V6 puts power in this sporty sedan.
by Mitch McCullough
Base Price $16,940
As Tested $19,255
Ford Contour combines sporty driving dynamics with the comfort and practicality of a four-door sedan. The Contour comes standard with a V6 engine. Ride and handling were improved last year. It doesn't have the rear-seat space of a Taurus, but Ford improved rear legroom two years ago and revised the styling.
Contour SVT pours on the coal with a higher output version of the Duratec V6, a sports suspension and bigger brakes.
Two models are available: Sport ($16,940) and SVT ($22,810).
The Sport (called the SE Sport last year) comes with Ford's 2.5-liter Duratec V6 rated at 170 horsepower. It is available with a 5-speed manual gearbox or an optional 4-speed electronically controlled automatic.
The SVT comes with a high-output version of the already powerful Duratec V6 that is rated at 195 horsepower. It only comes with a manual transmission; an automatic is not available with the SVT. Antilock brakes, which are optional on the Sport model, are standard on the SVT. The SVT interior is distinguished by black-on-white gauges, SVT logos and dark blue leather upholstery.
The Contour looks like a Ford with its classic jellybean styling. The organic styling of the Ford Contour is attractive. The smooth, rounded lines meld into an elegant shape that is pleasing to the eye. It's also an aerodynamic shape that contributes to lower fuel economy and reduced wind noise. It looks a bit dated at this point, however, having been introduced more than four years ago. The Contour blends easily into the traffic, so consider a yellow Mustang if you want to attract a lot of attention.
A less radical approach would be to buy an SVT Contour. It comes with a unique front fascia with round fog lamps, rear valance panel, rocker sill extensions, grille texture, and stainless steel exhaust tips. The front fascia includes ducting to improve the cooling system's performance. SVT Contour is available in Black Clearcoat, Silver Frost Clearcoat Metallic, Toreador Red Clearcoat Metallic and Tropic Green Clearcoat Metallic.
Contour's interior design was influenced by Ford's European designers. The interior looks sculpted, cozy and warm. The dashboard flows gracefully into the door panels. The layout is practical, clean and logical. Controls are located right where you'd expect them to be. Switches have a solid, dependable feel. Gauges are more than adequate in size, well-lighted and easy to read. We give special praise to the placement of both the radio and climate control switches. You don't have to go stretching to change stations or turn the heat up on a cold winter's drive. Our only criticism is with the audio system buttons themselves, which are undersized and hard to operate when the car is moving. Also, the cupholders are shallow and don't work as well as they should. During the past five years, Ford's engineers have improved seals and other areas to reduce noise.
The front bucket seats are first rate, comfortable and supportive. They offer plenty of room, even for taller drivers, with a wide range of adjustments including height. Adjustable shoulder harnesses contribute further to comfort.
Ford increased rear legroom a couple of years ago by scooping out the front seatbacks and making subtle adjustments to the rear seat cushions. Still, rear headroom remains on the short side, due to the swooping roofline.
SVT Contour features perforated leather on all seating surfaces available in Midnight Blue or Prairie Tan. It comes with a great leather-wrapped steering wheel along with a leather-covered shifter boot and shift knob. A specially designed driver's seat features 10-way power adjustment, including power lumbar. The front seat's lateral bolstering is accentuated on both the seat cushion and the seatback. The rear seat bottom cushions have been given greater bolstering to more firmly hold the two outboard passengers.
With its powerful V6 engine and European-tuned suspension, the Ford Contour offers good acceleration and handling.
The 2.5-liter Duratec V6 puts out a spirited 170 horsepower, and develops maximum torque at relatively low engine revs. This gives it excellent off-the-line acceleration. Employing four valves per cylinder and double overhead cams, the Duratec V6 was engineered with the help of Porsche Engineering and Cosworth, which specializes in Ford racing engines. Maintenance is low. For the first 100,000 miles, you won't need to do have anything done but oil, fluid and filter changes.
The 5-speed manual gearbox works well and we prefer it. Most buyers, however, will opt for the 4-speed automatic, which offers quiet and smooth shifting.
Contour comes standard with 15-inch wheels and tires. Ride and handling were improved in 1999 with revisions to the front subframe and A-arm design, resulting in reduced friction and improved steering precision. It dampens vibration on rough, urban roads, yet maintains a spirited character when you slip out to the countryside. The Contour seems eager to challenge the highway. Body roll is subdued, steering is responsive and predictable. Still, handling response of the Contour Sport model is not as crisp as that of some of the newer models from Honda and Toyota.
Those who want high performance and responsive handling should consider the SVT Contour with its growling 200 horsepower V6. By smoothing airflow through the engine using a process called extrude honing, Ford's Special Vehicle Team has extracted 200 horsepower at 6600 rpm and 170 foot-pounds of torque at 5500.
The SVT Contour also includes some significant tweaks to the suspension along with special wheels and tires. Equipped with wet-dry performance B.F. Goodrich g-force 215/50ZR16 tires mounted on 16-inch cast aluminum-alloy wheels, the 2000 SVT Contour's lateral grip has been increased to 0.90g on a dry skid pad. SVT uses bigger vented front disc brakes from the European market Ford Mondeo ST200. ABS-equipped four-wheel vented disc brakes are capable of smooth and effective deceleration without significant fade or wheel lockup.
The Ford Contour comes standard with a powerful V6 engine, sporty handling and a comfortable interior. Its price tag makes it one of the segment's more affordable products, even if you load it up with options.
Ford has stopped making the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique, so look for deep discounts as dealers sell down the 2000 models.
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