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Energetic performance in the spirit of more expensive German sedans.
Small-lettered stereo which is hard to tune without taking your eyes off the road, back seat is inadequate for most full-size adults.
Ford's SVT gurus turn their attention to the Contour, and the end result is this thoroughly enjoyable, near 200-horsepower sport sedan. As with all Contour models for this year, the SVT has the new face that gives this Ford more character (though the new taillight treatment is almost identical to the Contour's cousin, the Mercury Mystique). Halfway through the model year, the SVT got new wheels and tires, a slightly revised suspension and depowered airbags.
In the last two years, the Contour has won plenty of awards and has received great press from automotive critics, but still hasn't caught on with the public at large. For 1998, exterior enhancements are designed to attract attention to this oft-forgotten compact car, while interior improvements are supposed to make it even more inviting to drive. The good news for enthusiasts is that Ford has sent the already-competent Contour to its Special Vehicle Team for some high-performance tuning. The result is the Contour SVT, and it promises to embarrass more than a few sport coupe owners in the stoplight drags or in a run through the twisties.
Headlining the SVT's list of goodies is the sweet V6 under the new hood. The engine, a massaged 2.5-liter Duratec V6 that benefits from Extrude Hone Powerflow technology (a process that polishes the upper intake manifold plenum, intake runners and secondary intake ports with a gritty putty-like substance to improve airflow), still makes 195 horsepower at 6,625 rpm and 165 pound-feet of torque at 5,625 rpm. This translates to a somewhat unimpressive Ford-tested 0-60 time of 7.9 seconds, but the fun in running the Contour SVT to redline is in the mellifluous engine note, not sheer acceleration. The braking system is still sourced from the Europe-only Ford Mondeo, and it features 10.9-inch vented front discs that help the Contour SVT slam to a stop from 60 mph in 134 feet, according to Ford testing. Antilock brakes are standard.
In terms of driving dynamics, the Contour SVT is one hell of a car. Grip is extraordinary, and the ride is sensational. Impact harshness is not a term one can associate with a Contour SVT. This car filters out road imperfections without disrupting the finer points of communication between car and driver. The engine revs freely, accompanied by a throaty growl that pastes a big grin on the driver's face. Watch that rev limiter though, because the Contour SVT never feels like it's ready to give up as you rip through the gears on your way to a top speed of 143 mph.
There are few items that we can complain about. The cupholders are no good at holding drinks when driving anywhere near as quickly as the Contour SVT wants to go. Also, we wish there was a center armrest for Interstate cruising. The stereo buttons are too small and require too much concentration to operate, and the rear seat lacks legroom, though it's quite hospitable for kids, and adults won't mind a short trip riding back there.
Apart from these minor gripes, the Contour SVT is a fine little sport sedan that we recommend heartily.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.