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1997 - 2003 Ford Escort & ZX2

1997 Ford Escort Sedan

Redesigned subcompact Escorts went on sale in late May 1996, as early '97 models. The similar Mercury Tracer underwent nearly identical surgery. Buyers of the latest model got fresh styling, a new engine--and fewer body-style choices than before. Wheelbase was unchanged at 98.4 inches, but overall length increased nearly four inches. All body panels were new, as was the interior design.Two body styles went on sale initially: a 4-door sedan and a 4-door station wagon. Ford dropped the 2- and 4-door hatchback body styles of the previous generation. Only one engine was offered: a new 110-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard, with 4-speed automatic optional. Dual airbags were standard; antilock braking (with rear discs instead of drums) optional.

1998 Ford Escort & ZX2: The previous base-model sedan now wore an LX label and an upgrade model called the SE was added. Arriving in spring 1997, as an early '98 model, was a sporty 2 door Escort ZX2 coupe. The ZX2 was offered in two trim levels, dubbed "Cool" and "Hot." Though it shared the regular Escort's chassis, the ZX2 had unique exterior and interior styling, sportier suspension settings, and the more powerful 130 horsepower DOHC 2.0L Zetec engine originally used in the Contour. The sedan had a "Sport" package which consisted of  an upgrade in gauges, alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, a chrome exhaust tip, and "Sport" decals.

1999 Ford Escort & ZX2: Changes were modest this year, including a standard inside trunk release for Escort LX models and the ZX2 coupe. An antitheft system went into the Escort SE and Hot ZX2. The backup lights on the sedan were moved into the tail lights.

2000 Ford Escort & ZX2: Introduction of a brand-new subcompact Focus for 2000 caused Ford to cut back on the old Escort. Wagons disappeared, leaving only a 4-door sedan and the ZX2 coupe, the latter consolidated into a single model with a firmer suspension and the 130-horsepower engine. Later in the model year, the ZX2 was to get a performance S/R option that included an upgraded suspension, bigger wheels/tires, and yellow paint.

2001 Ford Escort & ZX2: Escort was dropped for public sales and ZX2 dropped its sporty S/R option package. An emergency trunk release was added. The sedan was still produced for fleet buyers through the 2002 model year.

2002 Ford Escort/ZX2: Base Standard models were joined for 2002 by Deluxe and Premium trim levels. Deluxe and Premium offered an optional sunroof. Available only on Premium was leather upholstery and a 6-disc, in-dash CD player.

2003 Ford Escort ZX2: The car was restyled in the front but stayed the same in the rear. The engine's torque was improved to 135 ft/lbs.

1998 Ford Escort Sport1998 Ford Escort Sport

Because the new Escort weighs about 120 pounds more than its predecessor, the increase of 22 horsepower does not result in inspiring performance. Acceleration is merely adequate, as before, but the new engine is smoother and quieter. The automatic transmission feels smoother with the new engine, and also downshifts faster for passing and merging. We averaged 23.9 mpg in an LX sedan with automatic, but most of that trial consisted of urban driving. On the highway, we'd expect well over 30 mpg. Manual-transmission Escorts feel livelier, as expected, and also get better gas mileage than cars with automatic.

A well-tuned suspension helps the Escort absorb bumps better than most subcompacts. Handling on sedans and wagons is competent rather than sporting, though steering feels natural in turns and its on-center sense contributes to stable cruising. Visibility is generally good, but the sedan's rear roof pillars are thick enough to block the driver's over-the-shoulder view. Road and wind noise are noticeable on the highway, but sedans and wagons aren't much noisier than a Honda Civic. The ZX2 coupe suffers from a lot more road and wind sound--enough to cause annoyance.

Partly due to the extra punch of its stronger engine, the ZX2 drives in a sporty manner. Here too, manual shift is quicker, but the 5-speed gets the engine turning at a buzzy 3000 rpm when traveling at 65 mph. We averaged an impressive 29 mpg with an automatic ZX2, which is at home on twisting roads, where grip and stability have proved to be good. Body roll in the ZX2 is well-controlled, too. Harder driving in a manual-shift ZX2 averaged 24.5 mpg.

Front head room is generous, even for tall occupants. Leg space is adequate for adults. Rear knee room is tight, as is head room in the coupe. The new dashboard puts gauges directly ahead of the driver. Audio and climate controls sit in an oval "integrated control panel." Interior storage is adequate, consisting of small door map pockets, a console with cupholders, and a small glovebox. Cargo space also ranks as adequate, and the wagon qualifies as a versatile hauler. The rear seatback folds for additional space, but does not lie totally flat.

1999 Escort ZX21999 Escort ZX2

All sedans and wagons used a variation of the CVH engine that has ben around for a long time. The new version was upped to 2.0L in displacement and given a "Split-Port Induction" intake system providing 110 horsepower and better driveability and fuel economy. The 1998 ZX2 got a bit more performance in the Zetec 2.0L DOHC engine, the same basic engine that had been used in the Ford Contour. It produced 130 horsepower. A 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission were the choices in the driveline.


Size liters/
cu. in.



EPA city/hgwy

Observed mileage

ohc I4

2.0 / 121



5-speed manual: 28/37

4-speed automatic: 26/34

5-speed manual: --

4-speed automatic: 23.9

dohc I4

2.0 / 121



5-speed manual: 26/33

4-speed automatic: 25/33

5-speed manual: 24.5

4-speed automatic: 29

2.0L Zetec
2.0L SPI

Vehicle Problems

Audio system: Electrical noise caused by the electric fuel pump in the tank can cause a buzzing noise when the AM band of the radio is selected. (1997-98)

Automatic transmission: The transmission may not engage right away when the car has been parked overnight because the torque converter drains down. (1997)

Doors: The dome light may come on while driving or fail to come on when the door is opened. (1997-98)

Fuel gauge: The gas gauge may have an error of about 1/8 tank, may drop from full too fast, and the tank may take fuel slowly due to a problem with the fuel sending unit or slosh module. (1998)

Hard starting: If the engine will not start or the cooling fan does not shut off in cold weather, the integrated relay control module needs to be replaced. (1997-98)

Oil leak: In cold weather, moisture can freeze in the PCV system. When the engine is started, the dipstick pops out of its tube and oil leaks out. (1997-98)

Vehicle noise: The blower motor may chirp or squeak at low speeds. This can be corrected with a replacement

NHTSA Recall History

1999: Manual-transmission shift pattern for some cars is not displayed.

2000: Seatbelt-buckle assemblies were not properly heat treated and do not pass the load-bearing requirement.

Escort Wagon

There was a station wagon version which was basically the rear sheetmetal of the 91-96 Escort wagon with the 1997 nose, interior, engine, and suspension upgrades.

2003 Escort ZX2

The 2003 ZX2 was given a new nose and a bit more power.

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