Compact car; Built in USA, Mexico
  • 2-door coupe
  • 4-door sedan
  • 4-door wagon
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,500 – $3,500*

1998 Ford Escort LX 4-door sedan

1998 Ford ZX2 2-door coupe

1998 Ford Escort LX 4-door sedan

1998 Ford Escort/ZX2 interior

1997 Ford Escort interior

  • Optional antilock brakes
  • Fuel economy
  • Price
  • Rear-seat room
  • Road noise (ZX2)
  • Wind noise (ZX2)

Sensible design, competent road manners, and reasonable prices put both Escort and Tracer high on our list of desirable subcompacts, but we’re less impressed by the noisier ZX2 coupe.


Redesigned subcompact Escorts went on sale in late May 1996, as early ’97 models. The similar Mercury Tracer underwent nearly identical surgery. Buyers of the latest model got fresh styling, a new engine–and fewer body-style choices than before. Wheelbase was unchanged at 98.4 inches, but overall length increased nearly four inches. All body panels were new, as was the interior design.Two body styles went on sale initially: a 4-door sedan and a 4-door station wagon. Ford dropped the 2- and 4-door hatchback body styles of the previous generation. Only one engine was offered: a new 110-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard, with 4-speed automatic optional. Dual airbags were standard; antilock braking (with rear discs instead of drums) optional.

Yearly Updates

1998 Escort/ZX2
The previous base-model sedan now wore an SE label. Arriving in spring 1997, as an early ’98 model, was a sporty Escort ZX2 coupe. The ZX2 was offered in two trim levels, dubbed “Cool” and “Hot.” Though it shared the regular Escort’s chassis, the ZX2 had unique exterior and interior styling, and sportier suspension settings.
1999 Escort/ZX2
Changes were modest this year, including a standard inside trunk release for Escort LX models and the ZX2 coupe. An antitheft system went into the Escort SE and Hot ZX2.
2000 Escort/ZX2
Introduction of a brand-new subcompact Focus for 2000 caused Ford to cut back on the old Escort. Wagons disappeared, leaving only a 4-door sedan and the ZX2 coupe, the latter consolidated into a single model with a firmer suspension and the 130-horsepower engine. Later in the model year, the ZX2 was to get a performance S/R option that included an upgraded suspension, bigger wheels/tires, and yellow paint.
2001 ZX2
Escort was dropped altogether and ZX2 dropped its sporty S/R option package. An emergency trunk release was added.
2002 ZX2
Base Standard models were joined for 2002 by Deluxe and Premium trim levels. Deluxe and Premium offered an optional sunroof. Available only on Premium was leather upholstery and a 6-disc, in-dash CD player.
2003 ZX2
Torque increased by 8 lb-ft to 135. Other changes include new front bumpers with integrated fog-lamp cutouts, new radios, and revised wheels and exterior colors. ZX2 did not return for 2004.


transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

All sedans and wagons carried an overhead-cam 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, making 110 horsepower. The 1998 ZX2 got a more potent dual-overhead-cam 2.0-liter four, producing 130 horsepower. A 5-speed manual gearbox was standard on all models; 4-speed automatic transmission optional.

ohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.0/121
Engine HP 110
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 125
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.0/121
Engine HP 130
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 127-135
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic

Road Test

Because the new Escort weighs about 120 pounds more than its predecessor, the increase of 22 horsepower does not result in inspiring performance. Acceleration is merely adequate, as before, but the new engine is smoother and quieter. The automatic transmission feels smoother with the new engine, and also downshifts faster for passing and merging. We averaged 23.9 mpg in an LX sedan with automatic, but most of that trial consisted of urban driving. On the highway, we’d expect well over 30 mpg. Manual-transmission Escorts feel livelier, as expected, and also get better gas mileage than cars with automatic.

A well-tuned suspension helps the Escort absorb bumps better than most subcompacts. Handling on sedans and wagons is competent rather than sporting, though steering feels natural in turns and its on-center sense contributes to stable cruising. Visibility is generally good, but the sedan’s rear roof pillars are thick enough to block the driver’s over-the-shoulder view. Road and wind noise are noticeable on the highway, but sedans and wagons aren’t much noisier than a Honda Civic. The ZX2 coupe suffers from a lot more road and wind sound–enough to cause annoyance.

Partly due to the extra punch of its stronger engine, the ZX2 drives in a sporty manner. Here too, manual shift is quicker, but the 5-speed gets the engine turning at a buzzy 3000 rpm when traveling at 65 mph. We averaged an impressive 29 mpg with an automatic ZX2, which is at home on twisting roads, where grip and stability have proved to be good. Body roll in the ZX2 is well-controlled, too. Harder driving in a manual-shift ZX2 averaged 24.5 mpg.

Front head room is generous, even for tall occupants. Leg space is adequate for adults. Rear knee room is tight, as is head room in the coupe. The new dashboard puts gauges directly ahead of the driver. Audio and climate controls sit in an oval “integrated control panel.” Interior storage is adequate, consisting of small door map pockets, a console with cupholders, and a small glovebox. Cargo space also ranks as adequate, and the wagon qualifies as a versatile hauler. The rear seatback folds for additional space, but does not lie totally flat.


Model Tested: 1998 Ford Escort LX sedan

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 3
Fuel Economy - 7
Ride Quality - 4
Steering/Handling - 4
Quietness - 4


Controls/Materials - 5
Room/Comfort Front - 4
Room/Comfort Rear - 3
Cargo Room - 2


Value - 5

Total: 41


2-door coupe
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
98.4 175.2 67.4 52.3
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
11.8 12.8 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.0 35.1 42.5 33.4
4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
98.4 174.7 67.0 53.3
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
12.8 12.8 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.0 36.7 42.5 34.0
4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
98.4 172.7 67.0 53.9
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
63.4 12.8 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.7 39.1 42.5 34.0
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 Escort ZX2 2-door coupe


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Front Passenger Injury - N/A

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 1
Rear Passenger Injury - 4


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 113
Injury 131
Theft 67

Trouble Spots

Automatic transmission
Description: The transmission may not engage right away when the car has been parked overnight because the torque converter drains down. (1997)
Description: The dome light may come on while driving or fail to come on when the door is opened. (1997-98)
Fuel gauge
Description: The gas gauge may have an error of about 1/8 tank, may drop from full too fast, and the tank may take fuel slowly due to a problem with the fuel sending unit or slosh module. (1998)
Hard starting
Description: If the engine will not start or the cooling fan does not shut off in cold weather, the integrated relay control module needs to be replaced. (1997-98)
Heater core
Description: Installing a restrictor in the heater inlet hose may repair heater cores leaks. (1985-2003)
Oil leak
Description: In cold weather, moisture can freeze in the PCV system. When the engine is started, the dipstick pops out of its tube and oil leaks out. (1997-98)
Audio system
Description: Electrical noise caused by the electric fuel pump in the tank can cause a buzzing noise when the AM band of the radio is selected. (1997-98)
Vehicle noise
Description: The blower motor may chirp or squeak at low speeds. This can be corrected with a replacement motor. (1997)

Recall History

Description: Certain TRW driver’s seat belts made on December 6 and 9, 2002, for replacement use, exhibit a no-lock condition and may not provide adequate protection in a crash.
1999 w/S/R option
Description: Manual-transmission shift pattern for some cars is not displayed.
Description: Seatbelt-buckle assemblies were not properly heat treated and do not pass the load-bearing requirement.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.

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