Ford initially offered the Orion in only GL and Ghia trim levels, missing out on the very lowest specification levels available on the Escort. Only 1300 cc and 1600 cc CVH engine options were available (though with both carburettor and fuel injection options on the 1.6 Ghia). A lower specification L model was introduced in 1984 as was the option of a 1.6 diesel engine on L and GL models.
The Orion Ghia 1.6i standard features included central locking, sunroof, front sport seats, electric windows, rear head restraints, tachometer and an information binnacle informing the driver when the vehicle needed maintenance. All of these features were rare equipment on a small family car in the 1980s, giving the Orion upmarket pretensions. Other cars in the small executive saloon class competing with the Orion included the Volkswagen Jetta, Mercedes-Benz 190, Rover 213/216, Vauxhall Belmont, Daihatsu Charmant, BMW E30 and the Volvo 360.
The Orion 1.6i shared the same engine as the Escort XR3i and offered similar performance and handling without the insurance unfriendly tag that the XR badge started to command in the late 1980s. The 1.6i was topped by a luxury limited edition called the 1600E in 1989, the 1600E name harking back to the Mark II Ford Cortina 1600E as both were considered as decent performance and well-equipped saloon cars for the working person. The Orion 1600E was available in black, white and metallic grey and had RS alloys, wood cappings on the dashboard and doors, and grey leather seats. Only 1,600 were made, and only 1,000 of these had leather trim.
Eventually though, as the years went by, Ford brought the styling and engineering of the Orion closer to the Escort's. Lower-specification models crept into the range.
Orion Mark II
In 1986, the Orion received the same facelift as the rest of the Escort range. The Mark II brought the option of anti-lock-brakes (ABS) and a heated front windscreen to the range. The CVH engines were upgraded and were now 'lean burn units' and various models in the range could run on unleaded fuel without modifications to the cylinder head or to the fuel system. Improved locks were fitted across the range, and a number of other improvements were carried out.