Curbside Outtake: 1989 Merkur XR4Ti – Last Merk Standing

Driving my younger son to buy groceries every couple of weeks has its automotive benefits. The most recent wait in the parking lot yielded the quite rare 1984 Chrysler Laser Turbo. What a coincidence that on the previous trip a similarly now-rare sporty turbocharged coupe would be sitting in almost the exact same spot. This is definitely the last of its kind in these parts.

We’ve had two CCs on Bob Lutz’ ill-fated attempt to dress up a European Ford Sierra and position it against the hottest imports from Germany and Japan at the time (links below), so I’m not going to repeat the full sad story here. It sort of sounded like a plausible idea, especially since the Sierra had a very competent chassis with four wheel independent suspension. The European Ford Sierra in top XR4 trim sported a 150hp version of the “Cologne” 2.8 and 2.9 L V6, a perfectly capable and smooth mill for the job at hand, which over there was essentially to be a Capri update.

But federalizing the V6 was going to rob it if too much power, so in went a 170 hp version of Ford’s turbocharged 2.3 L four (145 hp with automatic). This engine was built in Brazil, and was also used in the T-Bird Turbo Coupe and Mustang SVO, although with an intercooler (after 1985 in the TC). Presumably there wasn’t enough room under the hood of the XR4Ti for one. Which I think they must have raised the boost some over the SVO to make 170 hp, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, as we all know, this was not exactly the smoothest of big fours, but it did make the XR4Ti a quite quick number in 1985 when it first appeared here. C&D claimed a 7.0 second run to 60 in their first test, but that was likely a ringer. A second test yielded 7.9 seconds. Road & Track magazine’s test resulted in a 0-60 time of 7.9 seconds and reached the end of the quarter mile in 16.0 seconds. Lateral acceleration was measured at 0.767 Gs and the car ran through the R&T slalom at a speed of 59.7 mph. Keep in mind that the BMW 3 Series at the time had no genuine sporty engines; either the weak 101 hp 1.8 or the 121 hp 2.7 eta in the 325e, which optimized for efficiency.

The XR4Ti got consistently mixed reviews generally. Its performance and handling numbers were mostly good, but the braking was not up to snuff, with rear drums and no ABS. The ride was a bit too soft for some, but that could also be seen as an asset, depending on use. Was it terrific or an embarrassment for Ford?

One of the negatives was the interior, which had been designed for the mass market Sierra. That included a totally hard and shiny instrument panel surround. But the seats were supportive.

In 1988, the polarizing bi-pane rear spoiler was replaced with this simpler single one. And according to its license plate, this is a last-year 1989 model, of which a mere 2,870 were sold.

And here’s an interesting factoid: the US-market XR4Ti was actually assembled at Karmann, from panels shipped from Ford’s Genk plant. Maybe they should have called it the Karmann-Ghia?