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New Car Review

Ford Contour SVT

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:             2.5-liter High Output DOHC V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  195 hp @ 6,625 rpm/165 ft-lbs @ 5,625 rpm
TRANSMISSION:       Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:       20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, 18.7 mpg test
WHEELBASE:          106.5 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:     184.6 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:     54.5 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:      69.1 in.
CURB WEIGHT:        3,068 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:      14.5 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:   13.9 cu. ft.
TIRES:              P205/55ZR16
INSTRUMENTS:        Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                    water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:          Power windows, power door locks, 
                    power mirrors, power seats, cruise control, 
                    air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with 
                    cassette and CD, anti-lock four-wheel 
                    disc brakes, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:      $23,040

First the Ford Tempo and later the Ford Contour never received good press. For some reason, the "experts" in the auto reviewing fraternity don't think too much of these cars.

Apparently I'm not an expert, because I've always liked them. I think they're a nice size, conservatively styled and a good package for the first or second car buyer. There is a lot of junk out there that I wouldn't consider, but the contour is a car that could perform a function for someone who's looking for a first car. I have a friend who had one for a first car and then bought another for her second car, validating my opinion.

Ford has added something to the mix for 1998 that should spice things up a bit. It's called the Contour SVT. It has been massaged by Ford's Special Vehicle Team, formerly known as Special Vehicle Operations or SVO. And they've made a more powerful car out of the Contour and one that handles well. The "experts" will also say it's a more attractive car, and for once I'll agree with them.

Up front is a 2.5-liter V-6 engine that has been tweaked from its normal 170 hp to 195 hp. The extra horses come from a lighter flywheel, aluminum pistons, high lift and long duration cams, ported and polished intake manifold and larger throttle body. This engine drives the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. It's quite possible to leave little strips of rubber on hard acceleration and it's quite possible to scare yourself if you're not careful. The Contour SVT is that kind of car.

The suspension has also been tuned for a better ride. Note, I didn't say a softer or stiffer ride, just a better one. The front antiroll bar is smaller diameter and there are softer spring rates combined with Z-rated 205/55 16-inch radials that give the compact sedan a nice ride. You can throw it around most curves and know that it isn't going to get away from you and get you in trouble (except with some locals who may think you're having too much fun).

Instruments appear to have ben taken from the Mustang Cobra. They're black on white until it gets dark and you turn the lights on. Then they become white on black with an eerie orange glow all around. The speedometer goes all the way up to 160 mph and I'll bet the Contour can get close to that. Ford claims 143 mph, which is close enough for me, thank you.

because of the inherent stability of the Contour, you feel it will be safe if it ever does go that fast.

Seats in the Contour are improved as well with excellent side support. Since this is a car that begs to be thrown into corners and driven hard on winding roads, it's nice to know there's a seat that will hold you in as well as the belts. There are large bolsters in the kidney area that make you want to settle in.

In the rear is a bench that is wide enough for two passengers. In the SVT it's leather covered. And there's a decent trunk behind, with a fold-down feature to the rear seats that allows you to expand its capacity.

We had fun in the Contour SVT. It's not the conservative compact sedan that grew out of Ford's $10 billion Mondeo program. But it is a neat little sporty sedan that will compete well with the competition from BMW and stay with the more expensive German car through most of the ride.