New Car/Review

1997 MERCURY MYSTIQUE LS

By Matt/Bob Hagin

Mercury

SEE ALSOL Mercury Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 16,150
Price As Tested                                    $ 22,395
Engine Type                            2.5 Liter V6 w/SPFI*
Engine Size                                 155 cid/2540 cc
Horsepower                                   170 @ 6250 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               165 @ 4250 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.5"/69.1"/183.5"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     2855 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  14.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P205/60R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                 75 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            21/30/25
0-60 MPH                                         11 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       18.5 seconds @ 82 mph
Top-speed                                           105 mph
     * Sequential port fuel injection

(The Mercury Mystique is, in truth, a more conservative version of its Ford sibling, the Contour. As usual, the Ford version gets most of the publicity, says Matt Hagin. His dad Bob agrees and says that he likes the Mercury version better, possibly for sentimental reasons.)

MATT - Although the '97 Mercury Mystique is into its third year of production and there's hardly anything new, it proves the old saying that it's folly to try to fix something that isn't broken. Straight out of the box, it was a very neat machine and one that had a definite sporting flair to it. This feeling may come from the fact that the Mystique and its brother, the Ford Contour, use continental technology. The major design factors were developed by Ford of Europe and this may be why the cars have a European "feel" to them.

BOB - It's sure an improvement over its predecessor, the Topaz. But in all honesty, we can't knock the Topaz too much since it was brought out in '83 and stuck around as a rolling household appliance for almost 10 years. It was an uninteresting, but reliable workhorse. This Mystique is another story, however. Although it's still hung on MacPherson struts up front, it uses a neat four-link rear suspension with coil springs on the shock struts. Its geometry is designed with a small amount of built-in rear wheel steering to neutralize some of the high-speed understeer. There's a pair of sway bars front and rear, but they put a thinner one on the Mystique that carries the little four-banger engine.

MATT - You really shouldn't turn up your nose at the four-cylinder engine that's standard in the Mystique, Dad. It's a twin-cam unit with four valves per cylinder that puts out 125 horsepower from only 121 cubic inches. But you're right in that it suffers by comparison to the V6. That engine is aluminum and develops another 45 ponies and will pull the 2800-pound Mystique to 60 MPH in just over nine seconds. Unfortunately, the only version we could test out here was carrying an automatic transmission and I can tell you from experience that the stick-shift version is noticeably quicker. A few months ago, Bridgestone Tire and Rubber Company used a bunch of Mystiques at a tire-testing demonstration I participated in and the five-speed is lots better.

BOB - The fact that the four-cylinder version of the Mystique carries drum brakes in back is something of a mystery to me. If I was going for any new car, having the best possible brakes, as well as an anti-skid system would be a top priority, although ABS is $570 extra on the Mystique. I've learned over the years that a few less feet of braking distance can make the difference between a close call and a bashed grille. I'd also recommend the traction control system that our LS version carried, which works well on slippery pavement. Incidentally, the grille and front-end treatment on the Mystique is more conservative than the Ford version, which describes me perfectly.

MATT - Most of the interior controls are easy to use, Dad, but there's a couple of things I don't like about the inside. Three adults in back really crowd things and there's no way to adjust the front seat height unless the car has power seats, according to the catalog. Our car had power seats, but the controls were hard to reach. And because it's behind the steering wheel, the door lock switch is also hard to reach also. Leather upholstery is nice, too, but pricey at almost $600. And I know that an automatic isn't everybody's choice, but I can't imagine that it costs an extra $815 over the manual. I suppose that's the price you have to pay for doing less work while driving. A tachometer comes as standard equipment on our LS version but it's totally useless with the automatic transmission since the shift points are predetermined and you can't over-rev the engine anyway. One problem I had was I couldn't make the child's car seat fit in the middle of the rear seat securely.

BOB - Matt, you're getting to sound more like me all the time. It must be your newfound sense of family responsibility. But I have a sentimental attachment to Mercurys due to the fact that I wrecked your uncle's '42 coupe when I was learning to drive.

MATT - Dad, I always wondered why Uncle Don wouldn't ride with you.

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