Since the oil crisis hit the American shores in the '70s, the US started a love affair with Japanese-built vehicles. American car owners developed strong feelings toward more fuel-efficient cars that may be a bit smaller than standard American automobiles but still deliver the performance needed for a day-to-day drive. Ford, best known for its muscle cars and all-American vehicles, wasn't about to watch America fall head over heels with Japanese driving machines without fighting for the lost affection towards American auto makers during the time. Out to complete with the smaller economy cars from Japanese brands was the Ford Escort, which first came out in 1981 as a two-door hatchback and as a four-door wagon. In the late '90s, a sports coupe version came out. The Ford Escort ZX2, with its flashy body and pumped-up engine, was manufactured in the US in 1997 and debuted as a 1998 model.
1980s: And then came the Escort, one of Ford's best-selling vehicles
Its predecessor, the Ford Pinto, unfortunately had to face some crucial blows during its time. It was confronted with quality and safety issues, and its reputation was marred by a publicized fuel tank defect. Ford made a rather successful comeback with the release of Pinto's successor, the Ford Escort. Compared to the Pinto, the Escort was designed with a modern front-wheel drive system. The vehicle came with independent suspension and rack and pinion steering and an overhead cam 4-cylinder engine. It was surely a winner as the Ford economy model became a top-selling car in America during the greater part of the '80s. It won the hearts of some Ford lovers and car enthusiasts because of its build quality and reliability.
1998-2003: Along came the Escort ZX2, a replacement to the sporty Escort GT
The third generation Escort came with a 2-door coupe to replace the old Escort GT. The ZX2, a sporty version of the Escort, was released in the market as a 1998 model. The coupe was designed with a flashier body and exterior and a more powerful engine--a 2.0-liter 16-valve "Zetec" engine. The Ford Escort ZX2 can churn out up to 130 horsepower and can go from 0 to 60 mph in just about 7.8 seconds.
As tuner models became a hit in the late '90s, Ford came out with the ZX2 S/R, a high-performance model to go head-to-head with other performance compact vehicles such as the Honda Civic Si and the Dodge Neon ACR. It made its first appearance in 1999 at SEMA's Import Auto Salon in Pomona. The optional S/R was more powerful than the ZX2. It could generate 10% more engine power, with a rate of 143 bhp (107 kW; 145 PS). The S/R package included more rigid suspension components, a more efficient intake, better braking power through rear disc brakes, a more solid clutch, and other enhancements.
In 2001, the Escort ZX2 was simply called the ZX2. The last units rolled out in 2003. In its final year, the ZX2 was designed with a new front fascia and 15-inch 5-spoke wheels. The deluxe and premium versions also featured an in-dash CD player. The Ford Escort was then replaced by the Ford Focus. In the new lineup, no other model took the place of the ZX2 coupe.