May
23
1987-91 Ford Tempo All Wheel Drive

Ford Tempo All Wheel Drive

Cheap Wheelsby Don Sikora II

Note: The following story was excerpted from the December 2016 issue of Collectible Automobile magazine.

The Tempo was an overlooked Ford sales success of the Eighties. Introduced as a 1984 model in two- and four-door varieties, Tempo wore the Blue Oval’s then-trendsetting aerodynamic “jellybean” styling pioneered on the 1983 Thunderbird. The front-wheel-drive chassis shared some elements with the U.S.-market Escort, but rode a longer 99.9-inch wheelbase. Tempos ran a “new” 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that was a descendant of the Sixties-era Falcon inline six.

Tempo received a minor facelift for 1986, with one of the most obvious tweaks being the addition of flush-mount composite headlamps. Soon after, the topic of this piece, the Tempo All Wheel Drive, arrived. New for 1987, the AWD was marketed as a separate model atop the Tempo lineup. Equipment closely followed the midlevel Tempo LX, and the AWD was offered in both body styles.

As the name clearly communicated, the AWD model’s main attraction, and addition, was a part-time all-wheel driveline. Ford described this as a “traction enhancement system,” and advised that the car was “not designed to compete with all-terrain vehicles.” The system could be engaged while the car was moving by simply pressing a button on the dashboard. 

Car and Driver’s September 1987 review provided more insight into how the all-wheel-drive system worked. When AWD was selected, a clutch engaged and sent power from the transmission to the limited-slip rear differential via a two-piece driveshaft. The setup did not include a transfer case. C/D advised its readers that the hardware increased curb weight by 105 pounds, and that the car sat .5 inch higher than front-drive Tempos. 

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The AWD came with a single powerteam. The engine was the stronger “HSO” version of Tempo’s 2.3-liter four; it had throttle-body fuel injection and was rated at 94 horsepower. The only transmission choice was a three-speed automatic. The coupe version started at $9984 and the sedan at $10,138. These prices were about $700-$750 more than a Tempo LX, a modest price bump considering that the automatic transmission cost extra in the LX. After putting 9000 mostly front-wheel-driven miles on an AWD test car, Popular Mechanics reported averaging about 20 mpg. In the end PM thought it was a nice car for mom; it didn’t find the Tempo particularly exciting but didn’t have any major complaints either.

For 1988, the Tempo received a facelift and interior updates that included a new dashboard. Sedans received a more extensive exterior rework, with sharpened lines that were quite different from the previous jellybean look. To your scribe’s eyes, the new appearance wasn’t an improvement and was especially awkward in the rear-window area. More importantly, the All Wheel Drive model was restricted to the four-door body. Other tweaks included a power bump to 100 horsepower, and relocating the switch that activated the all-wheel drive overhead near the map lights. There were also new “polycast” wheels that recalled the style used on the 1984-87 Chevrolet Corvette.

After the ’88 rework, changes were modest. Front-drive Tempos hung around through 1994 but last year for the AWD variant was ’91, and the big news that year was a name change to Tempo Four Wheel Drive. It priced from $11,390.

Pros:

  • Part-time, shift-on-the-fly all-wheel drive adds traction in lousy weather.
  • Choice of two- and four-door models, albeit for one year.
  • There are few family compacts from this period available with AWD.

Cons:

  • Tempo’s all-wheel-drive setup not meant for use off road or even on dry pavement.
  • Contemporary reviewers complained about a noisy engine and pokey acceleration.
  • Nearly indistinguishable from any other Tempo.

Final Drive:

OK, we’re first to admit a Ford Tempo won’t get anybody too excited. The useful addition of part-time all-wheel drive doesn’t change that assessment dramatically, but remember we’re talking about cheap-wheels transportation, not Shelby Mustangs. We think the ’87 models are the best looking of this bunch, and suggest keeping an eye peeled for a one-year-only All Wheel Drive coupe.

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