1998 Ford Contour Reviews and Ratings

Sedan 4D SVT

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1998 Ford Contour
Sue Mead

Introduction
When the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique made their debut,

there were only two criticisms: bland exterior styling

and limited rear seat legroom. And the complaints about tight rear seat

space came primarily from the automotive press, as distinct from owners.

Nevertheless, Ford has addressed the roominess issue, as well as the

exterior appearance, with a number of revisions that will be in Ford and

Mercury showrooms this spring as 1998 models. And to add additional sizzle,

there will also be a sportier edition of the Contour, called the SVT Contour.

We've been impressed with the performance of the V6-powered versions

of these small mid-size sedans since the beginning. But the SVT version

turns the heat up even more, and is one of the hottest numbers in its class.

Since the updates to the mainstream members of the Contour/Mystique

lineup entail only modest changes to all-around performance, we chose the

SVT Contour as our test subject for this report. Walkaround
Ford wanted a little more drama in the front of the Contour and Mystique,

and we think their facelifts achieve exactly that, as well as more distinction

between the two models.

With its wider, chrome-lipped grille opening and bigger headlights,

the Contour's new front end is almost a carbon copy of the Ford Mondeo,

its European cousin. The Mystique gets the same headlight treatment, but

its enlarged waterfall grille creates a stronger family resemblance to

other Lincoln-Mercury vehicles. We think both facelifts are attractive

and effective.

Aside from the SVT, functional changes to the updated sedans are essentially

refinements. The front suspension has been retuned for a more supple response

to small bumps, the steering has been sharpened and the manual transmission

shift linkage has been redesigned for more precise operation and feel.

Chassis and body dimensions remain about the same--slightly smaller

than a Honda Accord--on a near-identical wheelbase.

Thanks to revisions to its intake and camshft timing systems, Ford has

found five more horsepower in the standard 2.0-liter Zetec four-cylinder

engine, which now generates 130 hp. Output of the 2.5-liter Duratec V6

remains unchanged--and plentiful--at 170 hp. Both engines are offered with

five-speed manual transmissions as standard equipment. A four-speed automatic

is available as an $815 option.

The Duratec V6 is also the heart of the SVT version, but with an additional

25 hp--13% more peak power from an engine that already did a good job of

generating impressive output from not much displacement. In fact, 76.6

hp per liter from a non-supercharged engine is one of the better performance

figures in the business. We can only think of a couple engines at the small

end of the spectrum that top the SVT version of the Duratec in the power-per-liter

derby, both from Honda, both four-cylinders.

How'd they do that? Without getting into too much detail, the key elements

are different cams with different timing, different pistons with a higher

compression ratio, and extensive massaging of the intake system.

Considering the magnitude of the performance improvements, the Special

Vehicle Team showed restraint with appearance items. The SVT Contour sports

rocker panel extensions, a modestly restyled front fascia with round fog

lamps, and 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Remarkably, the design team refrained

from affixing a wing onto the rear decklid. Interior
Let's move right to the rear seat. By scooping out the front seatbacks

and making subtle adjustments to the rear seat cushions, Ford has added

almost two inches of legroom, gains that make it much more comfortable

for two adults, though three is still a pinch.

Other interior improvements include refinements to the instrument panel,

the addition of a tilt wheel feature and a new dual cupholder design up

front. The first two refinements are welcome. The new cupholders, however,

are too shallow and still don't work very well.

The basic dashboard is unchanged, flowing gracefully into the door panels,

and the bucket front seats are first rate, with a wide range of adjustability,

including height.

Our only criticism of the control layout continues to be the audio system

buttons, which are still undersized and hard to operate when the car is

moving.

The SVT Contour interior is distinguished by black-on-white gauges,

SVT logos and dark blue leather upholstery. The package also includes an

upgrade audio system, air conditioning, power mirrors, windows and locks,

and antilock brakes, which are optional on the other Contour/Mystique models.

And if you want an automatic transmission, you don't want this car; it's

manual transmission only. Driving Impressions
As impressive as the V6-powered editions of the Contour and Mystique

are, they seem a little tame compared to the SVT. In fact, this little

honey should be able to run with some pretty tall dogs with pretty fancy

pedigrees--and fancy pricetags. Specifically, the BMW 328i and Audi A4

V6 come to mind.

As you'd expect, adding 25 horsepower diminishes the length of time

it takes you to get to 60 mph. Ford pegs it at 7.9 seconds, but we found

this to be very conservative. About seven seconds is closer to the mark.

And if you're interested in seeing how fast you can cross Montana--no

posted daytime speed limits, y'know--Ford says the Contour SVT will do

143 mph flat-out. We're willing to take this on faith, but it's clear that

the SVT version of the Duratec V6 loves high speed work, and it emits a

lovely whiskey tenor snarl while so engaged.

Power is just one element in a package designed to compete with sporty

Euro sedans, of course. Other requirements include the agility of a cheetah

and the grip of a badger. Augmented, natch, by serious stopping power.

Not to mention supple ride quality.

We think this car, like its tamer counterparts, scores very well in

the ride/handling derby. Ford's Special Vehicle Engineering group--the

folks who spec out SVT hardware--made a number of alterations in SVT'S

suspension components to enhance response, without any readily apparent

compromises in ride quality.

As a result, the SVT Contour is a significant cut above its regular

production counterparts in a couple of key sport sedan areas: it turns

into corners with zeal, and it's more balanced than the standard Contour

and Mystique. You don't have to spend quite as much time waiting for the

car to change directions, and there's a strong sense of sports car feel

without sports car ride stiffness.

Adding braking power to match the extra thrust was simple. The development

team dipped into the European parts bin and installed the bigger front

brakes used on the Mondeo. Summary
With a price range that starts at $13,995, including destination, for

a basic Contour, we think this slick sedan family offers good performance,

quality and value right across the board.

And it's clear that for most, the V6 versions will offer enough hustle

and driving fun.

Nevertheless, for the truly young and restless, the SVT Contour is something

special. It provides mainstream ride comfort with lots of equipment and

all-around performance that's exceptional in this class.

After all, where is it written that a family sedan shouldn't be fun?

Model as tested
SVT
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Kansas City, MO
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
22365
Price as tested
22900
Options as tested

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Safety equipment (standard)
Dual airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
2.0-liter dohc 16v 4-cyl.
Transmissions
5-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
(SVT) ABS, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD audio, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, keyless remote entry, leather upholstery, tilt steering, split-folding rear seat, 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels

Engine & Transmission
Engine
2.0-liter dohc 16v 4-cyl.
Drivetrain type
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
130 @ 5750
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
24/34
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/drum
Suspension, front
Independent
Tires
P185/70R-14
Suspension, rear
Independent

Accomodations
Seating capacity
3
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
39.0/50.7/42.4
Head/hip/leg room, rear
36.7/45.5/35.9

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
13.9
Wheelbase
106.5
Length/width/height
184.7/69.1/54.5
Turning circle
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
1000
Track, front/rear
59.2/58.5
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
2772


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