New Car/Review

1998 MERCURY TRACER LS SEDAN TRIO

by Tom Hagin

mercury

SEE ALSOL Mercury Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 12,710
Price As Tested                                    $ 15,605
Engine Type                SOHC 2-valve 2.0 Liter I4 w/PFI*
Engine Size                                 121 cid/1988 cc
Horsepower                                   110 @ 5000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               125 @ 3750 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                     98.4"/67"/174.7"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     2578 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  12.8 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P185/65R14
Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/drum
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                 85 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.34

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            28/37/33         
0-60 MPH                                         10 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       18 seconds @ 79.5 mph
Top speed                                           100 mph
     * Port fuel injection

Most of today's Lincoln-Mercury advertising is targeted toward a much younger crowd than ever before. But why does the company all but ignore advertising for its entry-level family compact sedan and wagon, the Tracer? Chances are, it makes lots more money on its Navigator and Mountaineer SUVs than its entry-level compacts.

The Tracer comes as a sedan or wagon, and can be trimmed two ways. The LS is the uplevel model, and the GS is base. The GS model comes in sedan form only, and both can be equipped with an optional Trio package, like the one we test this week.

OUTSIDE - Tracer was new last year, so changes for '98 are minimal. Wide-set headlamps dominate the sharply-pointed nose, and the sweeping arched roof line is slightly (albeit ever so slightly) reminiscent of its new Lincoln siblings, the Town Car and Continental. All Tracer models wear body-color bumpers and door handles, but to get same-color mirrors, you'll have to buy a different car. Fourteen-inch "geometric" alloy wheels are part of the Trio package, as is a chrome exhaust tip, integrated fog lamps, a rear deck lid spoiler and special Trio badging.

INSIDE - Tracer's interior layout deserves praise. It is ergonomically correct and features organic shapes and textures. Tracer's dashboard layout uses the Integrated Control Panel - a system that combines the audio and ventilation controls into one flush-mounted unit. The front bucket seats are firm and supportive, but could use more padding. The rear seats fit two adults across - three in an emergency - but space is limited. In all fairness, however, it's tough to expect large car room from a compact. All Tracer model have such standard features as variable intermittent wipers, rear seat heater ducts, solar-tint glass, a center console with more storage, while Trio models get flashy graphics on the seat trim. Our LS tester featured optional air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and door locks, rear window defroster, anti-theft technology and an AM/FM cassette stereo.

ON THE ROAD - Tracer is powered by a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine that produces 110 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque which is a far cry from the old model's 88 horses and 108 lb-ft of torque. A few others in its class produce 150 horsepower or more, but the Tracer powerplant seems adequate for a small, practical family car. It does, however, certify as a low-emissions vehicle in California, thanks to improvements like dual-stage intake manifold runners and less engine friction and mass. Most four-cylinder units used in economy cars make lots of noise and vibrate a bit at high rpms, and the Tracer engine falls into this category. Our test car was fitted with a five-speed manual transmission, and with the relatively small amount of power available, shifting to keep the power up is frequent - but fun. For those wishing to let the vehicle shift on its own, a smooth-shifting four-speed automatic is optionally available.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - To keep in step with current automotive technological trends and to make the car more rigid, Mercury engineers stiffened Tracer's structure with a brace under the center tunnel to help keep vibrations from reaching the seats. Also, stiffer strut tower mounts have produced more solid suspension mounting points. The front suspension layout is independent by MacPherson struts while the rear is a link-type and also independent - a system Mercury calls Quadralink. It uses coil springs, stabilizer bars and tube shocks, and its designers have specified special bushings and suspension geometry to enhance its cornering abilities. It uses quick-turn power rack-and-pinion steering and front disc/rear drum brakes. A four-channel anti-lock braking system (ABS) is optional.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, side-impact beams and optional ABS.

OPTIONS - Preferred Equipment Group: (rear defrost, power mirrors, windows, door locks, air conditioning, AM/FM cassette): $1,970; Convenience Group (front and rear floor mats, cruise control, dual map lights/vanity mirrors): $495; California emissions: $100; Destination: $415.

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