It's a bit of a shame about the lager lout image because this is truly one of the most capable fast road cars money can buy.
The chassis is fantastic. I recently drove a friends Impreza WRX, and although it's a bit quicker off the line, and a very impressive car in its own right (the incredible engine especially) the Cossie is definitely the more fun of the two. The age difference shows in terms of refinement and outright grip, but jumping back in the Escort immediately stuck a smile on my face.
The 4WD system is superb, having a significant rearward bias on the torque split. This gives fantastic handling, with just enough RWD "tail happiness" to help the car turn, but enough FWD stability to pull it straight again. It also doesn't do weird things with its centre differential mid-bend like the Impreza sometimes does, meaning you can predict exactly what the car is going to do. The Cosworth's steering is also way superior in terms of weighting and feel. I suspect the WRX would cover a twisty road a bit quicker (it would be close), but the Cossie is the one that will give the biggest laughs and involve the driver more.
I've resisted the temptation to modify the car, which is paying dividends as the miles roll on. The Cosworth YB engine is very strong, and was significantly detuned to get the 227 bhp figure, which means big power increases can be had for just a few hundred pounds. Resisting this means that even with 85,000 miles on it, the engine uses barely half a litre of oil between services, always starts in the mornings, and the transmission is still slick and quiet. And yes, the car is driven hard, although for the turbo's sake, it is never thrashed from cold, always allowed to idle after a run, and is treated to fresh synthetic oil mid way between the standard services. The car as a whole feels tight, smooth and "together", and there is nothing to suggest it won't stay that way until well into a six figure mileage.
I absolutely adore this car. It's fast, reliable, practical (seats four in reasonable comfort and has a decent boot), looks outrageous and offers a driving experience that to my mind has still not been bettered as far as affordable performance cars go. In Lux spec, it's also well equipped, with a CD autochanger, air conditioning, leather Recaro seats, electric windows and mirrors.
Insurance is a bit of a killer, as is the fuel consumption at times (I get between 15 and 27 miles out of a gallon of Super Unleaded), but the car has so much soul and ability that I cough up and live with it. I cannot recommend these cars highly enough. Just get an insurance quote first, and keep it locked up!