Fords Fiesta XR2i has always had a large following, primarily from "boy racers", but is a car that most people identify with.
It was never breathtaking in the performance department, but good looking, affordable and reasonably quick, it established itself in the early 90s as a popular hot-hatch and soon became an institution.
I have always admired the XR2i, years before I could drive, but was also aware of the cost of insuring one and never considered the car until I hit my 20s.
Looking for more power, I started a search for an XR2i. I will be honest in saying that I never knew there was a 1.8 16v version of the car, and from speaking to various other people, I would feel confident in saying that it is little known that in 1992 Ford re-vamped the XR2i with the 1.8 16v DOHC Zetec engine from the Escort range.
Cosmetic changes were very few, but included a set of nicer looking 14" 5 spoke alloys (although these were not standard), abolition of the "tacky" looking blue stripe that surrounded the 1.6, 8v car, body coloured wing mirrors, clear front indicators, "bucket type" sports seats and a different upholstery, and of course the easy way to spot a 16v model is by the fact that they sport badging on the rear instead of stickers, plus a 16v badge.
When I first found out that there was this 1.8 version, I went in search of one, and to my surprise, found an immaculate example in Radiant Red in the next town, at a reasonable price (although the 16v does command a lot more cash than the old 8v)
The first thing that I thought would be different, having driven an 8v before, would be the power. I figured, as would many, I guess, that being a 1.8 16v, it would be considerably quicker.
This however is not the case! Because Ford used this engine in the RS1800, released about the same time to replace the RS Turbo, they obviously couldnt let the 2nd from top of range XR2i perform as well.
Hence their detuning of the 130bhp engine by way of a restrictive catalytic converter, smaller throttle bodies, smaller manifold and a different ECU chip.
This left the poor XR2i with only 105bhp, 5bhp down on the old 8v. However despite this power loss, the XR2i 16v sprints to 60mph quicker than the 8v counterpart due to the different gearing, that permits the 16v to reach 60 in 2nd gear as opposed to 3rd for the 8v.
I have seen different figures for this 0-60 and the mistake that most companies make when listing it is to use the 0-64 time that was tested at 9.3 secs.
The actual 0-60 time is in fact around 8.8 secs, although when mine was tested it came out as 8.5 secs, but that is neither here nor there.
The obvious difference performance wise is that the new 16v has so much more torque. The in-gear times are a vast improvement on the 8v and it makes the car a lot more drivable, especially on motorways and other fast roads. The new Zetec engine is much more willing and flexible than the old CVH 8v, it revs with no problem all the way to its 6500rpm red-line.
Away from engine performance, the handling of the new 16v is much better than the 8v.
Thanks to anti-roll bars, better tyres and a more sporty suspension set-up, the body hardly rolls when going into corners and the grip is impressive. However from the 16v still suffers with the same problem as a lot of other Fiestas I have driven, in that you are never quite sure what the front wheels are doing.
This doesnt help instill the confidence in you that Ford had hoped for! The other problem area that I find, is the ride quality. I know people who have had their cars lowered and complain of a hard ride, but the 16v XR2i doesnt need lowering to suffer from a hard ride. The car has the ability to pick up every bump and dip in the road and exaggerate it 3 fold!! This can make for very uncomfortable long journeys, which is a shame considering these are where I find the engine most at home! Speaking of comfort, the driving position is good and the sports seats are very comfortable and do hug you into them well.
Reliability is an area I am suitably impressed with. I will admit that along with others, I used to think of these XR and RS Fords as "Dagenham dustbins"
however it is "the" most reliable car I have owned. Never have I had a problem with cold-starting - the engine spins into life almost immediately, regardless of how long it has been standing or the outside air temperature.
It has never failed me (except during the fuel crisis when I let it run dry and the injectors became clogged!) Repair wise, I have had to replace the brakes (discs and pads), lower arms, suspension and various bulbs, as well as the catalytic converter. However considering the age and mileage, it could have been a lot worse.
So, am I pleased with the car?? In a word, yes but also disappointed at the same time.
Ford did improve the XR2i but seemed to stop short in some areas. Considering it is compared to cars with similar engine sizes, such as the Renault Clio 16v, it is really just falling short of that league.
My opinion is that although this a very good looking, performing and reliable car, it really is second best and shows it. I would advise purchasing the RS1800 if you can afford it or better still in my opinion is the legendary Fiesta RS Turbo, however if you are decided on an XR2i, then the 16v is streets ahead of the 8v and you wouldnt regret it.
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