From the October 1987 issue of Car and Driver.
You know the saw about racing improving the breed. Here’s a case where careful breeding has improved not only racing but also life on the street. The Ford Sierra RS Cosworth is a homologation special—a factory hot rod conceived and built solely to satisfy the FIA’s Group A rules. To qualify a car for competition in Group A, its manufacturer must produce at least 5000 cars with the same equipment within a year’s time. Thus the same high-powered hardware that Ford of Europe’s race and rally customers are bringing to the tracks and the forests of Group A has also been bred into this roadgoing RS edition. And because Group A racers are purpose-built from the ground up from steel tubing and plastic panels, virtually all of the 5000 production RSs have gone into the eager hands of the European public.
The spotlight has been glaring on Group A ever since the FIA knocked the hairy Group B cars out of contention for the World Rally Championship. The killer Bs’ combination of 500 or more horsepower, flyweight chassis, and, in most cases, four-wheel drive, was deemed unmanageable after a slew of competitors and unruly spectators were cut down in the heat of battle during the last few seasons. For 1987, the WRC is being contested by Group A cars only, and a number of manufacturers have scrambled to field competitive hardware.
Group B regulations produced some remarkable road cars—the Porsche 959, the Ferrari GTO, the Audi Quattro Sport, and the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16, to name a few—but they were available to the public only in limited numbers, because homologation required just 200 examples of each. Their Group A successors are now starting to spread their own influence about the globe, and into many more hands. At least one of them, the redoubtable BMW M3, will be sold in the U.S. Unfortunately, the Sierra RS Cosworth is not destined for sale here. (What Europe calls the Sierra, we know as the Merkur XR4Ti.) But when we learned that Ford had one in local service, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to wring it out on home turf.
Ford built the Sierra Cosworths at its plant in Genk, Belgium. Dressed up in its homologation-special garb, the RS Cosworth has a likable, jellybean bulbousness. The cooling slots in its nose, the plastic flares and rockers on its flanks, and the huge wing, trailing like a whale fluke on a grouper, bump its drag coefficient from 0.32 to 0.34 but provide functional benefits well worth the sacrifice in slipperiness.
Like the Merkur, the RS is powered by a four-cylinder engine that motivates the rear wheels through a conventional driveline. Created by Cosworth Engineering of England around a 2.0-liter Ford block, the engine’s Weber-Marelli electronics, port fuel injection, double overhead cams, sixteen valves, Garrett turbo, and air-to-air intercooler pump a whopping 201 horsepower from 122 cubic inches. Just as amazing, Cosworth’s sagacious turbo sizing, intake tuning, and combustion-chamber shaping, combined with eight pounds of boost, build bang faster than a firecracker. The engine sustains 80 percent of its peak torque of 204 pound-feet over a 4200-rpm-wide band. When the revs are anywhere but in the basement, this little monster pulls like a Percheron.
The 2700-pound Sierra RS leaves most V-8s sucking its wake. It rips from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and to the quarter-mile marker in 14.2 seconds at 98 mph. We measured a top speed of 142 mph (though Ford claims a terminal velocity 8 mph higher).
The RS leads off with deceptively mild manners, though providing a wee burp at idle every so often and an occasional bout of harmonic buzzing, just to remind you it’s special. As a group, homologation specials are never fully housebroken. Yet the Cosworth in our test car never overheated, fouled its plugs, or showed the slightest pique at pulling proletarian duty.
You cannot guess the depth of the RS Cosworth’s fury until you boot it into a rage. At idle, no fuss from beneath the hood betrays the muscle within. Drivers who fail to spy the Cosworth name beneath the 747-scale aero appendage (said to produce 45 pounds of downforce at 70 mph) figure this is just a Merkur in mascara. The fun comes from lighting the wick and glimpsing their shock in the mirror, in the sliver of rearward visibility that remains above big-wingus obscurus.
Sizable, fade-free four-wheel discs, vented in front and coupled to an antilock system developed jointly by Ford and Ate, snubbed our test RS to a stop from 70 mph in only 178 feet. Lumpy pavement and warped front rotors sometimes sent it snaking off on side trips, however, as if we had just cut into a conga line. Even when cruising politely, the steering, though flush with feel and full of poise on smooth pavement, often did a quick mambo over undulations.
The Sierra’s modish skin conceals a chassis that uses struts up front, a pair of semi-trailing arms in back, anti-roll bars at both ends, and coil springs all around. The RS wears 205/50VR-15 Dunlop D40s mounted on 7.0-by-15-inch alloy wheels, but their modest contact patches cannot mask the Sierra’s tail-happy tendency. The back snaps out if you back off sharply in hard corners. This final oversteer is generally predictable, so the initial understeer can be tapered into neutrality by easing the throttle as you sweep in, and then useful oversteer can be dialed up by toeing into the turbo, which delivers faster than Fed Ex. On convoluted roads with blind curves, though, the Sierra’s slice-and-dice tail tantrums can’t be trusted to make the most of its 0.81-g skidpad limit.
In compensation, the deep Recaro seats are fabulous. Although they lack the many adjustments offered by some lesser sport seats, their shaping is beautifully compromised. Nobody within C/D’s short-to-tall, skinny-to-broad ranks climbed out of the RS with anything but praise for its support system. Fine clutch, shifter, and throttle action and good wheel and pedal placement pull you in an office that’s perfect for handling serious business. Velour skin grips your own epidermis, and the back seat and the trim panels are covered to match the front. All very striking. And practical, even: the roomy rear seat is split one-third, two-thirds, one or both sides folding forward to stretch the already expansive luggage compartment.
The Sierra’s typical Ford ergonomics are outstanding, everything being shaped, textured, marked, and positioned to help. The single big internal shortcoming is that, depending upon your driving position, the smallish, leather-wrapped sport wheel may block the upper portions of the speedometer and the tachometer—but not the small boost gauge, which is inset in the tach.
Few test cars will be missed here at the Ann Arbor Haven for Profligate High Performance as much as Ford’s hairy but jovial answer to the rulemakers’ shuffle of the racing regs. Any kick-ass companion that heads for the hills with as much glorious energy as the Sierra RS Cosworth gets high marks in these hallowed halls. In fact, we’re beginning to think that “Group A” is a misnomer: this fierce and friendly road car gets an A-plus from us.
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