What's New for 1999
After being introduced, and receiving midyear tweaks for 1998, Ford's bargain sport sedan stands pat for its sophomore year.
We've got good news for driving enthusiasts that would love a German sport sedan but have two things holding them back: cost and patriotic leanings. Ford's fast and agile SVT Contour should sate their appetite for a lively sport sedan while allowing them to buy something made in the good old U.S.A. They can thank Ford's Special Vehicle Team for crafting the Contour SVT, which can embarrass more than a few sports coupe owners in the stop light 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 10.94-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.