The North American variant of the Ford Escort is a small family/compact car introduced by Ford in 1980 for the 1981 model year. Adopting the "Escort" name used by Ford of Europe since 1968 along with the general design and layout of the third-generation European Escort, it was the successor of the Ford Pinto, which had a tarnished reputation for quality and safety after a widely publicized fuel tank defect. The Escort was one of Ford's most successful models in the 1980s, earning a much better reputation than the Pinto, which faced widely publicized safety issues. In fact, the Escort was the single best-selling car in its second year in the United States and during most of that decade.
The Escort was Ford's first front-wheel-drive car built in North America, a design popularized by the Volkswagen Rabbit. It also effectively replaced the smaller Ford Fiesta, which was imported from Europe from 1978 to 1980.
For 1991, the North American Escort would switch to a Mazda-derived platform and essentially became a twin of the Ford Laser, a compact car sold in Asia and Oceania that has always shared a platform and some powertrain options with the Mazda 323, and whose progenitor was available in North America as the 1988 Mercury Tracer. Redesigned on the same platform for the 1997 model year, the Escort was succeeded by the Ford Focus in 1999 for the 2000 model year in North America, although Escort production continued until 2002.