The Ford Probe originally came into being as a replacement for the Mustang, though the latter was reprieved at the last minute, and the two in fact sold side by side in the States for several years before Ford admitted their mistake, took defeat on the chin, and withdrew the ill-fated Probe from production. This was not before it had spent four years, between 1994 and 1998, on sale here. It was eventually superseded by the Cougar, which has, itself, now also joined the ranks of the formerly famous.
Despite its neutral welcome by the market, the Probe is, in fact, not a bad-looking car – by both 1990s’ standards and by today’s standards. The sleek, low nose with pop-up headlights is complemented by a boxy rear with large wraparound glass rear window, ensuring that the car looks good from every angle. Sadly, the good looks of the exterior aren’t quite matched by the interior comfort. This is a two-door coupe, and it is really designed as a two-seater car. There is seating to the rear, but unless you are extremely small or travelling no further than the next set of lights, it doesn’t make for a very practical transport option.
Unlike many of its counterparts, the Probe went through few physical changes during its four-year sale window, save for some colour coding, side moulding and, most noticeably, the wheels, which changed from ‘star’ mags to 5-spoke ‘swirl’ mags from late 1997 onwards.
The Ford Probe was based largely on the Mazda 626/MX6 platform and shared with it its fuel-injected 2.5L V6 engine, which delivered some 121kW of power and 213Nm of torque. A 5-speed manual gearbox came as standard with the option of a 4-speed automatic alternative, though this was understandably less popular. The Probe drives through the front wheels and delivers a reasonably responsive and balanced ride.
The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is decently weighted, no matter the speed, and the brakes are disc to front and back.
The Probe offers a decent level of equipment, though when new, it was not accompanied by a huge amount of choice regarding options. Expect to find an anti-lock braking system, air-conditioning, cruise control, driver and passenger airbags, power windows, power mirrors, power driver’s seat along with remote central locking, an immobiliser, and an alarm. Sound systems in the originals were radio cassette players, though most models on the market today will have been updated.
Interiors were mostly black with grey fabric with leather steering wheel and pocket door grab handles. For understandable economical reasons, the interior side trims to the doors are slightly different from left to right, due to the fact that they were adapted in their entirety from the left-hand-drive US versions rather than re-engineered for the right-hand-drive market.
Choice came in the form of manual or automatic transmission and also in paint colour – though even this was relatively limited to red, white, black, and blue. Expect to find more variation on the forecourt today, as the Probe is a popular car for the DIY car-improvement enthusiast. Spoilers, colours, sound systems, wheels, and more display much more variation these days than when the Probe was sold as new.
This is a crowded market. The Probe has not managed to take its place as a ‘classic’ and somehow lacks the credibility to do so – so where does that leave it? There is plenty to choose from, old and new, to catch the potential Probe-buyer’s eye. If you are looking for a car from the same period, consider a Toyota Celica ZR, which is probably the best of the ‘average-badge’ bunch. Alternatively, take a look at the Holden Calibra and Honda Prelude. Ford’s own competition for the Probe comes from the classic Mustang, which the Probe was first introduced to usurp, and also from the now-obsolete Cougar.