New Car Review

1998 Mercury Mystique LS

by Carey Russ

mercury

SEE ALSOL Mercury Buyer's Guide


The 1998 Mercury Mystique stands out from the crowd. Distinctive new styling that gives it a strong resemblance to its upscale relatives at Lincoln is part of the reason, but there's more. The Mystique successfully combines elements of American and European character. Like many European sedans, it is very much a driver's car, with responsive engines and nimble handling. Unlike some of those imports, it has American-style interior appointments and accessories.

The Mystique's international flavor shouldn't come as a surprise. It, and its close cousin the Ford Contour, are the North American versions of an international platform that includes the European Ford Mondeo. Along with the Contour, the Mystique started the 1998 model year early, in the Spring of 1997. Both have a moderate restyling for 1998, as well as numerous small interior and mechanical changes.

Three trim levels of the Mystique are being offered for 1998, base, GS, and LS. All share the new exterior styling and interior upgrades for more room and quietness. The standard 2.0-liter 4- cylinder "Zetec" engine has a host of refinements for quieter, more efficient operation, and the 2.5-liter "Duratec" V6 continues to be available. A Duratec-equipped Mystique LS sits in my driveway at the moment. Mercury designed the Mystique for people who are automotive enthusiasts, and is on the mark. I've had a grin on my face most of the time I've been driving the Mystique. It combines comfort and performance like few other cars in its class.

APPEARANCE: The restyled Mystique is as bold as the original was conservative. If Mercury is seeking a better-defined style and image, the '98 Mystique will help considerably. Although the sheetmetal is little changed from the windshield back, the hood, grille, and headlights are all new and give the Mystique flair - and a more-than- passing resemblance to some upscale cousins at Lincoln. The pointed, chrome-trimmed waterfall grille and sculpted hood blend very well with the crisply-raised front fender line and new wraparound multi- element headlights. The higher hoodline has an important benefit besides style. It makes it easier to judge where the front of the car is during parking maneuvers. The Mystique LS sports 6-spoked alloy wheels.

COMFORT: The Mystique LS is most American inside. Layout and appointments are designed for domestic tastes. Leather upholstery and woodgrain trim on the instrument panel help give American luxury ambiance. Small storage spaces around the cabin, and a large glove box, add convenience, as do power windows, mirrors, and doorlocks. Unlike most American cars with luxury intent, the Mystique is made to enhance the driving experience. The front bucket seats are supportive and good for distance. The driver's seat is power-adjustable. A thick- rimmed, leather -wrapped, tilt-adjustable steering wheel helps control. The gearshift lever is placed for quick, easy use. The Mystique's instrument panel is more mainstream in design than on most other current Ford products. Although it is done in a contemporary flowing style, with no straight lines or edges, it lacks the oval motif prominent in some other Ford Motor Company cars and trucks. Control and instrument placement is generally very good, although the control buttons on the optional AM/FM/CD stereo system are on the small side. A redesign of the front seat backs adds rear legroom. The Mystique is a "small family car". That phrase can be taken two ways: a small car for families or a car for small families. It is sized for four or five medium-sized people, or two large and two small. The rear seats folds with a 60/40 split, and the trunk is usefully large.

SAFETY: The 1998 Mercury Mystique LS has safety-cell chassis construction, dual depowered airbags, and 4-wheel vented disc brakes. Antilock brakes are available. All five occupants have a 3-point safety harness.

ROADABILITY: The Mystique's European character shows in its road manners. The rigid chassis structure provides a solid anchor for the fully independent suspension. Enhancements to the front suspension and steering allow better road feel and a supple ride with no loss of cornering abilities. The suspension is softly-sprung and well-damped, and combines ride comfort and good handling characteristics on all road surfaces. The Mystique is quiet inside, and stable in strong crosswinds. It is an enjoyable car to drive, whether to the local supermarket or across the state.

PERFORMANCE: The 2.5-liter "Duratec" V6 used in the Mystique LS is largely responsible for the car's entertaining character and smooth performance. Strong midrange torque and 170 peak horsepower make for quick acceleration with a minimum of shifting. New, short-throw cable-operated shift linkage for the standard 5-speed manual transmission, and a new low-inertia clutch make shifting quick and easy. Although the manual gearbox adds to the sporty flavor of the car, a 4-speed automatic is available. I drove a Mystique so equipped several years ago and found it to be a good match for the engine.

CONCLUSIONS: The 1998 Mercury Mystique has an elegant new look to go with its combination of comfort and performance.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 17,645
Price As Tested          $ 19,235
Engine Type              aluminum alloy, dual overhead
                         cam, 24-valve V6
Engine Size              2.5 liters / 155 cu. in.
Horsepower               170 @ 6250
Torque (lb-ft)           165 @ 4250
Transmission             5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       106.5 in. / 184.8 in.
Curb Weight              3021 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    17.8
Fuel Capacity            16.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular, 87 octane
Tires                    P205/60R 15 Goodyear 
                         Eagle GT + 4 m+s
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / vented disc, 
                         antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut /
                         independent multilink
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      NA / NA / 22
0 to 60 mph                        est 8.0 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                    est 16  sec
Coefficient of Drag (Cd)           0.31

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Premium AM/FM sound system
    with CD player            $ 275
CA/ NY / MA Emissions         $ 170
Antilock Brakes               $ 500
Smoker's package              $  15
Power Antenna                 $  95
Destination charge            $ 535

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