New Car Review
1996 FORD CONTOUR SE
by Tom Hagin
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 16,170 Price As Tested $ 21,795 Engine Type 2.5 liter V6 w/EFI* Engine Size 154 cid/2537 cc Horsepower 170 @ 6250 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 165 @ 4250 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 106.5"/69.1"/183.9 Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 2810 pounds Fuel Capacity 14.5 gallons Tires (F/R) P205/60R15 Brakes (F/R) Disc-ABS/disc-ABS Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/four-door Domestic Content 90 percent Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) 0.31 PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 21/30/26 0-60 MPH 9.7 seconds 1/4 mile (E.T.) 17.9 seconds @ 82 mph Top Speed (Est.) N/A * Electronic fuel injection
Ford's "world car," the Contour, brings a European flair to the mid-priced sedan segment at Ford that was previously occupied by the dull and uninspired Ford Tempo. Available as the entry-level GL version, mid-line LX and sporty SE, Contour is carefully constructed, gives precise handling and is built with efficient use of interior space.
This week's test starts behind the wheel of the Contour SE, with its assertive stance, wide tires and sporting suspension. Fortunately, we received no speeding tickets that week, but we could have.
OUTSIDE - Contour features a modern design, with smoothly rounded corners, flush door handles, and integrated bumpers with built-in fog lamps. This shape has enabled Ford engineers to develop an impressive 0.31 coefficient of drag, which helps control wind noise and raise fuel mileage. Its rigid construction was noticeable on the road, as well as when each door was shut, which produced a reassuring thud. A low lift-over trunk lid makes loading cargo simple, and its 14 cubic feet of space is about average in Contour's sedan class. A split folding rear seat adds more cargo room. Contour SE models come standard with a sporty rear spoiler, seven-spoke alloy wheels, body-color bumpers and mirrors, and large P205/60R15 tires.
INSIDE - In keeping with the car's sporting nature, Contour SE's front bucket seats gave good lateral support, even under heavy cornering. A full-length center console resides between the front seats, and features ample storage and pop-up cupholders. While there is enough room up front for almost anyone to find a comfortable position, those in back may find it cramped. Ford has addressed the issue by scooping material from the front seat-backs, along with a repositioning of the rear seat cushion for even more room. Standard interior items include an AM/FM cassette stereo and power outside mirrors (LX and SE models), a pollen filter for the ventilation system, and a rear passenger compartment heat duct. Our test car came equipped with a $1,870 options package which included air conditioning, a rear window defroster, power door locks and windows, cruise control and special interior lighting.
ON THE ROAD - Contour's base engine, available with GL and LX models only, is a 125-horsepower 2.0 liter inline four. Its power is adequate enough, and gives stellar fuel mileage. But when the 2.5 liter "Duratec" V6 is offered (it's standard on Contour SE), it is understandable why we liked it best. The Duratec engine gives 170 horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque, which moves the car quickly to speed. What's more, the torque comes on at relatively low rpms, which means the throttle pedal doesn't need to be floored to safely enter a crowded freeway. The added power doesn't sacrifice fuel economy, either, as we stretched over 30 mpg from a long distance drive. Both a five-speed manual (standard) and a four-speed automatic (optional) transmission are offered, and the two make for a vastly differing driving experience.
BEHIND THE WHEEL - All Contour models have four-wheel independent suspension, with coil springs and front and rear stabilizer bars. The SE model handles best, but rides the roughest of the three. Its sport suspension uses stiff springs and shocks, along with larger-diameter stabilizer bars and grippier tires. Equipped this way, Contour SE handles as good or better than many sports sedans costing much more. We were able to slip through our impromptu slalom course (in a mall parking lot) with speed and agility. Putting the optional V6 under the hood of any Contour model adds disc brakes in the rear to replace the four-cylinder model's rear drums. An anti-lock braking system (ABS) is available and traction control can be fitted as well. This system, which controls wheelspin while accelerating on slippery surfaces, and can be deactivated if needed. SE models all come equipped this way, and its braking was superior to the Contour GL we tested last year.
SAFETY - Dual airbags and side-impact protection are standard, while ABS and traction control are optional.
OPTIONS - A power moonroof and leather seats add $595, while a CD player upgrade is a $270 extra. Traction control/ABS costs $805.