Ford’s first hot-hatchback and a car that became Essex man’s pride and joy.
The Ford XR3i took what was a humdrum, though stylish, family saloon, the regular Escort, and turned it into a 113mph, road-eating monster. The car was thrown into the mix to do battle with the other hot hatchbacks that were torching the market; including the Talbot Sunbeam, the Vauxhall Chevette and, most of all, the Volkswagen Golf GTi. While the Golf GTi was a touch more sophisticated and therefore appealed to a higher class of clientele, the XR3i was raw, blue-collar power for the masses and became a massive hit with anyone who had a less than savoury salary.
So, the good sides (because there are a lot!).
For starters, the car is jaw-droppingly handsome; a truly masculine machine with chiseljaw looks and a sporting image. It also handles and grips like a rock, able to take even the most winding roads at speeds you just couldn’t imagine possible without ending up in the weeds. You can throw the XR3i into any corner and it will find adhesion; regardless of the conditions. The XR3i is also a very simple machine, being built with the blue-collar worker, and their propensity for DIY maintenance, in mind. What’s more, the sheer popularity of these machines meant that parts, both for the XR3i and regular Escort, are in abundance and can be replaced without much difficulty.
The best thing of all though is that, even with only 3-doors and sporting credentials, the XR3i doesn’t skimp when it comes to offering the same practicality as the regular Escort. With a nifty rear hatch, the car can be used for actual work rather than being something strange and specialist like the sports cars it replaced.
However, while there are a lot of things that made the XR3i a great car, there’s also plenty of things that can make it nightmarish to own.
Although most examples you’ll find today owe their longevity to the efforts of dedicated enthusiasts, there are still ones out there which are complete basketcases; usually high-mileage machines which have been worked to death. It’s blue-collar appeal meant the car was incredibly popular among yobbos and other undesirables, people who would use them to race between the lights on the High Street or perform doughnuts in empty parking lots. Combine these stresses with owners who aren’t willing to fork out their questionably earned cash for regular maintenance and you’ve got a match made in hell!
As for the car’s own faults, the ride is abysmal.
The low-slung sports suspension, which might as well be non-existent, transmits every bump and distortion in the road straight to your spine. It’s apparent that the Ford development team, when testing the car, neglected to take it off the smooth, finely paved test track and give it a go on regular roads where there are potholes and speed bumps and cobblestones and gravel lanes; all of which result in a ride quality so utterly abhorrent that you’ll be getting to know your Chiropractor very well!
Other issues are the build quality. When these cars were assembled in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Ford wasn’t exactly at the pinnacle of their construction prowess. Poor worker relations meant that many cars were built without much care or attention, thus resulting in a spectacular number of mechanical, cosmetic or technical failures. Even so, when the car was built properly the quality of the finish did feel very tinny.
Aesthetics and sensations with regard to a product’s quality may be a matter of opinion, but these cars did feel very cheap and very thrown together. Unlike most cars, it doesn’t feel like the XR3i was made for ‘you’ specially, it instead being some mass-production unit that was but a tick in the box of the line manager at the end of his shift.
Furthermore, despite its sporting looks, the car isn’t particularly fast when compared to the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTi. While the styling may give the impression that it’ll tear your face off the moment you so much as look at the accelerator, in truth the car does 0-60mph in 9 seconds; which is slower than my old, base model Citroen C2. The Golf GTi on the other hand could do 0-60 in 8.5 seconds and came with a greater amount of both build quality and refinement.
These downsides, therefore, are the main reason why the XR3i slumps to #19 on the list. However, if you look past the abysmal ride quality and its somewhat cheap feeling, the XR3i is an exciting machine which won’t cost you much to either buy or run. The car is quite happy to put some flare into your driving experience and anyone who owns an XR3i will fall in love with both its handling and its looks.
It’s a car that turned heads way back when and I’ll guarantee it still does now! 😀
- Comfort – 3/10 – Notorious for transmitting every bump in the road to your spine!
- Practicality – 9/10 – One of the most practical hot hatchbacks of the time
- Reliability – 5/10 – Depends entirely on the previous owner, though most survivors have been prized family possessions
- Speed – 5/10 – Not as fast as it looks
- Handling – 10/10 – Grippy is its middle name!
- Looks – 9/10 – It just screams speed!
- Equipment – 5/10 – Fairly spartan, but does happily provide most basic features
- Price – 8/10 – The low value of Ford products keeps the costs of this one below average
- Value – 7/10 – That doesn’t do much for resale value, but I feel that the XR3 might be in for a comeback. Watch this space…
- Total – 61/90 – One sporty Ford, but not as sporty as you’d expect.