Remember when Ford made an all-wheel drive hatchback with a V6?
By Sam Sheehan / Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Winter is coming. We've entered the time of year when dependability and usability are likely to be prized beyond all other considerations. Perfect time to peruse a Sierra XR4x4, then. Ford's all-wheel drive hatch was developed to the extend the usability of its household name with a brace of driven axles and a tough, naturally aspirated V6. So popular did the concept prove in its day that the XR4x4 superseded the rear-wheel drive XR4 it was supposed to be sold alongside. It seemed Brits of the eighties were won over by the notion of added traction.
You can understand why, given that back in 1985, when the XR4x4 was first shown with its twin viscous differential-equipped driveline at the Geneva motor show, the four-wheel drive segment was comparatively tiny. This was four years before the Land Rover Discovery arrived with its rugged but road friendly demeanour, and a decade before the rise of SUVs really began. The XR4x4 promised familiar hatch usability with added year-round dependability in a familiar package. It was unique.
The car packed a punch, too. With Ford's 2.8-litre Cologne V6 provided the early three-door with 162hp at 5,700rpm, meaning the Sierra XR4x4 could hit 60mph in 8.5 seconds – ranking it alongside some of the era's most interesting hatchbacks, including the much smaller 1.6 Peugeot 205 GTI. Obviously, the Ford's ambition for the Sierra was different, but its rear-bias all-wheel drive system meant there was fun to be had in the 1,262kg machine. Despite a premium, it trod firmly on the toes of the XR4.
In 1989, the Cologne motor grew to 2.9-litres and gained an electronic fuel injection system, but thanks to emissions restrictions and a 30kg gain in weight, the facelifted XR4x4 had 152hp and was a tenth slower to 60. Still, the XR4x4 ranked second only to the Sierra Sapphire Cosworth in the range, and its improved V6 was considered to be a sizeable step up in performance over the pre-facelift car. Along with the five-door bodyshell, Ford's sprightly machine was considered to be a comprehensive offering that left higher-grade executive alternatives like the E30 3 Series looking underequipped – at least in the driveline department. The rare 325ix notwithstanding.
Unlike BMW's first foray into the world of all-wheel drive saloons, the XR4x4 wasn't a leftfield choice but rather a significant contributor to the Sierra's global success. Nowadays, healthy Sierras are coming out of the woodwork as people appreciate prominent models from Ford's back catalogue, and – as you'd expect given the backstory – those with Ford's all-wheel drive hardware are second only to its most sporting or Cosworth-badged stuff.
Take the car we've found here, which is in like new state with only 22,404 miles on the clock, equating to an average of just 746.8 miles per year since it was built in 1990. It comes with extensive history paperwork: we know it was supplied new to Ford main dealer, Taits of Hemsworth Ltd, and registered on 1st August 1990 for £15,271. That figure included the car's optional equipment, with everything said to be in working order to this day; even the dealership welcome letter sent to the original owner comes with the car. It looks like a Blue Oval aficionado's perfect winter hack, albeit one that is likely to never actually see action in winter. Still, it's nice to know it could handle to snow should it theoretically have to, isn't it?
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