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The Ford Contour SVT Was a Bright Spot of Excitement in the 1990s

For the American automakers, the 1990s were a time of few bright spots among high-performance models — unless you count the various versions of the Chevy Lumina and the Dodge Intrepid that offered sporty-looking wheels. One exception was the Ford Contour SVT, which probably shouldn’t have existed but did anyway. And for that, we’re glad.

Before we get in to the Contour SVT, a few words about the Ford Contour. Developed to replace the Ford Tempo, the Contour (and its twin, the Mercury Mystique, which was designed to replace the Mercury Topaz) was based on the European-market Ford Mondeo. But while the Mondeo offered three body styles — a hatchback, a sedan and a wagon — and was primarily sold as a hatchback, the U.S.-spec Contour was only available as a 4-door sedan. See the Ford Contour models for sale near you

This made sense, because the U.S. market prefers sedans, while most foreign markets prefer hatchbacks. But the U.S. market didn’t seem to prefer the Contour: Even with the sedan-only body and a far more advanced design than the Ford Tempo it replaced, the Contour never found sales success. It only lasted for one generation before Ford left the sorta-small, sorta-midsize segment and released the Focus.

But at some point, in that single generation, there was the Contour SVT: a high-performance version of the Contour developed by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team. Featuring more aggressive styling, improved wheels and flared rocker panels, the SVT Contour looked cool yet subtle. It also boasted some interior improvements including new seats, trim and gauges, along with better brakes and suspension.

But the best thing about the SVT Contour was its powertrain. While Ford offered the regular Contour with two engine choices — a 125-horsepower 4-cylinder or a 170-hp V6 — the SVT model used a tuned version of the V6 that made up to 200 hp. It also came with another impressive feature: a mandatory manual transmission. It’s hard to explain just how unusual this was back in the 1990s, but trust me, this feature was a big deal. This was back when making a high-performance car meant adding a body kit and maybe suspension. This was back when the BMW M3 produced only 240 hp. And yet, Ford debuted this sporty version of an unpopular European market car with a stick shift, a subtle body kit and a power boost. It was phenomenal.

Unfortunately, its time was short-lived. After going on sale in 1998, the SVT Contour was dropped along with the rest of the Contour line following the 2000 model year. These days, it’s hard to find one for sale — though there are four listed on Autotrader, each for around $5,000. And while the performance market has moved well beyond the SVT Contour, it’s still fun to reminisce about one of the sporty bright spots of the 1990s. Find a Ford Contour for sale

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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. The Contour/Mystique doesn’t get the credit it deserved.  “European handling”.  Tight build.  The 2.5L was just decent on HP, but revved up very nicely.

    The only problem with it was that too many people who purchased them (likely second hand) didn’t take care of them.  Most that you see on the road are poorly maintained and look like carp.  Find one that’s well cared for and it’s still a sweet ride.
  2. Bought one new in 1998 (a 1998.5 version) out of college and drove it for 101k miles. Just a great car. Mine was quite reliable for a Contour, and it covered at least 30 states on various road trips, one race track, a few autox courses, and a whole lot of mundane driving. And it was truly good at everything. Best sounding V6 I’ve ever heard, too. With the ‘standard’ Koni/Eibach upgrade, it was basically a FWD M3, or M2.5 as it was occasionally called. Glad to see it get a little respect.

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