The Car Connection Ford Contour Overview
Following the forgettable Tempo, the Ford Contour arrived in the mid-'90s offering worldly sophistication, much-improved handling and road manners, and a level of refinement and attention to detail that pretty much demanded an entirely new model name. The Ford Contour was only offered for the 1995 through 2000 model years, and today the Ford Fusion continues as the Contour's successor, albeit as a true mid-sizer.
At the time of its original sale, the Contour headed out to the market against the likes of roomier compact sedans and smaller mid-sizers—a long list that really included the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Mitsubishi Galant, Plymouth Breeze, and Subaru Legacy, among many others.
Beginning with its introduction for the 1995 model year, the Contour was offered in GL, LX, and SE trims. The base engine was a 125-horsepower, 2.0-liter four, with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission; a 170-hp, 2.5-liter V-6 was optional.
Global engineering teams had designed an impressive car—known as the Ford Mondeo in other markets—yet U.S. versions of the Contour received cut-rate materials, flimsier switchgear, and some skimping in suspension and chassis components. Americans did notice, and while we'd like to think that's part of the reason why it failed, the Contour's tight back seat—tight, compared to most of those rivals—was the real reason. In 1998 the rear seat was redesigned to yield a few extra inches, but entry and exit remained tight.
The Contour also didn't offer all that many features for the money, and while a wide array of features, like power windows, a power driver's seat, and even leather upholstery, were offered, they were at extra cost and in some cases, only on upper-trim models.
On the used market, we recommend the basic four-cylinder versions of the Contour, as the V-6 was only slightly faster in real-world use yet much thirstier. Choose the manual versions and in many cases you'll end up with a likable commuter; although keep in mind that automatics had lumpy shifts even when new, and in general this was not a model that was known for exemplary reliability.
Even those who didn't think the Contour was anything special still today wax nostalgic about the SVT Contour, a special performance sedan put together by Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) from 1998-2000. Its 195-hp version of that same engine, reworked rear suspension, and quicker steering rack, along with a host of smart tuning changes, gave this variant a transcendent feel that made it a rival to the faster Volvo, Saab, and Acura models of the time—even if its 0-60 mph times of around seven seconds don't stand out as anything special today.
The Mercury Mystique was nearly identical to the Contour, except for its front and rear appearance, some upholsteries, and trims, while the Mercury Cougar was a coupe that's closely related to the Contour and offered only for the 1999 through 2002 model years. And the Contour's worldly platform also was the foundation for the Jaguar X-Type.