Fordís top-of-the-range Scorpio has a tough job to
do. It has to drive competitors like Vauxhallís Omega and Nissanís
QX off the drives of suburbia. With a face like that , does
it stand a chance?
"The Scorpio is vile outside but better inside. Its gloopy face seems
designed to invite a good slapping, but the interior is so comfy itís good
enough to sleep in, despite over-ruched leather"
Last September we showed you the first pictures of Fordís
Granada successor, the Scorpio. And you laughed. I n fact everyone laughed; so
much that Ford delayed its launch until this year and put its image-makers hard
at work to try and put its image-makers hard at work to try and make the best
out of a car that just about the whole world outside of Fordís boardroom seemed
to think was funnier than Ken Dodd.
Lots of carefully photographed posters and subtle model
placement eased the newcomer slowly into the publicís eye, in the hope that the
joke would eventually wear thin. Well, whether youíre still chuckling or not,
itís time for us to get behind the humour and come up with some serious road
The Scorpio certainly has a tough job to do. Its chief rival,
Vauxhallís new Omega, has been a considerable success in the months since it
went on sale last year. So which is best?
If youíre reading this as a prospective customer for this type
of car then the chances are youíre aged between 35 and 55; well-educated; a
middle to senior manager, professional or owner of your own business; you have a
family; and, importantly, you appreciate cars.
If you spend as much of your own or your companyís money as
possible in a Vauxhall showroom youíll drive away a £27,995 Omega 3.0i V6 24v
Elite. Do likewise in a Ford show-room and youíll find yourself behind the wheel
of a £27,265 Scorpio 2.9i 24v Ultima.
To put both these cars into the road test ring together would
indeed make a formidable contest, but we decided to throw a spanner in the
works. By the time youíve read this magazine, Nissan will have its all-new QX on
sale. In top-spec SEL form it, too, has a three-litre V6 24v engine and an
equipment list as long as an orangutanís arm.
Nissan may not have as many UK dealers as Vauxhall or Ford but,
as the worldís fifth largest car manufacturer, itís serious about selling you a
motor. As an extra incentive the QX SEL is to be priced very close to the
£25,000 mark, saving a handy few quid of corporate cash.
Where else could we start? In this part of the market, image is
all-important and it has to be said that the likes of Ford, Vauxhall and Nissan
donít really cut it alongside BMW or Mercedes Benz. So the stylist has to get to
work to try and create some Ďbrand awarenessí. The
Omega, for example, like other new Vauxhalls features the
distinctive ĎV-grilleí. While this on its own may not set buyers drooling, only
the very harshest critic could call the Omega unattractive. Its rounded,
well-proportioned lines are pleasant enough and with the 3.0 Eliteís chunky
five-spoke alloys, subtle side skirts and twin tailpipes it exudes an elegant
sportiness which places it comfortably ahead of the other two in this category.
Nissan, on the other hand, hasnít advanced its image in any
great measure with the new QX. This car seems to have borrowed styling cues from
both Vauxhall and BMW but still manages to look too much like the Primera
repmobile. Having said that, the Primera isnít a bad-looking car, but we doubt
that anyone hell-bent on displaying their wealth in their driveway would opt for
Which brings us to the Scorpio. While Ford is to be commended
for its intentions of breaking previous moulds, for its commitment to change and
for the courage required to market such a dramatically different car, sadly we
think it has failed with the Scorpio.
Maybe it would have stood more chance starting with a completely
clean sheet of paper rather than tacking a new front and rear end onto the old
Granada. It is, and thereís no other way of saying this, quite simply horrid.
Judging by Fordís advertising, it reckons that putting people
into the car is the way to sell it to them. They could be right. Certainly who
ever designed the Scorpioís front seats deserves a pat on the back; theyíre the
comfiest here. All three cars have similar electrically-powered adjustment but
the Scorpio Ultimaís, though the thin leather is ruched to the limit, are
definitely cosier and more supportive. In addition, the steering wheel adjusts
for both height and reach whereas the QXís moves for height only and the Omegaís
is fixed, so the Scorpio driver stands a better chance of staying truly
comfortable on a long trip.
However comfort is only part of the Scorpio story. Its driver
faces a dash thatís either going to be thought of as extremely flash or
extremely tacky. We take the latter view. The moulded wood-effect plastic and
overly stylised instrumentation graphics are just too much.
The QX couldnít be more different. Itís plain and entirely free
from fussiness Ė a trick BMW and Mercedes can carry off but Nissan, sadly,
canít. It just looks too much like a big Primera. Thatís a shame because we do
like the QXís dash layout. It could use a trip computer but itís simple and
The Omega suffers by comparison with both the others. Its dash
layout looks clumsy with unnecessarily huge dials, too much black simulated
leather and large gaps between the various trim panels. A couple of hours behind
the wheel of the Omega could also result in an aching right leg caused by the
high-off-the floor position of the throttle pedal.
All three are lavishly and almost identically equipped with
leather, air con, remote locking, CD stackers and much, much more. There are
small differences: the QX has no memory function for its electric driverís seat,
the Omega lacks full climate control of its air conditioning and so on. The
biggest omission, though, is the option-only passenger airbag on the Ford.
Uniquely, the Omegaís centre armrest has a lid which hinges to
accommodate a concealed hands-free phone. This makes for a less than comfortable
armrest and part of the mechanism came unstuck during our test. Itís also only
any good if you have the right size phone.
In the back, standards are high but highest of all in the Ford
which has almost limousine levels of legroom. Again, one can only differentiate
in detail: the Scorpio and QX lack the rear air vents and heated rear seats of
the Omega Elite and the Scorpioís rear headroom is marginal for taller
Further back still, itís again a question of six of one, half a
dozen of the other. The Omega has the deepest boot (and a luggage net), the
Scorpio the widest and the QX falls neatly in between, (though its CD unit could
impede both loading and space). All have split-fold rear seats but the Scorpio
boot lid doesnít open wide enough and the latch protrudes far enough to dent the
back of your scalp.
Although giving away exactly 17bhp to both the Cosworth-built
Scorpio engine and ECOTEC-equipped Omega, itís the new ĎVQ30DEí powered QX which
feels the liveliest in town, on the open road and at the test track Ė and our
acceleration times back this up.
Also, while the Scorpio and Omega struggled to get anywhere near
their makersí claims for the 0-60mph dash, the QX tore up the tarmac over a
third of a second quicker than Nissanís claim. Its horsepower deficit did show
on the high speed bowl where the Scorpio just got the better of it, and the
Omega was a full 10mph faster at nearly 136mph.
All three cars feature three-mode, four-speed automatic
transmissions. The three modes are for sports, economy and icy, winter driving.
The QX and Omegaís íboxes perform admirably, while the Scorpio is often quite
slow to switch from drive to reverse and vice versa. At the same time, the Ford
has the smoothest change when going up through the gears under full throttle
The brakes on all three perform well but the quoted stopping
distances would very probably have been shorter had we not had to conduct the
tests on a patchy, damp surface.
If you yearn for the handling of a sports car but life dictates
that you drive a sub-£30k executive cruiser then the superbly balanced and well
behaved Omega is the car for you. Thereís a liveliness about its handling and it
has quick, responsive steering that belies its size.
The front-drive QX runs the rear-drive Vauxhall close. It feels
tight, securely planted and is a pleasure to hustle along a twisting road. The
rwd Ford will do everything that is reasonably asked of it but it doesnít reward
with the steering feedback and consequently the ultimate control which an
enthusiastic driver can now expect in a car of this class. Make no mistake, itís
fine on the motorway and, due to heavily revised geometry and upgraded
suspension components, itís way ahead of all previous big Fords in both ride and
handling but the steering still falls slightly short of the other two.
(Incidentally, both rear-drive cars have traction control as standard but the QX
Ride quality is arguably more important to the stressed exec
than on-the-limit handling and here the Omega is, again, a class apart. The Ford
fares well at the expense of becoming a little floaty and uncontrolled at speed,
while the QX errs too much on the side of firmness and can get noticeably joggly
and uncomfortable along country roads, particularly when loaded.
The QX SEL buyer is going to make a saving of about £2,265 over
the Scorpio Ultima and almost three grand over the Omega Elite. If the firmís
paying, then these differences may not be of too much consequence but if itís
your own company footing the bill then you may well consider that 25-30,000
miles worth of petrol is not to be sniffed at.
During our test all three cars covered a similar mileage and
showed a tiny 0.7mpg difference between the best (QX at 22.8mpg) and the worst
(Omega at 22.1mpg) so thereís really nothing to choose between them here.
However, casting an eye over the warranty periods does reveal a
noticeable contrast. Vauxhall and Ford give a one year, unlimited mileage deal
but Nissan has a more comforting three year/60,000 mile term. Add to that our
firm impression that the build, finish and general solidity of the QX is
superior to both the others and the Nissan will definitely score well with the
Letís suppose for a minute that the new Scorpio was an
attractive car both inside and out. Or, if itís easier, just temporarily try to
forget that it isnít. Under these circumstances it makes a pretty good case for
itself. Itís competitively priced, very well equipped, quiet, comfortable, good
to drive and would prove to be a worthy mile-eater. It isnít quite such a good
driverís car as the Vauxhall but that isnít a major issue here. It would also be
a little cheaper than the Omega (even with an optional passenger airbag fitted)
so weíd be prepared to call it a draw or plump for the better-looking of the
two. But the new Scorpio is ugly. So ugly that in this test it comes fairly and
squarely in last place. Itís a close fight between the Omega and the QX. The
Omegaís a little faster, but less accelerative. Itís marginally better-equipped,
itís a slightly better driving machine and itís better looking on the outside.
But its poor interior, awkward driving position and vague feelings of doubt over
quality pull it back, as does its less attractive warranty and 12 per cent
higher price. We give the verdict to the Nissan QX by a nose.
||WILL IT SUIT YOU?
||Ford Scorpio Ultima
||Nissan QX SEL
||Vauxhall Omega Elite
|Max Speed (mph)
|Standing 1/4 mile (secs)
|Terminal speed (mph)
|30-70 thru' gears (secs)
|Braking 70mph-0 (feet)
||3yrs or 60,000miles
What you get
||Pass. option £285
||V6, 24v, twin dohc
||V6, 24v, twin dohc
||V6, 24v, twin dohc
|Max power (bhp/rpm)
|Max torque (lb ft/rpm)
||multi-link, torsion beam
||multi-link, semi-trailing arm
||Alloys 205/55 16