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The Blue Ovals that, two decades on, have stood the test of time and become bona fide classics— here are the top 10 Fords of the ’90s.

Escort RS Cosworth

ENGINE CAPACITY: 1993cc

YEARS PRODUCED: 1992 to 1996

PRICE WHEN NEW: £20,669

Pure poster-car porn for a generation of fast Ford fans: those wild wings, massive wheelarches and 8×16 inch alloys spawned a nation to love modified cars, and it was all for a purpose — the Escort RS Cosworth was homologated into motorsport, kicking arse on the world rally scene. Its aerodynamics created so much downforce that its top speed was just 140 mph, with 60 mph reached in 5.9 seconds. But that Mk5 Escort body was a facade, being built by Karmann over a shortened Sapphire 4×4 floorpan. The Cosworth YBT motor produced 227 bhp from its T3/T04B turbo, while buyers could choose between Standard, Roadsport and Luxury trim. Sales started in May 1992, aero-delete option (from 1993) ditched the big wing, limited-edition Monte Carlo (with OZ rims) appeared in 1994, small-turbo EsCos came in June (with T25-fed YBP and 217 bhp), then the Cossie was killed in January 1996.

top 10 fords of the ’90s

Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth 4×4

ENGINE CAPACITY: 1993cc

YEARS PRODUCED: 1990 to 1992

PRICE WHEN NEW: £27,060

Taxi! Decades of minicab jibes did nothing to dampen the reputation of the four-door Cossie — the bank-robber’s weapon of choice because it was so fast, so fearsome and so easy to steal. The 1990s brought four-wheel drive to the Sierra Cosworth platform, adding XR4x4-type transmission with MT75 gearbox, plus YBJ powerplant boasting uprated 200 cylinder block and enlarged intercooler. Power rose to 220 bhp, top speed was 150 mph, and better grip on the rough stuff led to (limited) rally success. Less likely to kill you than a rear-drive Sapphire, the 4×4 is also cheaper, more plentiful and practical for everyday use — if you don’t mind minuscule mpg. Best of the bunch is the 1992 spec (from August 1991), boasting modernised dashboard; shark-tooth alloys and cat-equipped YBG. Production stopped in December 1992 but Sapphire underpinnings continued in the mighty Escort Cosworth.

top 10 fords of the ’90s

Escort RS2000 Mk5

ENGINE CAPACITY: 1998cc

YEARS PRODUCED: 1991 to 1992

PRICE WHEN NEW: £15,995

The champ is back, they said. But when they brought us the 1991 Escort RS2000, a nation of tail-sliding rally fans cursed Ford for giving us front-wheel drive and an uninspiring package. The much-derided Mk5 Escort styling was massively improved with bumper extensions, flush grille, rear spoiler, side skirts, bonnet bulges and pretty 6×15 inch alloys; the cabin was ultra-comfy with smart Recaro seats. Sadly, the normally-aspirated two-litre 150 bhp DOHC I4 engine and MTX75 five-speed transmission meant only 129 mph and 0-60 mph in 8.2 seconds. With four-wheel disc brakes, uprated springs and rear anti-roll bar, the driving experience was remarkably addictive, yet it wasn’t quite enough to fulfil RS fans’ hunger. The RS2000 continued into Mk5A — adding a 4×4 in the summer of 1994 — and Mk6, but it’s the underrated original that takes the title today.

Granada Scorpio 24V

ENGINE CAPACITY: 2935cc

YEARS PRODUCED: 1991 to 1994

PRICE WHEN NEW: £27,350

The Granada Cosworth. Not its real name, of course, but Ford’s ultimate luxo-barge certainly deserved that badge thanks to Cosworth’s expertise under the bonnet, transforming the old Granada’s asthmatic Cologne V6 into the 2.9-litre BOA, boasting 24 valves, quad camshafts, a hefty 193 bhp and 203 lb.ft of torque. It wasn’t a full sporting package — an A4LD four-speed auto was mandatory — but top speed was
140 mph, and 0-60 mph took 8.2 seconds. Stiffer suspension, a Cossie 7.5 inch LSD and AMG-type 16 inch alloys took care of cornering. Available from February 1991, the 24V motor was at first offered only in Granada Scorpio spec (saloon, hatchback or estate) but from August 1993 could be found in Ghia trim, too. Dropped in 1995 for the guppy-faced Scorpio (some with BOB 24V), it’s the smoother-styled Mk3 that lives on in legend as the great Granada Cosworth.

Puma 1.7

ENGINE CAPACITY: 1679cc

YEARS PRODUCED: 1997 to 2002

PRICE WHEN NEW: £14,550

Ask Special Vehicle Engineering — the now-retired team of Ford experts who brought us everything from Capri 2.8i to Focus ST170 — which of their cars they rate highest, and the Puma always gets a mention. Not for its outright performance but the way it brings pleasure to every journey; the way it transformed a humdrum Fiesta floorpan into one of the best chassis in the business. The Puma, launched in August 1997, was powered by a 1679cc Yamaha-developed  Zetec SE; with variable cam timing, forged rods and crank, it revved to 123 bhp, reached 126 mph and hit 60 mph in 8.8 seconds. Yes, its cabin couldn’t deny Poundland origins, and later 1.4 and 1.6 models diluted its driver’s-car appeal. But the original 1.7 (itself the basis for the fabulous Racing Puma) is pure front-wheel-drive fun.

Ka

ENGINE CAPACITY: 1299cc

YEARS PRODUCED: 1996 to 2002

PRICE WHEN NEW: £7350

Ugly. Slow. Rusty. And as much fun as anything else on this page. The Ka was a game-changer for Ford, bringing driver-focused dynamics to the shopping trolley market — its wheel-at-each-corner agility and sharp suspension turned the grocery run into an autotest or rally stage, even though the pre-historic Kent-based Endura-E engine rattled out a mere 59 bhp, taking 14.3 seconds to reach 60 mph. But that wasn’t the point: the point was economy, a choice of trim levels — PAS was a delete-option on the basic Ka; Ka2 added central locking and electric windows; Ka3 gave air con and alloys — and a confident, carefree image. From 2002 there were improved engines, a SportKa and StreetKa, but it’s the original ugly duckling that goes down as one of the greats. And it corrodes like any other classic Ford, too…

Mondeo Si Citrine/RSi

ENGINE CAPACITY: 1988cc

YEARS PRODUCED: 1993 to 1994

PRICE WHEN NEW: £15,800

Snap a glow stick and grab your shell suit. The mid-range Ford epitomised 1990s’ Britain thanks to Tony Blair’s ‘Mondeo Man’ speech, and there’s no better symbol of the model’s success than a fluorescent Mk1 with bodykit and chequer decals. Urban myth says Citrine Yellow was a limited batch of 211, but it was a mainstream colour in 1994, offered on the Si (with Atlantis/Citrine upholstery) and even LX.
Mondeos drove magnificently and the stock 2-litre Zetec was good, but 134 bhp wasn’t enough for Blue Oval owners coming from a Sapphire Cosworth. So dealership Hendy Ford built its own run of ten RSi editions — five saloons and five hatchbacks — equipped with uprated cams and ECU chip (upping the grunt to 150 bhp), 30 mm lowered suspension, adaptive damping, RS bodykit, all-over graphics, 17 inch diamond-cut alloys and full Raven upholstery. Fabulous 1990s’ perfection.

Escort XR3i (’90 spec)

ENGINE CAPACITY: 1596cc

YEARS PRODUCED: 1989 to 1990

PRICE WHEN NEW: £11,690

If the XR3i is the most iconic Ford hot hatchback, the pinnacle of its breed has to be the facelifted version introduced in September 1989, otherwise known as ’90-spec. Whereas the original XR3i made do with a 105 bhp CVH and troublesome K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection, the ’90-spec received Ford’s EEC IV electronic engine management (which bypassed even the Escort RS Turbo) and 108 bhp; top speed increased to 117 mph. There was sexier styling: deeper front bumper, wrapped-over rear wing, subtle sill mouldings and Sapphire Cosworth-inspired 6×14 inch alloys. The trim was plush too, wearing (’89-spec) Zolda fabric, extended centre console, variable-speed wipers, electric front windows and heated windscreen. It wasn’t the quickest Escort, and it wasn’t the most valuable, but the XR3i always achieved what fast Fords do best: it slapped a big grin across your face.

top 10 fords of the ’90s

Sierra Ghia 2.9 4×4 estate

ENGINE CAPACITY: 2933cc

YEARS PRODUCED: 1989 to 1990

PRICE WHEN NEW: £18,055

Scraping into our top ten of the 1990s by a mere month, we can’t ignore the Sierra Ghia 2.9 4×4 estate special edition, introduced in June 1989 and cancelled in February 1990. Why is it so worthy? Even alongside the mighty Cosworth, there are many folk — including Ford insiders — who chose the range-topping V6-powered Sierra wagon, thanks to its voluminous load capacity, sure-footed handling and that torquey old 2.9-litre Cologne V6 powerplant, matched to the XR4x4’s 34/66 front/rear split four-wheel-drive running gear. Performance was 124 mph and 8.6-seconds to 60 mph, in almost any weather. Standard Ghia 4×4 spec included seven-spoke 14 inch alloys, while a special edition version added an RS bodykit, ABS and air conditioning; no options were available, because they were all included… Replaced by a 2-litre 4×4, the special edition can safely claim to be best of breed.

Fiesta 1.6 S

ENGINE CAPACITY: 1596cc

YEARS PRODUCED: 1989 to 1991

PRICE WHEN NEW: £8238

Ignore the XR2i. Forget the RS1800. In terms of 1990s’ Fiestas, the 1.6 S followed traditional Sport fashion of dropping an oversized engine into a basic body, with mere stripes and spot lamps to show its fun side. Essentially Mk2 XR2 oily bits within an updated shell, the 1.6 S was Ford’s high-performance variant when the Mk3 Fiesta arrived in April 1989. Rumours reckon the S was built to use up redundant 1.6-litre CVHs, yet 108mph and 0-60mph in 9.3 seconds were respectable – and close behind the (later) XR2i, thanks to the S weighing 55kg less. It had sports suspension, tailgate spoiler, XR2-type 5.5x13in steel rims and red stripes in the bumpers, and it was sad to see the 1.6 S deleted in August 1991. Other Fiestas were faster – notably the firebomb RS Turbo – but the S epitomised what we’ve always loved about sporting Fords.

Words Dan Williamson

This top 10 Fords of the ’90s feature first appeared in the June 2019/1990s special issue.

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