1998 Ford Escort ZX2


Erick Loven

The "all new" Escort ZX2 is Ford's replacement for the aging Escort GT. Following the latest revamp of the Escort line of cars, Ford has changed the name of the sports model attempting to get a second look from buyers. The ZX2 is aimed towards younger consumers who are looking for sporty looks and affordable pricing. This pits the ZX2 against the likes of the Cavalier Z24 and Dodge Neon R/T.

We drove the ZX2 to see how it measures up.


The ZX2 is only available in a 2-door coupe. The redesigned coupe still resembles the Escort cousin, but adds a low, open grill and modified headlights for a unique look. The doors on the ZX2 have lost their window frames and all four wheels are accentuated with molded mud flaps. One noticeable difference is the absence of the hatchback in favor of a trunk. The overall body of the ZX2 has been smoothed out. Ford brags a low 0.33 drag coefficient in wind tunnel tests.

Ford refers to the standard trim series as "Cool" and the extras as the "Hot" package. The upgrade buys you aluminum rims, air conditioning, and an AM/FM cassette. Bigger spenders can add a power moonroof, 6-disc CD changer, 15-inch aluminum rims, and a rear spoiler. The ZX2 starts around $12,000 and all the extras will run you over $16,000. Our test vehicle priced out at $14,900.


Ford's 2.0L Zetec 4 cylinder pulls up at 130 hp at 5750 rpm with 127 ft. lb. of torque at 4250 rpm. It's equipped with dual overhead cams in a very compact engine design that redlines around 6500 rpm.

Two transmissions are available: a 5-speed manual with overdrive or a 4-speed automatic with overdrive. The automatic is good for 25 city and 33 highway, while the manual ekes out an extra mile per gallon to reach 26 city.

Body/ suspension

The chassis is based on a unibody construction with a separate front subframe. Independent MacPherson struts with coil springs grace the front suspension. The rear utilizes Quadralink arms and a stabilizer bar from left to right. Four wheel ABS brakes are extra with front discs and rear drums, which have diagonally linked hydraulics front to rear. Four-wheel disc brakes are not an option.


Inside, the standard bucket seats can be upgraded to have integrated head restraints and extra pockets in back. Saved from the old Escorts is the familiar 60/40 split-fold back seat. The radio and climate controls are merged into the familiar oval, which Ford uses in several new cars. The instrument panel includes a tachometer at no extra charge, and 3 cup holders can be found on the center console. Driver and passenger side airbags are standard equipment.


The styling of the Escort ZX2 is smooth and low. The open grill resembles that of an Eclipse and the modified headlights give it a meaner, decidedly more aggressive look. The added spoiler and aluminum rims make it look like a real sports car. It looks nothing like the Escorts of old. The lack of a hatchback model is a real disappointment to those of us who stop at every garage sale we see. It seems rather pointless for Ford to have kept the fold down rear seats standard and not have the hatchback option.

The control panel is well laid out. The climate controls and radio have large, easy to use knobs and buttons. The ventilation options give pictorial representations of the airflow. All of these controls are well within reach.

The new front buckets are somewhat lacking in adjustments. Although they have lumbar support for the lower back, they do not have any adjustment for that support. If the lumbar support is not in the correct position for your specific back, it could make for a terribly uncomfortable ride.

Under the hood you can find the 2.0L Zetec engine. Everything is very compact and at first glance appears to be nearly impossible to work on. However, all the major fluid points are conveniently located at the top and with Ford's 100,000 mile first scheduled tune-up, maintenance should not be a problem.


The ZX2 is relatively quiet when it comes to road noise, but it lacks a thick firewall. As a result, the engine noise is very prominent while driving. Perhaps Ford is attempting to push the sports car image by making you hear the engine. The ZX2 gives a surprisingly gentle ride. The suspension feels tight and responsive during turns. Yet it still has enough give to soften railroad tracks and potholes.

The Zetec provides plenty of power for the ZX2. The 130-hp engine pulls the 2500 lb. car with little hesitation. Keeping the front tires from spinning can be a trick during quick starts. The tires will also chirp frequently when shifting to second gear. Torque steer is noticeable during heavy acceleration as the car definitely pulls to the right.

The 5-speed manual has a mushy feel to the gear shifter. There is quite a bit of play in gear, and shifting is not as clean or crisp, as it should be for a sports car. However, it is possible to drive the ZX2 slowly and smoothly. The easy-to-use clutch is very helpful. It has a rather small travel and forgives a stuttering foot.

The rack and pinion power steering is fun to use. Quick lane changes in traffic are no problem since the wheel only turns 3.1 times lock to lock.



FWD Front Engine, Coupe

2-Door only

Unitized, with isolated front subframe

$11,900 empty

$14,900 as driven


Zetec 4 cylinder



9.6:1 compression




6500rpm redline


5-speed manual OD

4-speed automatic OD

Final Drive Ratio:

manual - 4.10

automatic - 3.74


Head Room F: 38.0in

R: 35.1in

Leg Room F: 42.5in (max)

R: 33.4in (min)

Hip Room F: 51.1in

R: 45.1in

Storage Volume: 11.8cu. ft. (with back seat up)


Weight: 2478lbs

Width: 67.4in

Height: 52.3in


Front Suspension: Independent MacPherson strut front wheel drive with strut-mounted coil spring

Rear Suspension: Independent, Quadralink with stabilizer bar


Type: Power rack and pinion

Turns lock to lock: 3.1

Turning circle: 31.5 ft


Front: power front disc

Rear: power rear drum

Power Assist Type: ABS power four wheel brake system (optional)

Wheels & Tires:


Standard: P185/65R14 BSW

Optional: P185/60R15 BSW (Hot)

Wheel Size & Type:

Standard: Stamped steel 14 x 5.5

Optional: Aluminum 14 x 5.5 (Hot)

Optional: Aluminum 15 x 5.5 (Hot)

Fuel Economy

5-speed manual:

city - 26mpg

highway - 33mpg

4-speed automatic:

city - 25mpg

highway - 33mpg


In summary, the Ford Escort ZX2 is a fun little sports car with a surprising amount of power. It completely drops the old Escort stigmas and gives a zippy ride at a relatively low price. The best characteristics of the ZX2 are the sleeker design and the 130-hp Zetec engine. Between the looks of this sporty car and the power to back it up, it will turn quite few heads. Unfortunately Ford decided to drop the useful hatchback option. That, along with the wanting seats may keep it out of my garage.