New Car Review

1998 FORD CONTOUR SVT

by Matt/Bob Hagin

ford

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 22,365
Price As Tested                                    $ 23,070
Engine Type                            2.5 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 155 cid/2544 cc
Horsepower                                   195 @ 6625 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               165 @ 5625 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.5"/69.1"/183.9"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     3094 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  14.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                    P205/55ZR16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.31

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            20/29/24
0-60 MPH                                        7.4 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       15.5 seconds @ 88 mph
Top speed                                           140 mph
     * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

(Ford likes to get in on every possible market niche worldwide and its newest Contour SVT is that company's warrior in the mid-sized performance sedan market. Matt Hagin likes hot-rod sedans, but his dad Bob would rather have a sports car come with two seats and a flip-top.)

MATT - This latest version of the Ford's Contour SVT is really a performer, Dad. Basically it's a standard Contour SE, but the company's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) was allowed an almost free hand to get it into the category of sports sedan. It has some stiff competition from both Europe and Asia, but the SVT had a good basic unit to work from. The Contour SE starts off with a rev-happy 2.5 liter V6 engine that sports two cams on each aluminum head and four valves per cylinder. From there, the SVT massages it with typical modern hot-rod tricks like an enlarged intake manifold, a slightly modified fuel injection system and a "tweaking" of the computer system. The horsepower is raised to 195, which pulls the 3100-pound machine along at a pretty good clip. It also gives an acceleration rate of 0-to-60 in a little over seven seconds.

BOB - It's obvious that Ford is shooting for the family person who wants performance with four doors, Matt. The Contour SVT only comes with a five-speed transmission, although the less muscular SE version can be had with an automatic. The tires are slightly larger 205/55ZR16 performance units, although if you get stuck with a flat, you have to limp home on one of those puny "space-saver" spares. The suspension has been modified a bit, too, and I was surprised to find that the SVT had made the shocks stiffer, but the springs and sway bar in front a bit softer. I suspect that this was done to induce a little oversteer into the chassis to give it a more European feel, since the car is a bit nose-heavy with more than 60 percent of the weight in front.

MATT - Actually there's a lot more "European" in the new Contour SVT than just handling feel, Dad. A lot of the performance items and a lot of the design features come from the British Ford version of the Contour. It's called the Mondeo, and it's part of the program to make vehicles that are acceptable in all parts of the world. The brakes, for instance, are lifted from its European counterpart, and the white-faced speedometer reads an optimistic 160 MPH. The exhaust system was enlarged to 2.25 inches and gives a "sporting" rap under full throttle. The luxury items, however, are strictly American. Air conditioning is standard, as are power door locks, windows and 10-way front seat adjustments. A fairly high-class AM/FM cassette sound system is standard, too, and if the buyer wants an in-dash CD player instead, it can be substituted for the cassette. One of the things that Suzanne likes about the car is that it has a high seating position and she can easily see over the steering wheel. The air circulation system has a particulate filtration system, too, for those sensitive noses.

BOB - For '98, there's been a lot of changes in all the Contours. The body shell itself is new and the interior has been enlarged. The front seats have been bolstered up a bit in keeping with the sporting nature of the car. But it's not much of a tow vehicle, however. It's only rated at 1000 pounds of tow capacity and a tongue weight of only 100 pounds. This is probably a result of having so much weight up front.

MATT - For a car that has so much of a sporting flair, the Contour SVT is fairly docile to drive around town, even though the clutch has been beefed-up from last year and the flywheel has been lightened by a couple of pounds. The fuel mileage is a reasonable 20 MPG around town and up to 29 on the highway. The capacity of the trunk is respectable, too, at 13 cubic feet, and you don't have to be double-jointed to get into the back seat.

BOB - Sports sedans are fun, but I still like the idea of a fast car having a convertible top so that the wind can whistle through your hair.

MATT - So Dad, how come whenever we have a convertible to try out, you never even put the top down?

BOB - I said I only liked the idea, Matt. Besides, I don't have much hair left to rustle.

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