The cars we loved.
The Contour/Mystique was Ford’s replacement for the Tempo/Topaz compact cars. Although the platform as global, the North American version was unique, while the Mondeo was Ford’s compact sedan for the rest of the world. The Tempo/Topaz sold well but lacked refinement. Ford’s goal was to build a compact car that fitted nicely between it’s Escort and Taurus.
Up until 1998 the most dashing Contour you could get was the 170hp SE version with it’s 2.5 L Duratec V6. It was a dependable but an unexciting car by most standards and was usually what you would rent from Herts if you for whatever reason did not need the bigger Taurus. despite it’s homely looks, it’s underpinnings were much more advanced than it’s predecessor and eventually would be the basis for the high performance SVT.
Ford’s SVT (Special Vehicles Team) up-rated the suspension, breaks, wheels and tires as well as engine to produce 195 hp and later 200 from the 2.5 L V6. In a further nod to the sporting nature of it’s transformation, it was available only as a 5 speed manual. The interior’s straight forward black all business look was very European in carather and suggested speed with it’s white out gauges. The car was fast. Car and Driver reported reaching 140 mph, making them as fast as most Mustang GT’s. Priced in the mid to upper 20’s, it was considered to be a poor man’s Taurus SHO with style to rival anything coming out of Japan or Europe with it’s ground effects, rear spoiler and rear diffuser sporting a twin exhaust. The car handled well also, collecting praise from the automotive press.
There were unfortunate durability and mechanical problems that plagued the SVT, but effected the reputation of the rest of the Contour/Mystique line. It was so bad at one point that Motor Trend magazine stated shortly after the car’s discontinuation, that it regretted naming it as one of it’s 10 best cars, a distinction it earned in 1998 and 1999. It’s widely believed that America was not ready for a small, somewhat cramped high performance car that approached 30K – from Ford. The SVT later became a kind of cult favorite with the Blue Oval tuner crowd – itself a small group compared to the Honda, Mitsubishi, Subaru mafia that ruled the compact car world of tuning. Ironically, almost 10 years after the demise of the Contour, small high performance sedans are common place among import manufacturers. It still seems that Americans want their performance sedans to be big enough to accomodate the ever increasing size of fat children, their pets and even bigger adults (see Dodge Charger and 10 Taurus). The Contour was never replaced in Fords U.S. line up. Instead the cars below it got bigger (Focus) and the car that most closely matched the Contour in size, the Fusion was noticeablly larger. Mexicans, got a variation of the European Mondeo, while we made due with the Fusion. I’m still waiting for a Fusion SVT….