The Ford Laser was introduced to the Australian market as a replacement for the Escort in 1981 in a variety of formats. It became extremely popular in its 3-door and 5-door hatchback formats as well as in its sedan form, which was marketed under the name of the Meteor until 1987 when it was rebranded as the Laser KE sedan.
The Laser shared much with its Mazda 323 counterpart, although this was offset sufficiently by its unmistakable Ford styling and credentials. It offers a surprising amount of space inside, making it a popular family runabout, and the folding rear seats enhance the already spacious boot for transporting bulkier items.
New Lasers continued to be available until 2002 when the model was finally replaced by the Ford Focus which, although it had proved to be a big hit in Europe, failed to set the world alight in Australia in the same way that its predecessor had done two decades earlier.
The Laser was produced here in Australia at Homebush in Sydney until 1994, after which models continued to be imported from Japan until its replacement by the Focus in 2002. Replacing the rear-wheel drive Ford Escort, the original Laser had been largely based on the Mazda 323 for its mechanical development.
The Laser comes with a choice of two body styles: a 5-door hatchback or a 4-door sedan, with a 1.6-litre 16-valve 4-cylinder engine giving 78kW in the base model. A GLXi model with alternative 1.8-litre engine is also available, giving 92kW of power. Models come with a choice of 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic gearbox. If speed off the lights is important to you then the manual is probably the better choice, though that is not to say that the automatic doesn’t deliver – it just lacks a touch of extra bite. Shortly before production ceased, a number of KQ Lasers were offered in a high-spec SR2 sports format, with a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine, so for something with a bit more poke in a Laser body, this might provide the solution.
The Laser handles very well on the road for a compact car and possesses plenty beneath the bonnet to propel you from A to B faster than a small runabout of its size has any right to. It is something of a trusty favourite, with many Lasers remaining in the same hands for up to two decades since first coming to market. It has a reputation for being a reliable runabout, incurring little in the way of major repair bills.
Fuel consumption is pretty favourable, giving around 8.5L/100km on average for mixed urban and open-road driving.
Earlier Lasers came with a choice of two body styles and featured two trim styles.
The LXi base trim was fairly low on extras, featuring power steering, driver airbag, and little else. The superior GLXi fared a little better, with air conditioning and a higher general quality to the interior trim. If you are looking for much more than this, look to another brand or opt for the final upgraded KQ spec, which was introduced a year or so before the Laser exited the market for good in 2002. The KQ LXi offers air conditioning and a superior sound system as standard, along with an adjustable steering column and enhanced security features such as central locking and an immobiliser, while the KQ GLXi adds passenger airbag, remote central locking, and power mirrors.
The Laser is not a top-of-the-range vehicle bursting with bells and whistles, but nor does it pretend to be. It knows its place in the market and has continued to hold its own amongst its competitors, both of its time and from later years.
The Laser’s competition comes from many corners, including Ford’s own Focus, which superseded it in 2002. It also goes head to head with the popular Holden Astra, which is probably the leader in this compact car class for looks and performance. The Mazda 323 is an obvious competitor given the cars’ shared platform and mechanics, though visually there are enough differences that buyers will undoubtedly have a preference for one’s styling over the other. Other competitors include the Hyundai Elantra, with its arguably inexpensive-looking interior finish, and the enduringly popular and reliable Toyota Corolla.