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FORD PROBE 24 VALVE

Ford's new Probe has been hailed by some, notably the mainstream press, as the "new" Ford Capri, a claim that could not be further removed from reality, for, whereas all but a very few Capris had the looks without the motive power or handling capabilities, the Probe is a serious sporting coupe which is lightyears ahead of it's forerunner. It's a bit like comparing the Wright brothers' Flyer with a Boeing 777 !

Two versions are available - with 2 litre 16 valve and the Mazda derived 24 valve 2.5 litre engines - both of which I have briefly driven, and been impressed by. For this week's test I drove the 24 valve for a couple of days, long enough to assess it in depth and come to the conclusion that it's a fine car that's very tightly priced and aimed at a very well defined market sector, that of families with young children who want, and can afford, a means of transport a little more stylish than the average family saloon without the loss of practicality that buying a sports car often means.

While not too radical the Probe is a good looking and very svelte coupe that combines it's looks with a very sensible amount of interior space. There's surprisingly good head and legroom in a bright, airy cabin which makes it a very real 2+2, lots of room for children in the back or even for 2 adults over reasonable distances combined with a very large load area for such a car, the 50/50 split seats accessing a maximum 1 cubic metre loadspace only slightly marred by having a very high load lip.

The 24 valver, at well under £20,000 is equipped as well as cars costing twice the price, the spec list including dual airbags, ABS, cruise control - slightly uncommon with a manual gearbox but it works well -, power roof, windows and mirrors, height adjustable, speed sensitive power steering, an immobiliser and alarm, a fine stereo and alloy wheels.

The cabin is very comfortable with excellent multi adjustable seats facing a curvy dash and a centre console angled toward the driver's eyeline, the dash containing clear instruments and simple but effective switchgear, all well placed, a very well thought out driving area.

Yet again, the 24 valve engine proves that the V6 power plant layout is perfectly suited to long legged sporting cars, for this Mazda derived unit is light, compact, very quiet and refined yet powerful, the 165 bhp instantly available under the right foot and providing terrific urge when needed, power quietly and smoothly developed and accompanied by a wonderful engine note, it almost sings, must be that Chris Rea advert.

This lovely power plant is well backed up by the usual quality Ford gearbox, in this case a slick 5 speeder that is precise but needs a slightly firm push to use quickly.

Equally as good as the engine department is the handling package, all independent suspension with substantial roll bars providing a comfortable yet taut ride with little roll and very good grip which, in extremis, slips gently and predictably into understeer with no nasty snap. Just a trace of torque steer is evident but easily controlled and the speed sensitive power steering is generally well weighted and informative, although a tad vague at speed in the straight ahead position, and excellent stopping power is provided by vented discs with ABS.

Ford have got the Probe just about right, the car feels good immediately you climb in and that impression of rightness grows as you spend time with it, any niggles being very minor indeed. It's a well thought out and well engineered car, an excellent driver's car that will satisfy enthusiasts without sacrificing much family car usefulness and the bottom line is that the bottom line is very sharp, for the Probe is a real bargain.

FACT FILE
  • PRICE £19350
  • TOP SPEED 137 MPH
  • 0-60 8 SECONDS
  • FUEL CONSUMPTION 23 [URBAN CYCLE] 32 [CONSTANT 56 MPH]
Pro's and Con's

For - Lovely engine, Good looks, A real 2+2, A bargain!

Against  - Slightly vague steering, Minor torque steer

First Published 1994 - Article © Graham Benge 2007

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