The Sierra was released in 1982 to replace the Ford Taunus/Ford Cortina. Its radical aerodynamic styling was a departure for Ford, although in the UK many disliked it, remarking that it looked like a jellymould. Unlike many of its rivals, the Sierra was rear wheel drive. It was also only available as a hatchback and station wagon, which alienated more conservative buyers, who prefered a sedan.
In 1987, the Sierra was restyled, and a sedan version was introduced, known in the UK and other right hand drive markets as the 'Ford Sierra Sapphire', although in South Africa it was known simply as the 'Ford Sapphire'. A pick-up truck version was also introduced, to replace the Cortina-based P1000 imported from South Africa.
In the beginning the Sierra used engines and gearboxes from the Taunus/Cortina. The engines were of two typed, the OHC Ford Pinto and the V6 Cologne. Towards the end of the 1980s the Pinto was started to be phased out and in the UK replaced with the CVH (Compound Valve angle, Hemispherical combustion chambers) engine, and also the DOHC engine in 1990. Both models used the Type 9 (aka Type N) gearbox.
Production started in 1982 and continued until 1993. In total 2.700.500 Sierras were made, mainly manufactured in Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom, although also assembled in Argentina, Venezuela, South Africa and New Zealand. The high performance version of the Sierra was called the XR4, which was a 3-door coupe, and a version of this was sold in the US as the Merkur XR4Ti, Merkur being Ford's brand name in the US for German-sourced Ford models. In South Africa, there was a 3.0 litre V6 version, called the XR6.
A special version called Ford Sierra Cosworth was also produced based on a three door Sierra with the dashboard from the US Sierra . It was designed by Ford's Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) group and made in Ford's Genk factory in Belgium. It was launched in July 1986 and only 5545 was made. The Ford Sierra Cosworth used a 2.0 DOHC engine with Garret T3 turbocharger and intercooler.