The Ford Probe is now largely forgotten, but even at the height of its popularity it was mostly known as the butt of jokes about its orifice-seeking name. Developed during Ford’s ownership of Mazda, it shared a platform with the MX-6, but boasted styling more futuristic — it was used in the 2015 scenes from Back to the Future II — that was different enough to not simply be a badge-engineered renaming.
Ford originally intended for the Probe to phase out the Mustang, which was just 25 years old at the time and hadn’t yet entirely shed bad memories of the Mustang II. But the idea of a front-drive car built by the Japanese taking the mantle of Mustang, at a time when reviews like this Motorweek video jokingly referred to Japan as “the enemy” and concluded on a mandatory self-esteem boost for the UAW, was too much for fans to bear. In response the outcry from Mustang enthusiasts, Ford continued to develop its own Mustang, and renamed this car the Probe (a lesson Toyota could have heeded, perhaps).
In any case, the blend of Mazda’s engineering and handling dynamics with Ford’s styling made for a pretty compelling package. Available engines included Mazda 2.2-liter fours in naturally aspirated or turbo formats, with a 5-speed base transmission on offer. That was good for 110 horsepower, but the one we care about is the Probe GT, which put out 145 horses and 190 lb-ft of torque. That was pretty good for its day, and resulted in a 0-60 time of 7.6 seconds. For comparison, a Vanilla Ice Mustang GT 5.0 of the same era was clocked at 7.2 (though the real sleeper would have been the lighter 5.0 LX).
Motorweek calls the interior “a luxurious cross between the simplicity of Ford’s Mustang and the flowing lines of Mazda’s RX-7.” Like in the RX-7, the instrument pod tilts with the steering wheel, while the turn signal and cruise control stalks are mounted to the dash rather than the steering column. It’s a nice driver-oriented design, supplemented by Ford electronics for the stereo, climate control, and window switches.
The Probe GT was EPA estimated at 21 city, 27 highway mpg, which is decent but not spectacular for its time. The prices lured a lot more buyers to the dealerships. A base GL could be had for $10,459, an LX for $11,443, both naturally aspirated. The turbocharged GT started at $13,593 but could be optioned out to $16,000-plus, as Motorweek‘s press car was. According to Motorweek, demand was already quite high before the car was even launched. If other JNCs are creeping out of your price range, perhaps a Probe GT might be a good alternative.