By Jeremy Cato
What’s in a name? In the case of the short-lived Ford ZX2 (1998-99), the “Z” stands for Zetec engine, “X” represents this car’s supposed appeal to Generation X buyers and the “2” is for two doors.
The Zetec part of that name should interest used car buyers; it’s what separates the ZX2 from other Ford Escorts. And, yes, the ZX2 is essentially an Escort with two doors and a short list of styling differences.
Remember, the normal Escort of the day was powered by a 110-horsepower four-banger, while the ZX2’s Zetec four-cylinder produced a healthy 130 horsepower. In fact, that engine came straight out of the base version of the since-discontinued Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique family sedan.
It’s a willing twin-cam four-banger with plenty of refinement. No, it’s not as powerful as the 150-hp. optional engine in the Chrysler Neon of that generation, but the Zetec is much less raucous when pushed to higher engine speeds.
With the Zetec mated to the standard five-speed manual transmission, you should be able to squeeze out 0-100 km/h times in the 9.0-second range of a two-year-old ZX2. The optional four-speed automatic will slow you down a click or two. On the other hand, smart transmission computer management was designed to slow the engine slightly during gear changes, making shift quality equal to many more expensive cars of similar vintage.
As for the car overall, the ZX2 arrived as a two-door coupe aimed at younger buyers who wanted more power and agility out of their everyday transportation — but who wanted it without sacrificing functionality. In other words, the designers aimed to make a coupe roomy enough for mountain bikes and the like.
So in the ZX2 you’re looking at a coupe almost exactly the same size as the Escort sedan, with a trunk just a tad smaller. But note the cargo space grows if you flip forward the split rear seatbacks.
Up front, things were conceived to be pretty good for the driver and passenger. For instance, there’s a sporty-looking instrument panel sweeping into the door panels. Used buyers might be very surprised by the quality of cabin materials. The ZX2 also came with two cupholders up front (a bit shallow, mind you) and a third in the rear-where backseat passengers will find their own heater ducts.
The front buckets were cushioned for long-riding comfort and the driver’s seat was made height adjustable for the convenience of shorter drivers. Seat comfort in back is okay and definitely usable, although Chrysler’s Neon gets the nod on roominess for cars this size.
The ZX2’s ride is controlled by the same basic suspension as Escort sedans and wagons, although it was tuned to deliver a firmer ride feel. The goal: sporty but not punishing. The steering was also tuned to be quicker and more precise than the four-door Escorts.
On the safety ledger, you’ll find dual airbags standard, but anti-lock brakes were optional, so be sure to investigate whether the used car you’re testing is ABS equipped.
Standard equipment of the day included tachometer, soft-touch instrument panel, console with cassette storage, AM/FM stereo radio, bolt-on wheel covers, color-keyed steering wheel and bodyside mouldings. Many, many ZX2 buyers also opted for a package of options that included air conditioning, dual power mirrors, front and rear carpet mats and driver’s door remote entry with panic alarm and trunk release. Odds are any used model you’re testing will come so equipped.
The ZX2 looks pretty good in a used coupe market that includes strong players from Honda, General Motors, Saturn and Chrysler. It’s quiet, versatile, comfortable, boasts a refined engine and the quality history is above average. Worth a look.