The Ford Sierra was a medium-size car built by Ford in Europe between 1982 and 1993. It replaced the Ford Cortina/Taunus, and was itself replaced by the Mondeo. (In New Zealand and South Africa, it was initially replaced by the Telstar). Its radical and polarising aerodynamic styling was ahead of its time and was a lasting influence, but more conservative buyers found it unappealing.
Possibly for this reason, and the early lack of a booted saloon, it never quite achieved the ubiquity of the Cortina, although sales were still strong; a total of 2,700,500 Sierras were made, mainly manufactured in Germany, Belgium, and the United Kingdom, although also assembled in Argentina, Venezuela, South Africa, and New Zealand.
The styling was first seen on the 1981 Probe III concept car. The good reception this received encouraged Ford management to go ahead with a production car with styling almost as challenging. This "aero" look influenced Fords worldwide; 1983's new Ford Thunderbird in North America introduced similar rounded, flowing lines, and many other new Fords of the time adopted the look. The aerodynamic features of the Sierra were essentially developed from those first seen in the Mk.3 Escort - the "Aeroback" boot lid stump was proved to reduce the drag coefficient of the body shell significantly, which was a class leading 0.34 at its launch.
3 door Sierra
At first, many found the design blob-like and difficult to accept after being used to the sharp-edged, straight-line styling of previous cars, and it picked up nicknames such as "jellymould" and "The Salesman's Spaceship" (the latter thanks to its status as a popular fleet car in the United Kingdom). Sales were slow at first. It was later in the Sierra's life that the styling began to pay off; ten years after its introduction, the Sierra's styling was not nearly as outdated as its contemporaries. As other manufacturers adopted similar aerodynamic styling, the Sierra looked more normal.
Early versions suffered from crosswind stability problems, which were addressed in 1985. These shortcomings saw a lot of press attention, and contributed to early slow sales.
In another departure from tradition, the Sierra was, at first, only available as a 3-door and 5-door hatchback and an estate car; no booted saloon was available. Ford found that some customers were more attached to the idea of a separate boot than they had thought, and this was addressed in 1987. In the UK, this model was called the Ford Sierra Sapphire This differed from the other Sierra models in having a traditional black grille, which only appeared in right hand drive markets. The 3-door Sierra was dropped in the UK in 1987.
Sapphire introduced in 1987
Sierras outside Europe
In South Africa, the local Sierra line-up featured both the hatchback and wagon. The restyled Sierra range, introduced in 1988, differed from its European equivalent by featuring the traditional black grille of the Sierra Sapphire sedan (known simply in South Africa as the Sapphire) on the hatchback and wagon. (Later, the grille would feature on these models in Europe).
The Sierra was replaced by the Telstar in 1993. Samcor, which assembled Ford models under licence after Ford had divested from the country, was already assembling the smaller Laser and Meteor, alongside the Mazda 323, on which they were based, as well as an earlier version of the Mazda 626. Ford's badge engineering of Mazda’s proved less successful in South Africa than in other markets, and the Telstar was replaced by the Mondeo in 1998.
Whereas British buyers rued the absence of a saloon or sedan version of the Sierra, in New Zealand, it was absence of an estate, or station wagon, that customers missed, when Ford New Zealand replaced the Cortina with the Ford Telstar range. This led to Ford importing completely knocked-down (CKD) kits of the Sierra wagon for local assembly in 1984. The wagon was offered in 1•6, 2•0 and 2•0 Ghia models initially, and proved a strong seller. In one month in 1987, the face lifted Ford Sierra — by then a single 2•0 station wagon model — was the country's top-selling car range.
However, Ford cancelled the Sierra once Mazda, which developed the Telstar, could offer a station wagon. The Telstar Wagon, while popular, never reached the Sierra's heights, especially its competition successes overseas. Further reasons could be customers' knowledge of the Telstar's Japanese roots (European cars being perceived as superior, never mind the Telstar's more modern mechanicals), and that the equivalent Mazda 626 Wagon offered a considerably longer warranty at a similar price.
Relative rejection of the Telstar forced Ford to import completely built-up (CBU) premium models built in Genk, Belgium from 1990: the Sierra 2•0 GLX Wagon, the Sierra Sapphire 2•0 Ghia and the XR4x4 were part of this range. The advertising copy read, 'Introducing the new car that needs no introduction.' However, a relatively high price did not help—the Wagon began at over NZ$31,000—and production gaffes in the launch brochure showed cars with no steering wheels. Furthermore, any marketing boosts Ford could have gained through Group A touring car racing were well and truly over with the Escort Cosworth becoming the company's standard-bearer in competition (and the Escort, meanwhile, was absent from the New Zealand market).
The Sierra was withdrawn from the New Zealand market in 1992, and it would be another five years before its European successor the Mondeo would arrive there.
In Argentina, the Sierra was offered in three and five-door hatchback and station wagon body styles, but the face lifted post-1987 versions were not built. The range continued with a Merkur XR4Ti-like grille until 1992. The 1•6 L four-cylinder and 2•3 L V6 were offered, in GL, Ghia and XR4 trims (three-door only). The station wagon was called the Sierra Rural—Rural being used for Argentinean Fords in the same way Turnier is in Germany.
Unlike many of its rivals, the Sierra retained rear wheel drive, albeit with modern, fully independent rear suspension, departing from the Cortina's live axle.
In the beginning the Sierra used engines and gearboxes from the Taunus/Cortina. The engines were of two types, the OHC Ford Pinto engine in 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0 litre displacements, and the V6 "Cologne" engine (in 2.3 and 2.8 litre capacities). Towards the end of the 1980s the Pinto engine began to be phased out and in the UK replaced with the CVH engine first seen in the Escort, and also the DOHC engine (a twin cam version of the Pinto unit) in 1989. Both models used the Type N gearbox that had been used in the Cortina, which was later superseded by the MT75 unit.
XR4i and other sporting models
In 1983 the high-performance XR4i version was introduced. It utilised a tuned version of the 2.8i V6 engine and sported a restyled version of the 3-door Sierra body shell. The double rear spoiler and curious multi-pillared rear windows were considered over-styled by some prospective buyers and the car never achieved the cult status of the smaller Fiesta XR2 and Escort XR3i. A version of the XR4i was sold in the United States as the Merkur XR4Ti, Merkur being Ford's brand name in the US and Canada for German-sourced Ford models. In South Africa, there was a 3.0 litre V6 version, called the XR6; while a limited run of 250 eight-cylinder XR8s was made in South Africa for saloon car racing homologation in 1984.
Sierra RS Cosworth
In 1985 the XR4i was replaced by the XR4x4, which was based on the five-door hatchback, had four-wheel drive and was powered by a 2.8 litre V6 engine. By the end of its production in 1990, 23,540 had been produced.
Argentina retained the XR4i for some years after it was deleted in Europe in 1985.
A special version called the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth was also produced based on a three door Sierra with the dashboard from the North American Merkur. It was designed by Ford's Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) group and made in Ford's Genk factory in Belgium. It was launched in July 1986 and only 5545 were made. The RS Cosworth used a 2.0 DOHC engine with Garret T3 turbocharger and intercooler. In 1987, it was superseded by the 224 bhp Cosworth RS500, of which only 500 were produced. Other revisions to the RS500 included uprated brakes and modified front and rear spoilers (a second smaller rear spoiler was added beneath the large "whale-tail"). Racing versions of the Cosworth were highly successful in European touring car and rally championships through the late 1980s.
In 1988, a new Cosworth was produced which was based on the Sierra Sapphire saloon. 11,000 were produced until it was replaced in 1990 by a four-wheel drive version, the Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth 4x4, of which 9,250 were built. Its replacement came in the form of the Escort RS Cosworth which appeared in 1992, which used a shortened and developed version of the Sierra platform and running gear but clothed with an Escort-esque body shell and the return of the whale-tail spoiler.
Changes during production life
In 1987, the Sierra was given some minor styling revisions (the windows were slightly enlarged, while the front-end treatment was tweaked), and a sedan version was introduced. A pick-up truck version was also introduced in 1988, to replace the Cortina-based P1000 imported from South Africa. Some detail styling changes were made in 1990, when the dashboard styling was freshened up, the front end featuring white lense indicators and the rear-end given smoked rear lamp lenses. UK production of the Sierra ceased, with right hand drive production moving to Belgium.
By the early 1990s however, it had become clear that the Sierra had fallen out of step technologically against modern Japanese rivals which offered multi-valve engines, multi-link rear suspension and front wheel drive. All of these features would appear on the Sierra's long awaited replacement, the Mondeo, which was unveiled at the end of 1992 and launched the following March.