Its not an uncommon opinion among petrol heads that the toy cars you have as a child seem to have a mild but pervasive influence on the cars you come to love as an adult. I have no instinctive draw toward the XR4X4 - I've never really seen the point in them, I've never been much of a fast Ford nut anyway and most Sierra's have turned to rust or modder-fodder by now. And yet when I saw this gleaming red 1990 example in the classifieds today, I was entranced - all thanks to a small yellow and black Matchbox XR4X4 that spent many a tortuous day in my childhood pockets, slowly forming a glutenous mass with mangled bits of chocolate and dubious lint particles.
Just like that toy, there is something strangely appealing about this rather supine Sierra. Coming along in 1985, just a year before the iconic RS Cosworth, the XR4X4 was doomed to play second fiddle in memory - and being a bit, well, 'wet' didn't help. But whilst a nice Cossie will still set you back well-upwards of £10k, this apparently-tidy example of a rare breed will set you back less than a tenth of that. Admittedly it does lack some of the Cosworth's perks such as, er, the power, looks, exclusivity (only around 6000 RS Cossies were ever made) and reportedly most of the handling finesse - but think of the positives.
It only had 160bhp to its name, supplied by a silky-smooth 2.9-litre EFi V6 (the 2.8-litre Capri lump in earlier models). But those were different days - with no need for heavy safety gubbins the later XR4X4 only put 1262kg on the kerb, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of 126.78 bhp/tonne. This gave the XR4X4 a respectable 0-60mph time of 8.5 seconds and 122mph flat-out, plus 159 lb ft of torque helping to make this an established motorway cruiser. And with the glow of Audi Quattros and group B dictating fashions at the time, the Sierra ended up with a permanent four-wheel drive system that reports suggest was great on loose surfaces, and even up for a four-wheel drift or two.
Aesthetically it was nothing special, but the XR4X4 did get treated to a subtley masculating bodykit, smart alloys and a wee boot spoiler. Just as dynamically the car was an odd fusion of executive cruiser crossed with four-wheel drive aspiring rally scrabbler, the styling seemed to carefully tread that line between smart executive saloon and sporty special, and we think its aged pretty well in a retro sort of way.
A pricey RS Cosworth isn't the only alternative. A later Sapphire Cosworth is a good bet, and the three-door XR4i was much prettier - but neither command such usefully deflated values on the used market, and something about the somewhat aimless and unloved XR4X4 is immensely appealing. I think.
The example we've found is a late facelift model, sold in the same year that the Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth 4x4 was launched, and the Sierra itself was just beginning to lose the futuristic sheen that had accompanied the 'aero' design's launch. This one looks to be in pretty tidy nick, with rich and glossy paint (possibly cheating by being sopping wet in a carwash but never mind), along with an array of recent parts and the usual suite of 'leccy' bits all apparently in order. But perhaps most impressively, look at that mileage! At just 88k that's an average of only 4,400 miles per year, and there are stories online of these things going on for upwards of 200,000 miles. Hardly run-in, really!
Those of you with sharp memories (or the ability to look through our SOTW page) may remember the XR4X4 appearing as our shed back in 2007. But values are down even more since then, and this equally tidy looking example is now almost half the price, with a fresh MOT and a few months of tax to boot.
My matchbox toy may have long-since been lost to the ages, but its good to see that a few full-size examples of this strangely charming oddity have weathered the years rather more successfully.
Sierra XR4x4 2.9 V6 (1990)
tax end of april
MOT feb 2011
Good overall condition, leccy mirrors, heated screens, leccy windows all round, central locking.
recent oil/filter air filter hand brake cable and thermostat. good runner. 3 previous owners, some history.
Call for more detail.
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