FORD CONTOUR SE SPORT 1999
I have to admit to adopting an uninspired look upon first seeing the Ford Contour. It’s perfectly nice looking, if somewhat unremarkable, in a ‘I’m a nice family 4-door’ kind of way. It’s basically the same car as the European Mondeo, which has done respectable business on the other side of the pond, especially in the ‘rep car’ category, and the Contour now shares the Mondeo’s suspension design.
What one might not expect though, is to discover what a pleasant experience it is to actually drive the Contour. I mean, a real surprise of the-girl-comes-out-of-the-cake variety. From the first bout of acceleration, this car shows its true colours. I was testing the SE Sport model, which comes equipped with a 2.5 litre Duratec, DOHC, 24-valve, V6 engine which produces 170 horses at 6,250rpm. The low-end torque is excellent and the car gets up to speed impressively quickly, with smooth gear changes and a light clutch. Accelerating away from anything was easy, even at low revs, or in fifth gear, and there was plenty of power for pulling away from even the most ardent fast-lane-fender-followers (does the term ‘braking distance’ have any meaning here? I think not.)
The handling was adequately firm, although aggressive cornering maneuvers were to be attempted with some caution, since the Contour definitely gave off the impression of a willingness to slide out of some of the cornering situations. The Sport came equipped with ABS and traction control. The former supplied reassuringly quick and efficient braking ability, but unfortunately a dry week in LA did not afford me the opportunity to properly test the traction control option.
Even with admittedly liberal use of the accelerator, the fuel economy was laughably good and I can see the attraction of the Contour as a ‘rep car’, if you have to do a lot of miles, want something with a bit of oomph, but don’t want to have to fill up after every Stop sign. Interestingly enough, both the 2.0 litre and the 2.5 litre are available as a bi-fuel gas vehicle, with just a flip of a switch required to operate on natural gas or gasoline.
The exterior of the car is, as I have said, rather un-shocking in its conformity, although the rear spoiler included with the Sport Package gives it a slightly more aggressive look, and actually adds balance to the lines of the car. The interior is nicely appointed and laid out, although again in a relatively ‘safe’ way. However, the first thing that struck me was that the steering wheel is rather ‘bulbous’ in its design, and was rather off-putting for the first couple of journeys. It doesn’t particularly interfere with one’s driving, but does give the impression that the steering wheel is a lot closer than one would normally desire - especially if an airbag were ever to come into play. The blue interior was, again, fine, and the dash was easy to read, if rather uninspired in its layout.
One point I will make, and give a very big thumbs down to, is the positioning of the hazard-lights-button - on top of the steering column, and placed directly through the arms of the wheel itself. Now, to be fair, I have seen it placed here before on other cars, but for the life of me cannot imagine who ever came up with such a ridiculous location. It strikes me as extremely dangerous and surely there must be a clearer, safer, and easier to reach location for this most necessary of buttons. But I digress.
The cabin of the car provided ample seating for 4-5 people, and the front seats have in fact been redesigned so as to provide an additional half inch of knee room and 1.2 inches of legroom for the rear-seat passengers. Mind you, I’m fairly sure that the rear passengers are likely to be trussed up in baby-seats, but anyway…
The front seats were good and firm, in a ‘Sporty’ way and equipped with a 6-way power adjustment option on the driver’s side. Oh, and just in case you forget you have the ‘Sporty’ option, it’s embossed on the floor mats too!
The interior amenities included dual airbags, leather wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, illuminated vanity mirror and AM/FM/CD, which provided a good, if unexceptional, sound. One thing I would like to comment on is the design of the cupholders! Now, let’s face it, if you’re going to go to all the trouble of including them, why not make sure that they at least live up to their name - i.e. they hold things. I’m not sure who at Ford conceived this concept, but boy do they need a rethink. They have designed something which is kind of spongy, presumably so that it can accommodate different sized objects. However, the ‘sponge’ does not make a complete circle, so those objects upon which the ‘sponge’ does not have a firm hold, are consequently in a tenuous position and likely to empty their contents over the driver’s right foot at the earliest accelerating/braking/cornering opportunity. The same is to be said for the passenger’s left foot - so beware, you have been warned. No cans in the Contour or bottles with no tops!
Anyhow, wet feet aside, I did actually enjoy the actual driving of this car, and at $18,540 for the model tested, it seems a pretty good buy for the money, even if you just take the engine into consideration. Indeed, if that’s what you’re primarily concerned with and can take leave of the ‘Sport’ embossed floor mats etc, the base price for the Contour is a welcome $15, 955.
It may be targeted as a family car, but even with baby-seats in the back, you can still be guaranteed a nippy, fun, responsive drive, without the worry of the kids throwing up in the back.
FACTS AND FIGURES - 1999 Contour SE 4 Door Sedan Base Price $15,995 Model Tested $18,540 2.5 litre, DOHC 6 cylinder engine 5 speed manual transmission ABS $ 500 All Speed Traction control $ 175 Remote Keyless Entry $ 190 AM/FM/CD $ 275 Power Antenna $ 95 SE Sport Group $ 1000 includes: 15" 8 Spoke Alum. Wheels Tachometer Leather Wrapped Steering wheel Rear Spoiler Sport Floor Mats Variable Interval Wipers Fog Lamps Leather Shift Knob Illuminated Vanity Mirror Sport Badging Cladding Destination & Delivery $ 535