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SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

Ford Contour GL

by Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

Ford may well be the most internationally-oriented of the American auto makers. It has been manufacturing cars in England since 1911, and Germany since 1925. The first European Fords were American designs assembled from American parts. Separate, distinctively European Fords have been built in England from 1932 and Germany from 1931. Although the first European Fords were largely designed in the United States, later cars were completely European products. Some even made it back to the States.

Ford's first "world car" was the Escort in 1981. The idea was sound - one basic platform shared among different markets in order to rationalize costs - but the American and European Escorts turned out to have little in common when they went on sale. The Ford Contour, introduced in the 1995 model year, is the American version of Ford's second world car. Unlike the Escort, the Contour and its American sibling the Mercury Mystique share nearly everything under the skin with the European Ford Mondeo. Only the styling and appointments differ greatly between the cars.

Three trim levels of Contour are available: the basic GL, the comfort-oriented LX, and sporty SE. GL and LX models come with a 2-liter 4-cylinder engine. A 2.5-liter V6 is standard in the SE. All are front-wheel drive four-door sedans.

I had a V6-powered Mercury Mystique as a test car about a year ago and found it to be a comfortable and refined machine. The Contour LX is very similar. I recently had the opportunity to drive a 4-cylinder Contour GL. It was a comfortable, conveniently-sized car with good fuel economy and a surprisingly sporty character.

APPEARANCE: In a world of lookalike compact cars, the Ford Contour is strikingly different. In styling, the Contour can be seen to be the first of the newest generation of Ford cars. Its most notable feature is the small, oval front air intake and oval multi-element headlights above the body-colored bumper. Another intake (oval, of course) is below the bumper. The Contour is handsomely rounded from all angles, and is quite European in appearance.

COMFORT: The GL may be the base Contour model, but it is not lacking is standard appointments and creature comforts. All Contours have new front bucket seats with redesigned seat backs that give rear seat passengers more knee room. It can hold four adults, or two adults and three children, in comfort, and its usefulness is enhanced by a good-sized trunk. Rear seat passengers get their own heater ducts. Instrumentation and controls are well-positioned and easy to use. Plenty of options are available to enable the Contour to be tailored to individual needs. Mine had power windows, heated mirrors, and door locks with remote keyless entry, air conditioning, a good AM/FM/cassette sound system, and antilock brakes.

SAFETY: The Contour GL has a comprehensive list of standard safety equipment including dual airbags, safety cell construction, anti- submarining seats, 5-mph bumpers, height-adjustable front shoulder harnesses, and childproof rear door locks. Antilock brakes are available.

ROADABILITY: The Contour is a great improvement over its ancestors in the ride and handling department. Even in the entry- level GL, shock and spring rates are matched for good ride and handling characteristics. The ride is firm but supple, and soaks up potholes, freeway expansion joints, and all of the other modern road hazards well. The Contour GL has good handling characteristics and can be an enjoyable car on a twisty road or freeway ramp. A few laps around Sears Point Raceway last year in a Contour SE showed it to hold its own with some pricier pedigreed machinery.

PERFORMANCE: The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine in the Contour GL is a thoroughly modern powerplant with dual overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder, sequential multiport fuel injection, and sophisticated EEC-IV control electronics. It shares the "Zetec" name with Ford's Formula One engines. With 125 horsepower and 130 lb-ft of torque, it has no problems in traffic. Fuel economy is very good. My test car had the standard 5-speed manual transmission, which allowed maximum enjoyment of the engine's high-rpm nature. The shift linkage was good and clutch action light enough that even Los Angeles traffic was no problem. The Zetec engine even sounds sporty. For those people who need more power, the optional Duratec 2.5-liter V6 is an excellent engine.

CONCLUSIONS: The Ford Contour is a compact sedan with international flair and sporty character, even in the basic GL model.

                                SPECIFICATIONS
                             1996 Ford Contour GL

Base Price                              $ 13,785
Price As Tested                         $ 17,000
Engine Type                             inline 4-cylinder,
                                      DOHC, 16 valves
Engine Size                             2.0 liters, 122 cu. in.
Horsepower                              125 @ 5500
Torque (lb-ft)                     130 @ 4000
Transmission                       5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length                 106.5 / 183.9 in.
Curb Weight                             2769 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower                   22
Fuel Capacity                      14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement                        unleaded regular
Tires                                   P185/70 R14
Brakes, front/rear                      disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear         independent strut /
                          independent quadralink strut
Drivetrain                    front engine, front-wheel drive

                    PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed           24/34/31
0 to 60 mph                             9.5 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                         17.0 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)                0.31

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