The Orion is based on the Ford Escort, but at the back, instead of the Escort's hatchback, the Orion features a separate trunk / boot. Visually the Orion's notch-back rear end and greater rear overhang make it readily distinguishable from its better selling sibling.
Orion Mark I
Ford Orion GL Mark IIn the early 1980s, Ford's model line-up and image was changing. The company's older saloon line-up was replaced mainly by hatchbacks, from the Escort to the Granada and the new Sierra (which replaced the Cortina). The Orion was designed to fill the market demand for a traditional four-door saloon, left by the demise of the Cortina. The Orion looked similar to a contemporary Escort at the front, but the rear of the body was totally different; the Orion had a long flat boot (making the car a three-box saloon design) rather than a hatchback or estate body like the Escort. Although the Orion's length was similar to that of the contemporary Ford Sierra, the latter had more rear legroom with the Orion having a larger boot.
Ford initially offered the Orion in only GL and Ghia trim levels, missing out on the very lowest specification levels available on the Escort. Only 1300 cc and 1600 cc CVH engine options were available (though with both carburettor and fuel injection options on the 1.6 Ghia). A lower specification L model was introduced in 1984 as was the option of a 1.6 diesel engine on L and GL models.
The Orion Ghia 1.6i standard features included central locking, sunroof, front sport seats, electric windows, rear head restraints, tachometer and an information binnacle informing the driver when the vehicle needed maintenance. All of these features were rare equipment on a small family car in the 1980s, giving the Orion upmarket pretensions.
The Orion 1.6i shared the same engine as the Escort XR3i and offered similar performance and handling without the insurance unfriendly tag that the XR badge started to command in the late 1980s. The 1.6i was topped by a luxury limited edition called the 1600E in 1989, the 1600E name harking back to the Mark II Ford Cortina 1600E as both were considered as decent performance and well-equipped saloon cars for the working person. The Orion 1600E was available in black, white and metallic grey and had RS alloys, wood cappings on the dashboard and doors, and grey leather seats. Only 1,600 were made, and only 1,000 of these had leather trim.
Eventually though, as the years went by, Ford brought the styling and engineering of the Orion closer to the Escort's and lower-specification models crept into the range along with equipment levels being brought together between the two cars.
Orion Mark II
In 1986, the Orion received the same facelift as the rest of the Escort range. The Mark II brought the option of anti-lock-brakes (ABS) and a heated front windscreen to the range. The CVH engines were upgraded and were now 'lean burn units' and various models in the range could run on unleaded fuel without modifications to the cylinder head or to the fuel system. Improved locks were fitted across the range, and a number of other improvements were carried out including new suspension and gearbox mounts, updated interior and trim changes, improved soundproofing and revised steering and suspension settings.
Orion Mark III
The third generation Orion had its début in September 1990, but received the similar media criticism that the Escort endured for its lack of design flair as well as the disappointing refinement of some of its engines — particularly the low powered 1.3 OHV and 1.4 CVH petrol units. As with the Escort, the arrival of the Zetec 16 Valve engines and suspension changes in 1992 improved the Orion's dynamic qualities.The Mk3 was identified at the front by white directional indicators and by a chrome bar that ran through the radiator grill. The range topping Orion Ghia Si (sports injection) had 130 bhp (97 kW) out of its 1.8L DOHC Zetec unit, making this the fastest production model Orion that Ford produced through the cars 10 year life.
Trim levels were:
- L (1992–1993), 1.8 diesel
- LX (1990–1993), 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 16v petrol, 1.8 diesel
- GLX (1990–1991), 1.3, 1.4, 1.6 petrol (dropped after 1991)
- Ghia (1990–1993), 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 16v petrol, 1.8 diesel
- Ghia Si (1992), 1.8 16v petrol, only available 92J / 92K plate versions.
In September 1993 Ford deleted the Orion nametag, and the Escort nameplate was used on all bodystyles. This was done in a move to keep the Escort in a high position on the sales charts, a move that Vauxhall had previously done with its Belmont in 1991
For details of the changes made to these later models, see the Ford Escort (European) article, from the section on the Ford Escort Mark Vb (1992–1995), onwards.
Sales of the Escort-badged saloon were not as strong as those achieved by the Orion, as saloons of this size continued to fall in popularity throughout the 1990s. It was discontinued in 1998 on the launch of the Focus saloon.
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