Every car family needs a 'banger'.
It’s the car that gets left at the train station, airport or is borrowed to family members who decide to visit from OS without really asking for permission to do so. It’s the car that is super reliable, thrives on minimal maintenance and if it collects the odd shopping centre battle scar… no one notices.
When the need for a new 'banger' came onto my radar, I started trawling online in the 2K bracket for some highly-depreciated, much-loved and pampered, 'ugly duckling classics' that I knew could fit the bill from one lovely owner.
When I found her, she had been with her original family since new. Her color was faded, her odometer had barely moved, and the interior was almost spotless. She had more velvet than Prince's bedroom, an infotainment system that would confound millennials (ie a tape deck), oscillating air vents that still worked, power steering, aircon, electrics and a font size on the speedometer that could be seen via Google Maps. I was impressed.
As the fraternal twin to the Mazda 626 of the era, I knew the Japanese heart of the Ford Telstar TX5 would be good – a glorious 2.2 litres of oriental muscle, breathing through an oddball 3-valve-per-cylinder-head design. The 4-speed auto shifted perfectly and came with a functioning 'gear hold' feature that could teach a modern car how to not let go of a ratio.
Once home, I got underneath to do some routine maintenance and safety checks. After unscrewing the drain plug to the sump, I was shocked to find the oil was clean. The timing belt was also done, the engine lacked leaks, and brakes were good. With the addition of some new tyres - the RWC was sorted first go. Too easy…
After thousands of kilometres and a year of ownership I can report the following…
Fuel economy is in the 10's around town. The TX5 accelerates with a surprising amount of push without being noisy. In fact, the car has actually been very quiet and refined under all driving conditions. For a mid-size car, steering and handling are somewhat 'boat like' in nature - very light, lacking in feel and tons of roll. Maybe it’s the 14 inch wheels and 70 series tyres? In terms of on-road comfort, this old Ford (Mazda) literally floats over bumps and irregularities in a way that would keep a hovercraft pilot happy.
Freeway cruising is also a pleasant experience. The tacho hovers around the 2500rpm point at 100km/h, and feels effortless, with plenty left in reserve to sort the odd Sunday worshipper. This car has seen interstate duties without the need to call on any road-side assistance – a bonus feature of any household banger wanting to earn its stripes.
The brakes have a level of retardation that stops the car confidently despite lacking ABS. In-cabin safety is managed by a seat belt that still recoils back into its chamber. I'm sure its ANCAP rating would not score highly, but being this simple and functional means you actually do all the driving. Speaking of driving, visibility is terrific as is the seating position and ergonomics. The mirrors are tiny, the turn signals are thin and the indicator flasher unit is still loud.
Boot space is great. This is the lift back model and I believe if you flicked the rear seats down, you could have a nice night in. The struts holding the hatch need a re-gas, and can on occasion make you feel like you are on the menu as it slowly tries to engulf you when accessing the rear.
In summer the AC is somewhat feeble but active. The temperature gauge stays glued to its one-third position and all the electrics still function. The headlights have a pleasant yellow glow that vaguely illuminates the road. At night, the dash lights flicker from time to time to let you know she was born last century. The key fob recently died making it impossible to disable the alarm at the local shopping mall – after pulling the siren wire out, I drove with the hazards constantly flashing for my entire journey home. I suppose it can't always be sunshine and rainbows!
Regardless of the odd hiccup, I believe cars like this represent budget transport at its best. If you desperately needed reliable and comfortable mobility, you'd be hard pressed to find anything better than the Ford Telstar TX5 at this price point. If used as an occasional hack you could consider putting it on club plates and save a packet on registration. Either way, this banger serves its purpose well when everything else in this digital world fails.
MORE: Everything Ford