Thursday, December 12, 2013

1998 Ford Contour Sport

The Really Important Stuff
Engine 2.5 L V6
Transmission 4-Speed Automatic
Power 170 hp @ 6250 rpm
Torque 165 ft-lbs @ 4250 rpm
Fuel Economy City/Highway 21/30
Curb Weight 3030 lbs
Base Price When New $16,055
Market Value (Excellent Condition, 100K miles) $1,976

When you think of a mid-90's American compact, "sporty" probably isn't the first word that comes to mind.  Which is why this modest little sedan took the nation by surprise when it arrived on U.S. shores in 1994.  The secret to the Contour's superior driving characteristics lies in its European origins.

Sold by Ford Europe since 1992 as the Mondeo, it was imported to replace the outgoing Tempo, eliminating the need to design an entirely new model.  The car was initially built to compete in a much larger market, against similar offerings from Volkswagen, Skoda, Opel, Vauxhall, Peugeot, Renault, Fiat, and countless other European marques.  This necessitated a higher level of refinement than what is typically seen from American cars in this segment.  The result is a compact that provides stability, responsiveness, and ride comfort miles ahead of its American competition.

First offered in 1996, the SE Sport package transforms the already nimble Contour into a true performance variant.  It adds a 2.5 L DuraTec V6 that puts out 170 hp, as well as a small spoiler and several other bits of unique trim.

Take this machine onto a twisty road, and its European heritage shines through.  The fully-independent suspension gives a nice balance of handling and ride comfort.  Steering is sharp and precise with lots of confidence-inspiring feedback.  It feels stable in the bends, right up to its skid pad rating of 0.80 g.  Rough roads are vanquished by the well-tuned shocks, though medium to large bumps can still feel jarring.  Adding to the car's comfort is the quietness of the cabin—even at speed there is minimal acoustic intrusion from the wind and asphalt.  The engine can get loud at high revs, but it's hard to complain when it sounds so good!

There are a few drawbacks that keep the Contour from earning an unequivocal recommendation.  While the exterior styling has stood the test of time well, the interior is a different story.  Almost every surface is upholstered in soft grey fabric, which is pleasant to touch, but the lack of contrast makes the overall appearance a bit dull.  The brakes are responsive, linear, and adequately powerful, though it's disappointing to see rear drums on a car that is branded as a sport model.  Lastly, fuel economy is dismal.  At 21 mpg city, 30 highway (EPA figures), it lags far behind newer vehicles with similar power and weight.  And in the real world where drivers use their air conditioning, defrosters, and electric accessories liberally, 19/26 will be more typical.

Most importantly, though, this car is a blast to drive. The combination of power, responsiveness, and comfort is unparalleled for a vehicle in this class. If you are looking for a cheap, sporty ride that is also practical enough to be a family hauler or daily commuter, the Ford Contour Sport should be at the top of your list.


  • Spirited acceleration
  • Communicative steering
  • Competent handling
  • Smooth, quiet ride
  • Looks great on the outside


  • Looks not-so-great on the inside
  • Poor fuel economy

The Bottom Line: Cheap, sporty, and practical—what more could you want?

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