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Ford Escort ZX2 is a hot-looking compact coupe with a rakish design. Yet its handsome interior reveals a roomy back seat and surprisingly large trunk. ZX2 provides responsive handling and good road manners and its engine delivers decent power. At the same time, the ZX2 is a practical car, with plenty of room in the back seats for friends. It's also affordable and economical. That's a good combination.
Boasting stylish, flowing lines, the Escort ZX2 does not share any body panels with the Ford Escort sedan. It was designed as a true coupe, not a sedan with two doors. But the ZX2 does share its basic structure and dimensions with the Escort sedans. The chassis is based on a previous-generation Mazda Protege, a solid, successful design. Not having to start from scratch helped keep the price down. Ford reinforced it for improved safety, better handling and a smoother ride.
ZX2 comes with the standard safety features, such as dual airbags and side impact protection. Though they shouldn't be confused as a safety feature, the ZX2 comes with 5-mph bumpers, which can reduce the chance of incurring repair bills from minor bumps.
A roomy, attractive cabin makes the ZX2 a comfortable place for long trips. A sporty instrument panel peeks beneath a wedge that sweeps attractively into the door panels. Interior fabrics and materials are of higher quality than some of the other cars in this class. The inside door handle is on the dainty side. Our ZX2 came with the S/R package's handsome seats, which are firm and supportive. They are a bit lumpy, however, and the small headrest doesn't raise high enough. The driver's seat is height adjustable, a nice extra for shorter drivers. The optional tilt steering column is useful if you're not an average-size driver.
The rear seats are surprisingly comfortable-something you'd never guess by looking at the ZX2's swooping roofline. There's enough headroom and legroom for a 5-foot, 10-inch adult. But the shortest person will need to sit behind the driver if the driver is tall. Heater ducts for the rear seat area add comfort in the winter. Getting in and getting out is a squeeze.
The 11.8-cubic foot trunk is a bit shallow, but it's sizable by compact standards and the rear seats can be folded forward to make room for longer items.
The ZX2 is nicely trimmed. Three cupholders with liners and a center console add convenience. Hooks on the floor hold the floor mats in place. Yet it is a compact car. Not every bolt is covered with a piece of trim as it would be in a luxury car.
It pays to read the owner's manual to fully understand Ford's optional air conditioning system. It senses when the outside temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and switches on automatically in all but two modes. The system shuts off under hard acceleration to improve performance. At other times, it cycles on and off constantly, which can be a little annoying because it can be felt as a subtle bump through the throttle. It can be turned off by selecting the vent or floor mode.
The ZX2 offers good throttle response and lively acceleration. The Zetec engine is pleasant and willing in all driving situations, with plenty of extra punch for tight passing situations on two-lane highways. The power band of the engine is flexible, providing torque and tractability at lower revs in heavy traffic. There's enough power here to break the front tires loose from a standing start. But a little planning is required when passing on uphill grades at high altitudes. The engine starts sounding busy at higher revs -- it isn't as smooth and refined as the Honda Civic's engine.
Weighing in at just over 2,500 pounds, the ZX2 accelerates from 0-60 mph in slightly less than 8 seconds. That measures up well to other leading compacts, including the Honda Civics. Fuel economy is rated at 25/33 mpg. The five-speed gearbox shifts smoothly with ratios that seem well suited to the engine torque. Driving enthusiasts will appreciate the pedals, which are arranged reasonably well for heel-and-toe downshifting.
Steering is precise and handling is responsive. The ride quality is firm, but smooth. The suspension is damped well for soaking up potholes and irregular pavement, but keeps the driver in communication with the road. The ZX2 is nicely balanced. Healthy amounts of understeer at the limit make it easy to drive. It is stable at high speeds, even in gusty side winds. Body lean is controlled well in corners.
The ZX2 uses independent MacPherson struts and coil springs for the front suspension. It's a tough, durable setup, though not as sophisticated as a double-wishbone. The rear suspension is Ford's Quadralink. Front and rear anti-roll bars are standard to reduce body lean in corners. Ford engineers tuned the ZX2 suspension, steering and brakes for sporty handling and a relatively firm, controlled ride quality.
Stopping is no problem. ZX2 brakes are composed of front discs and rear drums. We recommend the $400 optional anti-lock braking system, which allows the driver to maintain control of the steering in an emergency stopping situation. As mentioned, the S/R Package comes with rear disc brakes, which tend to offer better performance and resistance to fade when hot-footing through mountainous terrain.
Sporty, quick and fun to drive, the Ford Escort ZX2 is a good choice for young, single folks. Roomy rear seats and generous trunk space make it practical for going out on the town or packing up for a cross-country haul. Its performance may not quite measure up to its aggressive appearance, but the ZX2 compares favorably against its competitors.
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