The new decade is upon us, and the Ford Escort RS Cosworth is 28 years old.
It looks it too, but we don’t mean that in a negative way - just that like Toyota Celica GT-Fours, Mitsubishi Lancer Evos or Subaru Impreza Turbos, its combination of pumped-up features on otherwise familiar 1990s shapes is utterly redolent of the era that created it. You know exactly what you’re getting with an Escort Cosworth - monster A-to-B performance and the attitude of a right hook to the jaw.
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After a quarter-century, you’ll also know much of the lore surrounding the Escort RS Cosworth. You’ll know, for example, that it was developed for the same reasons as those Celicas, Lancers and Imprezas, to be a platform capable of catapulting its respective maker to the front of world rallying.
Homologation requirements being what they were, the standard Escort - front-drive, transverse-engined - wasn’t the ideal platform from which to start. All its rivals, from the Japanese trio to the Lancia Delta Integrale, had all been developed from the outside with the necessary all-wheel drive in mind, and refined further from there.
Ford did have something suitable however - the Sierra Cosworth. Squeeze that car’s innards into a marketing-friendly Escort body (Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering division, also known as SVE, did the squeezing) and you have the basis of the Escort Cosworth. The body needed work too, of course - while it might look like ostentatious decoration, the enormous rear wing (and the low front splitter) were both designed to assist the car at the high speeds it was expected to reach in rallying.
The familiar 2-litre turbocharged engine also saw tweaks - in went a new Garrett T35 turbocharger and a two-stage intercooler. In original form this developed 227bhp at 6250rpm and 224lb ft of torque at 3500rpm. Figures dwarfed by even today’s Focus ST, but the big turbo meant big lag and then big boost, for a startlingly exciting power delivery. Ford did tone this down a little with a smaller T25 turbocharger in 1994, and peak power dropped by 10bhp. Those early cars are more tunable, the latter more driveable in standard form.
Finding a standard Escort Cosworth is quite a challenge these days, and the degree to which an example is standard, original and low on miles hugely influences the price you should expect to pay.
Prices have certainly gone up since evo did a full buying guide on the Cossie (issue 042 if you're interested, way back in April 2002) when it was still possible to find cars for as little as £10,000, but today’s entry point of around £20,000 isn’t dissimilar to the price many Cosworths have been achieving almost since launch (the car was priced at £20,524 in 1992). The upper end has moved somewhat though; currently, there’s a Monte Carlo limited edition car on the market at a fiver shy of £60,000, and a few low-miles examples on sale with specialists at around £40,000.
What we said at the time
'Despite four-wheel drive, the Cossie has a hot hatchback-like feel: all front-end bite with a playfully mobile tail. The combination of a super-pointy front end and 33/67 front/rear torque-split is a clever and expressive one, for it allows you to set the car up on the way into a corner, turning in with a deliberate lift of the throttle to get the tail moving, then using the quick steering and rear-biased torque split to power through. It's something you need to reserve for open, clearly sighted corners, but it's a treat you'll never tire of.
It's not everyone's cup of tea, and there's no question the car's humble origins and four-cylinder engine lack the kudos of a more exotic body and a sweet-spinning six-cylinder, but the Escort Cosworth is a vivid reminder of the days when rallying still gave us exciting road cars.' Richard Meaden, evo 157