The Ford Sierra XR4i: A Child of the ‘80s

Paulius Gaurilčikas

It’s probably hard to imagine a Ford model that reflects the ‘80s more than the Sierra. In a decade when personal computers and video game consoles became reality and flying cars were supposed to be the very next thing, Ford could no longer make due in Europe with old-timers like the Cortina and the Taunus. The ‘80s demanded something completely new, and Ford managed to surprise even the biggest futurists.

The streamlined design of the Sierra that came out in 1982 seemed to embody the word ‘aerodynamics’. Ford really accentuated the sleekness of the body in its communication, claiming that the Sierra had 20 per cent less drag than its average competitor. Given, that same year Audi released the even more streamlined Audi 100 with a drag coefficient of 0.30 (compared to 0.32 for the Sierra), but visually the Sierra looked more futuristic than the Audi 100. However, that futuristic design was a disadvantage at first. More conservative buyers who were fine with the Cortina and the Taunus viewed the new Ford suspiciously.

So Ford had to use all of its marketing prowess to prove that this particular design was beneficial to the user, since at high speeds, the lower drag yields direct benefits in the form of reduced fuel consumption and noise. And in order to spike public interest in the new Sierra even more, Ford introduced the sporty XR4i model in 1983. The XR4i was a logical extension of the range of hot Ford models, consisting of the Fiesta XR2 and the Escort XR3. The XR4i was only offered with three doors, but it was different from the standard three-door versions, since the XR4i body had an additional window pillar. It also had a huge biplane rear spoiler that clearly testified to the fact that this sporty Sierra was a child of the ‘80s.

1983 Ford Sierra XR4i
1983 Ford Sierra XR4i
©Ford archive
Ford Sierra XR4i
Ford Sierra XR4i
©Ford archive

The Sierra XR4i not only looked good – it drove well too. The 2.8-litre Cologne V6 engine with Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical injection could produce 150 horsepower. That was nothing crazy, but let’s not forget that those were different times, and the Sierra weighed about the same as a new Fiesta does today (≈1,200 kg), so those 150 horsepower allowed it to go from 0 to 100 km/h in 8 seconds and hit a top speed of over 200 km/h.

1984 Ford Sierra XR4i
1984 Ford Sierra XR4i
©initialdave, Flickr
1984 Ford Sierra XR4i interior
1984 Ford Sierra XR4i interior
©Wikimedia Commons

The XR4i was only produced for a few years – until 1985. And during that time, they managed to sell 25,662 cars. And the most interesting thing is that from 1985 to 1989, it was continued in the United States as the Merkur XR4Ti. European brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes were becoming more and more popular in the United States at that time, so Ford decided to experiment and try to sell European models in America as if they were better, German-quality, Fords. The idea was not successful – the European Fords were pricey, and the history of the Merkur marque (‘Merkur’ means `Mercury' in German) ended that same year of 1989. The Merkur was different from the European XR4i – it had a smaller, 2.3-litre, 4-cylinder engine, but it was turbocharged, so it had a higher power output of 170 horsepower. In five years, 42,464 Merkur XR4Tis were sold in the US, which was much less than Ford had planned.

Ford Sierra XR4i
Ford Sierra XR4i
©Wikimedia Commons
Merkur XR4Ti
Merkur XR4Ti
©ilikewaffles11, Flickr

Meanwhile, Sierra sales in Europe had already taken off in 1985, so Ford decided to replace the XR4i with the newer XR4x4. As the name implies, it had four-wheel drive, and differently than the XR4i, a five-door hatchback came as standard (and an estate was even introduced later). This was a good move, since the five-door body style expanded the range of potential customers. There was also a three-door version of the XR4x4, but very few were produced. Incidentally, that additional pillar was abandoned in the three-door version in 1985, and from then on, all of the three-door models had the same design, with ‘normal’ side windows. The biplane spoiler was sacrificed after it was decided that five-door hatchback buyers wouldn’t understand it.

Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth
Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth
©Thomas's Pics, Flickr
1988 Ford Sierra RS500
1988 Ford Sierra RS500
©Sicnag, Flickr

And that was not the end for sporty Sierras. The Ford Sierra RS Cosworth went into production in 1986 – with rear-wheel drive and a 2-litre turbo engine producing over 200 horsepower, this was the most powerful version yet. Cosworth also made the most expensive Sierra version of all time – the RS500. This model was only sold in the UK and only 500 were produced. In 1988, the Cosworth sedan came out (which was later available as a 4x4 as well). So there’s definitely something to choose from in any price range for people who love sporty Sierras: the XR4i, the XR4x4, the Cosworth versions, or the Merkur XR4Ti, which is pure exotica in Europe. And South Africa even had the Sierra XR8, with a 5-litre V8 under the bonnet!

Ford Sierra XR4i
Ford Sierra XR4i
©Ford archive