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by Jay Traugott
It may not have been a bad car, but the Merkur XR4Ti was simply the wrong type of entry-level luxury performance car for the US at the time.
Americans who remember the Merkur brand likely don't know too much about it or why people bothered to sell it in the US during the 1980s. The bottom line is that Merkur was a failure in the US market mainly because no one was interested in a more expensive European-built Ford. Set up by Ford as a separate franchise for its Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, just 800 of those dealers accepted the offer to sell the brand. In other words, the warning signs were very clear even before the first Merkur went on sale.
Set up by then Ford Vice President Bob Lutz, Merkur was in business from 1985 until 1989. Only two models were offered, the Scorpio and XR4Ti, both of which were German-built. But US safety standards required that Ford further modify each one upon arrival in the US, further increasing costs. Of the two models, the XR4Ti was sportier and was based off the same platform as the Europe-only Ford Sierra. Power came from a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder with fuel injection and mated to either a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic. When paired with the manual, this engine produced as much as 175 horsepower, but only 145 with the auto.
Although it may not have looked like much from the outside, this three-door hatchback had decent performance figures. It darted from 0-60 mph in around seven seconds and had a top speed of 130 mph, both of which were respectable for the era but laughable today for a hot hatch. Other interesting features on the car include its bi-plane style rear spoiler, independent rear suspension as well as rear-wheel-drive. It was even on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1985 but this award was recanted in 2009 when the publication acknowledged its mistake for singling the car out over 20 years prior.
Ford's attempt to instill some Euro luxury in a hot hatchback was an abysmal failure. Despite it having features like heated and leather seats, power windows and locks (remember this was the 80s) and a retractable moon roof, buyers were still asked to fork over nearly $17k. That was in 1985 and that amount today translates to a "are you f--king kidding me?" price of roughly $35,600. Before the whole Merkur debacle was killed off, the XR4Ti took part in various motorsport events in Europe, where ironically, it wasn't sold. Euro buyers instead could take home the Merkur XR4ti's sister car, the Ford Sierra XR4i.
But the bottom line is that the Merkur XR4Ti simply did catch on the way Ford's Lutz had hoped it would. It was simply too expensive and too small for American tastes. Was it a bad car? No, but the targeted US buyers simply didn't bite because it was overpriced for something with just a four-pot engine. If a luxury performance coupe was desired, then those buyers were more likely to opt for the V8-powered and rear-wheel drive Ford Thunderbird/Mercury Cougar. So you could argue Ford was competing with itself when importing the XR4Ti to the US. All told, some 42,464 units were built between 1985 and 1989.
This 1985 model, currently up for sale on eBay, has some 94,545 miles on the clock but it's in good shape. Despite it being an automatic-equipped example, fans of failed brands and old Euro-built hatches will likely find this one interesting. The asking price is a somewhat reasonable $4,500. While a devoted Merkur fan club remains in place today, Ford would rather have us all simply forget about its failed attempt at selling German-built "luxury" cars for exuberant prices.