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New Car Review

1998 Ford Contour SVT: Top Secret?

by Tony DeCosmo


SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

Ford introduced the Contour as its "World Car," primarily because the engineering and development of this sedan was the product of high-tech across-the-ocean communication and coordination. It might also be called the "World Car" because the Contour was first introduced in Europe as the Mondeo a long time before it came to the states.

I've liked the Contour since day one because it takes to the back roads with a lot more enthusiasm than the typical four-door sedan. Furthermore, it maintains a decent ride and--with the six cylinder engine--the Contour has more than enough power for the average commuter.

On the other hand, the Contour seemed a tad pricy for the segment and the base four cylinder engine when linked to an automatic gearbox was less than inspiring, although not quite "sluggish."

Well, the Ford Contour SVT is here and it may be one of the best kept secrets in the automotive world. While the price of this Contour increases all the way up to my as-tested sticker of $23,040 (several grand above the base car), the value of the car increases even more dramatically.

How can I say that? Because my stint with a Contour SVT left me with nothing but smiles.

As you may already know, "SVT" stands for "Special Vehicle Team." Basically, these guys are a bunch of crazies--I mean engineers and specialists--who go around trying to think up nifty ways to make Ford products the bane of Ralph Nader's existence. They've succeeded before with such products as the mid-eighties Mustang SVO (the group was, at that point, called "Special Vehicle Operations,") and the recent Mustang Cobra SVT. The outrageous Ford Lightning pickup truck was another of Ford's performance experiments that will leave a lasting impression on this test-driver.

Anyway, the difference in the Contour SVT is immediately visible: the exterior is draped in fancy ground effects, a more aggressive front fascia, and nifty 16" cast aluminum wheels.

If that's not enough to scare away Honda Accords, then just listen to the engine: this 2.5-liter "High Output" V6 utilizes dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder to reach 195 horsepower. But forget the numbers and technology, this is one of the most aggressive sounding engines I have ever heard in any car, let alone a sedan. Based on noise alone, this powerplant will make Camaros shiver.

Part of the fun of this car is that you can enjoy all that engine noise all the way up the rev band thanks to a snappy five-speed shifter. This unit, with a very short clutch and an extremely "tight" first gear, will guide you through the gears as you take to the back roads. Believe it or not, this Contour is as fun to drive as many of the sports cars I've tested. No, I'm not on medication.

This fun extends to esse turns, where the car's tires grip and hold the road firm and true. The only downside is that the Contour is subject to a fair amount of body roll, but the tires never seem to complain. In essence, you'll run out of guts before the car does.

But all that body roll doesn't translate into a rough ride, thanks to the incredible seats. The front seats in the Contour may be the best I've ever enjoyed in any car. The lateral support is incredible yet the "Blue SVT" leather seats are soft enough for long-term comfort. I urge all other manufacturers to take a good close look at these seats.

In addition to these incredible seats, the driver will appreciate the exceedingly sporty gauges. Like the Mustang Cobra SVT, the gauges are reversed, i.e., a white background with colored numbers. They are easier to read than the standard gauges, especially at night when the eerie glow of the dashboard illuminates the cabin.

As in the regular Contour, the back seats are capable of holding two average-size adults for a fair distance, but don't try to squeeze three back there unless it's a really short trip. The trunk, on the other hand, has more than enough room for that third passenger, especially if it's your mother-in-law.

The features list is by no means lacking: power windows, locks, and mirrors; a very strong am/fm stereo with CD player; dual air bags; anti-lock assist for the four-wheel disc brakes; cruise control; and a remote entry system.

Let me offer a summary of what I found during my test drive of the Contour SVT. On the plus side, it has an incredible engine which delivers speed almost as well as it delivers sound; the five-speed shifter is great and adds to the drivetrain package to make this car something special on back roads and when zipping through commuter traffic; the front seats are the best I've ever tested in a Ford product, perhaps the best I've ever tested, period; the stereo rocks; the trunk is roomy; and the back seat is just enough for two adults.

On the minus side...Come to think of it, I can't think of any misses on the Contour's list. If I really wanted to stretch things, I could say that I missed the power sun roof in my test car.

As I've already stated, my test car came in at an as-tested price of $23,040. That's not peanuts, but it is easily a value for the money. In fact, the Ford Contour SVT is more than just a value, it may be the best kept secret in the automotive world.