’s seat, 16-inch alloy wheels, an alarm, power heated door mirrors, front fog lamps, a CD based stereo and electric windows. Should you want an even better equipped version, the Luxury Streetka adds leather trim, heated seats, height adjustment for the passenger seats, air conditioning and a heated windscreen. Options include metallic paint, a CD autochanger and a climate pack (air con and the heated screen). With seating strictly for two, the Streetka has an intimate feel to the cabin. Many of the interior parts are standard Ford fare, but the addition of a Puma-style metallic gearknob and some metallic detailing on the dashboard and the steering wheel jollies things up a little. Unlike most of today’s state of the art roadsters, the Streetka does without an electric folding hardtop, relying instead on a manually folding soft top that can be stowed in less than 30 seconds. Beneath the roof mechanism is a storage space that can accommodate a golf bag. Another lockable box sits between the front seats giving a total stowage space of 188 litres.

Prices start at £10,000 for an 03 registered Streetka with the Luxury model tacking another £300 onto these prices. Both cars are rated at Group 7 insurance so they needn’t break the bank. The Streetka is often bought as a second car and mileages are often correspondingly low. Mainly cosmetic damage (the headlamps in particular aren’t cheap). Inspect the hood carefully for any rips or discolouration. The front tyres will also warrant inspection as an enthusiastically driven Streetka can have a surprising appetite for rubber. The engine and gearbox are both very tough units and little has been reported to go wrong. The seat runners have been known to rattle somewhat but this is an easy fix. When mediocrity would have sufficed, Ford went the extra mile and created a genuinely fun supermini convertible. If you can prise the keys to one from its owners grasp, consider yourself very privileged indeed.

(approx) A clutch assembly is around £75. Front brakepads are around £45, a full exhaust about £90, a catalyst about £200 and an alternator (exchange) around £115. A headlamp is about £95. Making for a cheap used sports car.

Powered by that 1.6-litre Duratec petrol engine that’s good for 95bhp, the Streetka is much more than a Ka with its head scissored off. With only the bonnet and front light assembly shared with the standard Ka, this city funster is a vastly different proposition. The track is wider at both front and rear and the suspension is a good deal stiffer, giving the Streetka a more solid platform than the Ka. Couple this with the punchy South African-built engine and you have a car that’ll be guaranteed to put a grin on the most jaded driver’s face. Given that the standard Ka with it’s somewhat wheezy 1.3-litre engine is still great fun to steer, the Streetka is quite a blast. A sprint to 60mph in 12.1 seconds may not sound rapid enough to incinerate the trousers of your average bar room petrolhead, but the engine has been engineered for low end torque and boasts a sporty exhaust note. The fuel consumption figure of 36mpg will satisfy all but the most tight-fisted, but the C02 emissions figure of 189g/km isn’t the most impressive around. The steering has also been tuned for a sportier feel and now requires just 2.6 turns from lock to lock. As a used car they are a great sporty number!


FORD SIERRA (1987-1993)

December 6, 2007

It seems hard to believe now that the humble Sierra was a revolutionary of its time. It succeeded the Cortina and represented a giant risk for market-leader Ford, as it tried to leapfrog the competition with a radical ‘aero’ shape. The gamble paid off, after some initial buyer resistance, and the Sierra was a huge success with private and fleet buyers alike. Ironically, the car’s successor, the Mondeo, has battled to live up to the Sierra’s successes, worthy though it is. Strong competition from the Vauxhall Vectra has kept the Mondeo from any chance of repeating its predecessors’ long-lived reputation as a benchmark car and the most familiar sight on UK roads.

The early cars are getting on a bit now, so you’re probably best to concern yourself with 1990 or younger examples. The car was in production from late 1982, so any bugs were well and truly ironed out by then. The range of cars on offer is obviously enormous and quality will vary by just as much. There are three bodyshells to choose from; five-door hatchback, four-door saloon and five-door estate, each with a multitude of trim options. The saloons were officially called ‘Sapphire’ but the name never really caught on, so don’t be surprised to see a four-door car claiming to be an ordinary Sierra. The last cars are generally easy to spot – the front indicator lenses are white, not orange, and remained so until the end of production in 1993 when the range was replaced by the all-new (and much better) Mondeo. Anything from a humble bread and butter family saloon to a tearaway sports-racer. The majority of decent cars still on sale will be the 1.8 and 2.0-litre hatchbacks and they make sensible buying. The trade always preferred the rear-wheel drive Sierra to its Cavalier competitor, mostly because of the long, 10-year production run and the relative simplicity of the mechanicals. Even if you do get problems with any of these cars, chances are, there’ll be someone who can fix them quickly and cheaply, close by. There are certainly advantages to driving what everyone else seemed to be driving only yesterday.

As you can probably imagine, Sierra prices depend greatly on the individual car’s condition and it’s best to restrict your search to later examples if you can. A 1993 K-plate 2.0i with Ghia trim might reach £500 but the 1.8-litre turbo diesels have maintained a stronger grip on their value with a GLX on K-plates going for around £1,000. Sapphire saloon and 5-door hatchbacks are priced at roughly equivalent levels. The sporty Sierras are lead by the all-conquering RS Cosworth priced between £3,000 and £4,500 in standard form or between £5,000 and £7,000 if you want the 4×4. XR4x4s with 2.9-litre V6 power are also around and even the late plate examples are now available for under £800. Unsurprisingly, little. Be wary of very-high mileage cars for obvious reasons, though, with service records, you should be safe. Turbo cars can be a little fragile and temperamental, like most of their ilk, so buy with extra care and check for oil leaks, worn transmission (especially with 4×4 models) and an overly-smoky exhaust. Electrical gadgets are great convenience features but a real pain to repair. Check the sunroof, all windows, mirrors and central locking, to be sure. Be careful with recorded mileage too: the Sierra has only a five-digit readout so a car with more than 99,999 miles may not show it on the dashboard. The car that changed the face of Ford and the look of British traffic jams everywhere. Honest, uncomplicated, reliable and cheap second-hand. Supply is plentiful so happy hunting for a cheap used car!

(approx based on a 1988 Sierra 2.0 GLX) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly will be around £85 and an alternator should be close to £65. Brake pads are around £15 a set, a replacement headlamp is close to £60 and a door mirror should be in the region of £40. A full exhaust system is about £75 and a starter motor around £100. A front wing is around £60, a windscreen about £75, a tail lamp about £45 and a catalyst about £295 (with a £10 surcharge for the old unit). Front dampers are around £30 each and rears around £15 each.

Virtually the last of the rear-wheel-drive rep-mobiles, the Sierra was always a good-handler, compared to many of its contemporary front-drive competitors. Trouble is, what was a good chassis at the original 1982 launch, had well and truly reached its sell-by date even by the late 1980s. If your priority is comfort and your staple journey a daily motorway or A-road crawl, then a Sierra could be just the job. Get yourself a bargain-priced well equipped late model and you could have the last laugh at those jelly-mould jokes you’ll cop down the pub.

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.


December 3, 2007

You. Yes, you lot out there. Collectively you are distinctly puzzling. The Ford Mondeo sold nearly 130,000 units during its first year on sale, back when the press wrote it off as the Mundano. Fast forward to 2001, the first full sales year for the Mark Three Mondeo, a car the press hailed as the greatest invention since the opposable thumb and how many do you buy between the lot of you? 150,000? 200,000? Not a bit of it. You rewarded the labour’s of Uncle Henry’s finest with a piffling 80,000 sales. Like I said, puzzling. There had never been a car in the medium family saloon sector that rewrote the rules quite so comprehensively as the Mark Three Mondeo. Comparison tests became academic. They were about as predictable as the outcome of the 2002 Grand Prix season. The Mondeo would win whilst the others scratched around for the minor placings. Before too long almost every new car in this sector had shamelessly cribbed from the Ford which, if one is to be brutally truthful, took a fair bit of interior design inspiration from Volkswagen to begin with. As a used car purchase it’s difficult to recommend the Mondeo highly enough.

The third generation Mondeo was launched at a time of radical shake up in the medium range family saloon market. Industry doomsayers were predicting the whole sector to go belly up as buyers were seduced by premium offerings like the Audi A3 and BMW 3-Series Compact or by mini-MPVs like the Vauxhall Zafira or the Citroen Xsara Picasso. Ford had no contender in either of these markets and Mondeo sales were taking a battering. Time to move the goalposts. Few were ready for what Ford unveiled. With the exception of the unexceptional 2.0-litre TDdi turbo diesel engine, the Mondeo barely put a foot wrong. Keen to rectify this oversight, Ford launched the state of the art common rail 2.0-litre TDCi engine in 2001 and made a series of detail changes aimed to keep the Mondeo at the top of the tree. Electronic Brake Assist, once a £250 option, was fitted as standard across the range. This reduces stopping distances by augmenting the driver’s braking effort with additional hydraulic support thus ensuring that maximum braking efficiency is reached. Tests have shown that EBD will result in a Mondeo in the hands of an average driver will stop between one and three car lengths quicker than a standard car. That’s certainly the difference between a close call and giving the dog a phone. Security was also boosted by the introduction of auto relock. If a locked Mondeo is unlocked using the remote key fob and no doors are opened within 45 seconds, the system will automatically relock itself. In addition to this, convenience features such as automatic reverse wash wipe were phased in. This automatically activates the rear screen wiper if reverse is selected whilst the windscreen wipers are on. Sounds simple, but then the most elegant technical solutions usually are. The range was added to in 2002 with the launch of the 3.0-litre 151mph ST220 sports model. Those who’d felt short changed by the Mk2 ST200 emerged metaphorically beaten over the head with a sockful of quarters after a spell behind the wheel of the ST220, an estate version of which appeared in Spring 2003. A powerful yet economical 1.8-litre SCi engine was added to the Mondeo line up in autumn 2003, alongside Euro IV compliant TDCi 130 diesel engines. Two more new engines arrived in time for summer 2004. A 204bhp 3.0-litre V6 and a 155bhp TDCi engine which was offered in the ST TDCi. Elegant is certainly a word that applies to the Mondeo’s interior. Flick the switches, then check the quality of fit and finish. Take away the Blue Oval badge and you’d probably guess at compact executive class leaders like Audi’s A4 – maybe even BMW’s 3 Series. Except, that this car isn’t compact. You don’t need a tape measure to know that. In fact, there’s as much space inside as Ford offered in its old flagship Scorpio, a car from the next class up. And all of the same gadgets, niceties and safety standards. Not that the new Mondeo looks big from the outside or feels it behind the wheel. Despite the extra 150mm in length (and a huge 500-litre boot), the latest model shrinks around you, much like an A4 or a 3 Series. Not that Audi, BMW or Lexus need worry too much. That angular new shape is pleasing enough, but it won’t get you a reserved space in the golf club carpark. Ford has given that job to its Jaguar X-TYPE and doesn’t want the Mondeo getting ideas too far above its station. Still, against obvious rivals such as the Vauxhall Vectra and Peugeot 406 the shape looks pleasantly clean and crisp. These cars represent the real battleground of course, so let’s get down to basics. There are three bodystyles – saloon, five-door and estate – spread over five familiar trim levels (LX, Zetec, Zetec-S, Ghia and Ghia X). Equipment levels include most of what you would expect – air conditioning, front electric windows, a decent quality stereo and so on. There’s plenty of stowage space around the cabin too, with perfectly-shaped homes for items like window squeeges, atlases, drinks cans, tapes, CDs, owners manuals and mobile ‘phones. Notable options include a facia-mounted CD autochanger and a DVD video system with screens mounted in the back of the front head rests: with films or linked to a PlayStation, that should keep the kids quiet on long journeys.

Prices start at around £7,100 for a 2000X registered Mondeo 1.8i LX saloon. The hatches command another £150 with the desirable estates tacking on another £750. A 2.0-litre Zetec model of similar vintage will be £7,800 in saloon guise, £7,900 in hatchback form and £8,400 if you need an estate. The 2.5-litre cars offer a beautiful V6 warble and the Ghia X starts at just under £9,100 in saloon form on the 2000X plate, £9,500 for a hatch and £9,700 for an estate. Should you fancy a diesel, the 2.0 TDdi model opens at £7,800 for an LX trim, but we’d recommend stretching that bit further and going for an ex-demonstrator or low mileage TDCi. You’ll thank us for it afterwards. The Series Three Mondeo has proved commendably reliable to date, although owners have commented on cold starting issues with the TDdi diesel engine and the occasional duff driveshaft. There was a recall on petrol engined Mondeos in August 2001 when 5,500 cars were brought in to have their cruise control systems adjusted as there had been an instance when the system had failed to disengage. On the whole, the Mondeo is a quality product at mainstream prices. Timing has a lot to answer for. Tony Jarrett would have been a national hero had Colin Jackson not been around at the same time. Likewise, nobody will remember 2001’s Academy award winning movie because of the clamour for Harry Potter. The Mark Three Mondeo is perpetually overshadowed by its illustrious junior sibling, the Focus. Had the Focus never turned a wheel, the Mondeo would make hot cakes look like a sticky product line. A used example may not be the most individual automotive choice you could ever make, but it might just be the best. When Jaguar salesmen surreptitiously inform you that the X-TYPE shares the same basic architecture as a Mondeo you know the Ford is all good.

(approx prices for a 1.8 excl VAT) A front wing costs around £95 and a windscreen just under £135. Tyres are just under £90 and a complete exhaust system (including catalytic converter) would set you back about £450.

Were it not for that Blue Oval staring back from the steering wheel boss, you might well mistake the interior if the Mondeo for a VW Passat whose owner had a penchant for showy clocks. It’s all scarily logical, although not quite perfect, especially if your hands are anything less than dainty. If this is the case, whenever you select third or fifth gear the back of your hand will change the radio station. The handbrake is badly positioned with not enough roiom for your knuckles or your thumb. You’ll forgive the Mondeo its minor ergonomic pratfalls when you hit the road. Most of the engines on offer were all-new at launch, the exception being the 170bhp 2.5-litre V6: fair enough – there wasn’t much wrong with that. Since then, a second 217bhp V6 has been developed for the flagship ST220, this being 3.0-litres in size. The all-alloy Duratec HE 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol units used in more humble Mondeos are superb, developing 123 and 143bhp respectively and feeling faster thanks to strong low-down torque. They’re a sack of potatoes (20 kgs) lighter than rival engines, which helps performance (sixty from rest takes 9.8 seconds in the 2.0-litre) and are very rigid, which helps to achieve Passat-levels of refinement. Whilst refinement isn’t the keynote of the 2.0-litre TDdi 113bhp Duratorq turbo diesel engine, it produces extremely decent fuel figures (up to 48mpg on the combined cycle). It’s still not the quietest unit of its kind (the Transit associations show through here) but the performance (rest to sixty in 10.6s on the way to 121mph) is some recompense. Mind you, if you really want to see a step forward in the diesel stakes, then you need to try the TDCi common rail turbo diesel unit: refined and fast, this is a far more impressive proposition and a tribute to Ford’s Centre for Diesel Excellence based in Dagenham. Whilst not as quiet as the 1.8litre TDCi unit fitted to the Focus and easy to stall when emerging from junctions, it’s otherwise a crushingly competent engine, quick, tractable and almost comically economical. As with all Mondeos, the handling is beyond reproach. Whilst other rivals have made ground on the Ford in terms of interior quality, packaging and engine technology nothing in this class approaches the Mondeo’s ability to tackle a corner.

FORD MAVERICK (2001-2003)

December 2, 2007

The Maverick was one Ford that British buyers never really took to their hearts. It was certainly late to the 4×4 party. 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. These words were in fact the introduction to a model guide on the previous generation Maverick introduced in 1993. Eight years down the line they apply equally to the Series II model. British buyers, it seemed, could countenance a Ford supermini or family hatch but anything that resembled a 4×4 was consistently shunned. This represents a pity, as owners discovered the Maverick to be a machine with more than a few redeeming features.

Whereas the first generation Maverick was introduced as a joint venture with Nissan, the Series II version was developed with Mazda, another Japanese company but in this instance one that Ford had developed a controlling interest in. The Mazda Tribute and the Ford Maverick were offered side by side in many countries, but here in the UK Ford pulled rank and had a clear four months run at the market before the Tribute appeared in August 2001. The job was complicated by the fact that between the inception of the Series 2 Maverick project and it arriving on sale, Ford had founded the Premier Auto Group, a key component of which is Land Rover. The Maverick had suddenly become a car that was utterly redundant. What was the point in spending money promoting a car that was competing against – and if Ford were honest with themselves – didn’t stand a chance of muscling out the market leader, the Land Rover Freelander? And so it proved. Promotion for the Maverick was very low key and customer take-up was similarly underwhelming. No diesel version was ever offered and more modern rivals soon extinguished what little spark of interest surrounded the Maverick, leaving it to wither on the vine. The Maverick quietly disappeared from the pricelists towards the end of 2003. Despite its platform being shred by Mazda, the target market for the Maverick soon becomes apparent when you climb inside. The plastic slab of dashboard betrays the Ford’s US-bias more than anything else, the column-mounted automatic gearbox on the 3.0-litre car being probably the least happy aspect of the vehicle, hunting between gears and with detents on the shift that make it difficult to just drop straight into Drive. It’s also something of a shame that it’s only possible to lock the Maverick into first, second and top (fourth) gear, as third would be the ideal gear to take advantage of the Maverick’s surprisingly agility. As we’ve alluded to, the interior, though well equipped, probably won’t impress those with an eye for aesthetics. Everything works, seems well placed and well thought through, and yet feels drab, cheap and uninspiring. Interior space and luggage space is well up to the mark, the Maverick is longer than many rivals, evidence of which is instantly apparent the moment you throw the tailgate open. The rear seat is something of a shapeless bench, but the space available is excellent. Both models get ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution which works staggeringly well, plus air conditioning and an electric sunroof. The V6 also features cruise control, leather seats and an astonishingly ugly six-disc in dash CD player. It’s also the only vehicle in its class to feature side airbags and second-generation dual front air bags as standard. The exterior styling works well in a modest way. Ford were trying for a tough functional appearance and they’ve hit the spot whilst taking a big dip into the bin of generic 4×4 styling cues. The upshot of this is that unless you know what you’re looking for, the Ford Maverick won’t catch your eye, looking as it does like a morphed together rendering of a Freelander and a Honda CR-V. Nevertheless, in offending nobody and excelling in a number of areas, the Maverick, badged the Escape across the pond, notched up 75,000 orders in its first three months on sale. Few of these new owners will be disappointed with their purchase. Whilst the Maverick isn’t perfect, it’s the sheer honesty of the thing that generates a feeling of partiality towards it. How many times have we heard manufacturers of 4x4s claim that their offering drives like a car, only to find that the car they were using as a reference point would probably have failed an MoT on collapsed shocks? The Maverick is a refreshing exception to this rule, and the V6 in particular gives the Ford a level of on-road utility that few rivals could ever dream of.

Prices start at around £12,600 for a 2001 Y plated 2.0-litre XLT model with a 3.0-litre version of the same vintage retailing at just under £13,800. Insurance is decidedly reasonable; the 2.0-litre car rated at Group 9 and the torquey 3.0-litre version at Group 12. The Maverick is a rugged beast; certainly a good deal more so than many of its compact 4×4 rivals. No mechanical gremlins have been reported, as both the engines are well-respected units. Inspect the underside of the used car for off-roading damage to the exhaust, driveshaft and wheelarches if you suspect that the previous owner was one of the 7% who Ford claimed would take their cars off the blacktop and engage all-wheel drive. Although its still a little early to start banging the drum for the Series II Maverick as a genuine used bargain, the steady residuals show that owners rate them highly. It may not be the most chic of 4x4s in this fashion conscious corner of the market, but a used Maverick makes a versatile workhorse.

(approx based on 2001 2.0) In common with most Fords you’ll find parts plentiful, but in this instance they’re not particularly cheap. A clutch assembly is around £195. Front brake pads are around £55, a rear exhaust about £75, and an alternator around £200. A headlamp is about £115. Don’t visit a Mazda dealer for cheap parts as you’ll find they’re a bit pricier.

Due to its one-piece body construction and independent suspension, mention of which would have off-road purists shuddering, the Ford Maverick is the best of the current generation of compact 4x4s when it comes to blacktop behaviour. The Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV and Land Rover Freelander never get close to the taut, lively feel of the Maverick. It’s a testament to how far Ford have progressed in terms of ride and handling in recent years that perhaps the biggest compliment you could level at the Maverick is that it feels like a typical Ford to drive. This means a body that’s resistant to roll, deft yet safe handling all backed up by sharp and lively steering. The 194bhp 3.0-litre engine feels throaty and powerful, certainly a good deal quicker than its 10-second sprint to 60mph would suggest. In normal conditions, 100% of the drive is directed to the front wheels, resulting in an average fuel consumption figure of 22mpg. The 118 bhp four cylinder 2.0 litre unit shared with the Mondeo is better if fuel economy is a concern, averaging around 32mpg in give and take conditions. If any slip from the front wheels is detected, the Control Trac II system comes into play, a rotary blade coupling governs the proportion of drive sent to the rear wheels. If things get really slippery, a button on the dash locks the coupling, directing an even 50:50 proportion of drive to the front and rear wheels. If things get slipperier still, it’s probably time to start looking for a nearly new Discovery.

FORD FOCUS (1998-2002)

November 25, 2007

Unlike its predecessor, the Escort, the Ford Focus wowed the critics immediately when it was launched in October 1998. The new family Ford attracted praise for its crisp ‘New Edge’ styling, funky interior, great ‘zetec’ engines and, most of all, its class-leading handling and ride. No competitor has yet got close. Soon after launch the Focus shot straight to the top of the UK best-sellers charts and is likely to remain there for quite some time yet. With something like 12,000 being sold new each month, plenty have now found their way onto the used market where a vast choice of models and sensible pricing makes Ford’s finest family range an excellent buy.

Ford launched a wide Focus range in October 1998 though it took about a year before all variants were available. That means that models like the sporty two-litre Zetec and 1.6-litre automatics are still rare on used car forecourts. There was a choice of three and five-door hatchbacks, a stylish saloon (which you’ll find only with plush Ghia trim) and an estate. Engines were 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 and two-litre Zetec petrol units and a 1.8-litre direct injection turbo diesel and all bar the 1.6 came only with five-speed manual transmission. Trim levels were CL, Zetec, LX and Ghia and there were a variety of option packs that are worth seeking out on used examples. These included Style (alloy wheels and metallic paint), Reflex (anti-lock, traction control and side airbags) and Climate (air conditioning, heated windscreen and mirrors). March 2000 saw the introduction of an entry-level three-door 1.4CL hatchback and some price reductions for mainstream 1.4 and 1.6-litre models. Launched in October 1999, the 1.8-litre Millennium five-door hatchback special edition was painted in (very) bright yellow with black leather upholstery and top-of-the-range equipment including air conditioning, CD player, power windows, dual airbags and unique alloy wheels. It’s worth about 3% more than a Ghia. Zetec Collection special editions were launched in May 2000. Based on the supposedly sporty three and five-door Zetec models they came with Ford’s entire RS body kit fitted as standard – including bumpers, spoiler, chrome exhaust trim, a mesh grille and unique 3×2 spoke, 15-inch alloy wheels. The call for a sportier Focus model was finally answered in February 2002 when the ST170 model was launched. This month also spelt good news for diesel customers with the excellent 115bhp TDCi common rail engine being fitted to the affordable Zetec trim level. In summer 2002 the TDCi engine was also offered in a slightly detuned 100bhp form. The range-topping Focus RS was finally launched in September 2002 and the limited run was sold out by late 2003. An estate version of the ST170 was introduced in April 2003. Arguably the most stylish and best handling (and riding) family hatchback you can buy. This is a car into which you can load the family and still enjoy such mundane trips as the supermarket run. It’s little wonder that waiting lists formed at launch time and that most versions are still in strong demand. Whichever body style you opt for, the Focus is a stylish car with excellent engines and road manners and a well laid-out interior that provides plenty of room for a family. There are a lot of used examples about so take your time and choose carefully. Choose a Zetec or LX with a popular option pack or two so you get items like electric windows, air conditioning and Ford’s clever Quickclear self-de-icing windscreen. Desirable equipment like this will make selling on easier in two or three years’ time.

Used Focus prices start at around £4,400 for a 1.4-litre CL five-door hatchback on 98S plates and you may be able to secure even a 01X for under £6,000. Around £4,700 should buy you either a 98S five-door 1.6LX with air-conditioning or a three-door Zetec with the Climate option pack. Plusher Ghia trim adds about £500 and similar money will get you an early saloon although these are quite rare. Estate prices start at about £4,900 with LX trim. The 1.8-litre cars are priced the same as 1.6s new but command about £200 more used. Two-litre models start on 99S plates at about £5,500 with Ghia trim. Diesels are now quite plentiful and you should get a 98S CL five-door for under £5,400 or a more mainstream 99T Zetec with Climate pack for less than £5,800. Ford’s ‘zetec’ engines are, on the whole, reliable, so give the car the usual once-over looking for signs of wear and indications of hard fleet, company or rental car use. Worn carpets, and scuffed trim are the usual clues. Check that all the electrical items work properly, ensure that the air conditioner delivers chilled air soon after the engine is started and remember that a full service history always helps when selling on, too. The Focus is, quite simply, the best family hatchback on the used market if you take into account the huge dealer network, affordable part prices and the vast choice offered at sensible prices. Streets ahead of its dull but worthy Escort predecessor, this is the car to buy if the budget will stretch.

(approx based on a Focus 1.6) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly will be around £100 and an alternator should be close to £140. Brake pads are around £25 a front set with rear shoes around £45, a replacement headlamp is close to £80 and a manual door mirror should be in the region of £50. A full exhaust is about £200 and a catalyst is about £240. Dampers are around £40 each and a radiator about £100. This makes a used Ford Focus cheap to run.

When you’ll really appreciate the Focus is when there’s no one in it but you. Under the skin lie a host of engineering novelties that together, enable it comfortably to take the honours as the best driver’s car in the class. The body for a start, is 100% stiffer than that of the Escort and 15% stiffer than its nearest rival. The gearbox is slick enough to make you want to change up and down just for the sake of it. And the fully independent suspension attains a level of sophistication previously unheard of in this class. We’re not just talking about tyre-squealing qualifying laps around your favourite country B-road test route either. Ford’s engineers have tuned the Focus to compensate for the times you and I get brain fade; you’re lost, it’s dark and chucking its down and the kids are screaming in the back. The corner you just entered too quickly is getting sharper and you do exactly the wrong thing; you stamp on the brakes. This used car will deal with that: no fuss, no problem. Performance is reasonable – though not exceptional, with the 1.6-litre engine most will choose making sixty in 11.2s on the way to 114mph. Its fuel economy (41.5mpg on the combined cycle) comfortably beats all comers, however, and there are major components everywhere designed to need minimal or no maintenance.


November 15, 2007

Despite strong challenges from Land Rover, Jeep and Toyota, the world’s best selling four-wheel drive remains a good old American Ford. The Ford Explorer has also gathered quite a following in its time on sale in Britain, making life tough for the British, American and Japanese establishment. While the Explorer may not be a particularly familiar sight throughout the UK, our American cousins snap up over 400,000 examples every year. This imposing off-roader is the archetypal American import and commands a small but significant following in Britain. It is designed for the demanding US market, so it should be no surprise that the Explorer comes with just about every piece of kit you could imagine in a bid to outdo rivals such as Jeep’s Grand Cherokee and Land Rover’s Discovery. Despite the fact that relatively few have been sold, prices are attractive on the used market, making the Explorer a good prospect as a secondhand buy.

The Explorer was introduced in January 1997. Only one model came over from the States – the 4.0 V6 – and it’s stayed alone ever since though there have been two special editions – the Montana and North Face. Equipped with a slick five-speed automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel drive, this ‘Yank tank’ has more than adequate road performance. It holds its own in the rough too, thanks to ‘Control Trac’ traction control, self-levelling rear suspension, ABS and power-assisted steering. In 1998, the Explorer was freshened up with a series of cosmetic improvements. Value for money and security were improved and at the same time, this thoroughly capable vehicle was given a mild makeover. To check that you’re being offered a revised version look for a sleeker tailgate with the registration plate positioned centrally and separate releases for the tailgate glass and the gate itself in place of the earlier dual-purpose T-handle. The rear window is also deeper, making parking a little easier, and there are different tail-lights, front grille and bumpers. On the security front, an immobiliser was added to the standard equipment, and the traction control system and the stereo were improved while a CD player became optional. A special edition entry-level Montana version was offered in August 1999 – easy to spot because it lacks the standard Explorer’s leather trim and air conditioning. Another, the North Face, arrived a couple of months later with bumpers and other exterior trim colour-matched to the metallic dark green or grey paint. Extras on top of the standard specification included a CD autochanger with rear controls and headphone sockets. The Explorer was quietly phased out in January 2001. As already mentioned, the Americans expect plenty of equipment for their hard-earned dollars. This means anyone who buys a previously-owned Explorer should also be pleasantly surprised by the high level of creature comforts. Anti-lock brakes, air conditioning (except on the Montana), electric almost everything – you name it, it’s thrown in for free, from the electrically adjustable front sports seats to the large electric sunroof. Other little luxuries include electric mirrors, cruise control, an integral roof rack, a compass and an adjustable steering column to allow motorists of all shapes and sizes to find a comfortable driving position. On the safety side, you can also expect driver and front passenger airbags.

Prices start at around £7,300 for the earliest P-reg, January 1997 Explorers with around 61,000 miles on the clock. However, you’re more likely to find a facelifted example from 98R on. These start at around £8,300 and go up to about £9,600 on a 99T, a massive saving on the £27,000 cost new. The Montana special edition was £1,500 cheaper than the standard Explorer when new and the North Face £1,500 more expensive so make some adjustment for this when valuing used examples. As with any used 4×4, check for signs of heavy off-road use and abuse. Few Explorers will have done any more than mount a grass verge, but you can never be too careful. So, check for damage underneath, especially as this 4×4 sits two inches closer to the ground than rivals like the Discovery. Overall, it’s too soon for any faults to have emerged on British machines – a good sign in itself that several years down the line nothing serious has cropped up. Another point in its favour is the fact that the Explorer is consistently a best seller in the States. With their demanding customers and driving style, that says more than anything else about the sturdy nature of this American dream machine. The Explorer makes far more sense secondhand than it ever did new – the steep depreciation curve makes it a surprisingly cheap used car. It’s never quite so cheap to run, however….

(approx incl VAT) As you might expect from a Ford, parts are plentiful – but in the case of this model, they’re not particularly cheap. Front brake pads are around £65, a rear exhaust assembly about £180, a catalyst about £455 (and there are two) and an alternator around £260. A headlamp is about £140.

Although the Explorer has been designed around the premise that most users will spend nearly all their time on the tarmac, it is actually pretty good off-road. It uses Ford’s own permanent 4×4 system called `Control Trac’ which offers a choice of three driving modes. Most users will never shift from `4WD Auto`. Here, all the power goes to the rear as long as there is enough grip. As soon as the surface becomes slippery, however, a sensor automatically transfers a gradual supply of torque to the two front wheels. For simple off-road work or extreme winter conditions, you can switch to ‘4WD High`. Here, most of the engine’s energy is again directed to the back, but there’s a continuous, higher level of power to the front. Finally, there’s `4WD Low` for really tough off-road use or if you’re towing something heavy like a horsebox. The drive is as before, but with a low range 2.48:1 gear reduction for maximum pulling power and engine braking. It may sound complicated, but the whole thing is easy to operate – simply turn a switch on the dashboard. There’s no need to use a lever to select four-wheel drive and there’s is no need to get involved in anything as technical as disengaging auto-locking hubs. Americans expect all those kind of things to be done for them.