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"World music" is a nebulous satellite radio genre that tends to feature a lot of pan flutes, maracas, bongos and those crazy Australian didgeridoo things. The term "world car" is far less exotic, applying to a vehicle like the Ford Contour that can be sold in multiple markets with only minor changes made to best appeal to folks in both France and Fresno. It's an idea that German manufacturers have quite successfully subscribed to for decades, but one that American automakers have avoided as much as radio listeners avoid world music. Nevertheless, to save money and benefit from the engineering expertise of their European subsidiaries, American brands have increasingly turned to world cars in recent years.
The Blue Oval's first modern whack at them was the Ford Contour sedan produced from 1995 to 2000. Designed by Ford's European division and known as the Mondeo across the pond, the Contour had a decidedly European feel to it thanks to its spirited performance, composed handling and aerodynamic styling.
However, with a body size that fell in between compact and midsize, the car was often criticized for its lack of backseat legroom. Ford tried to compensate for this almost every year the Contour was sold. Excess seat padding was removed and the rear bench was redesigned, but its dearth of space remained the Contour's Achilles' heel.
In 2000, the Ford Contour was discontinued and not replaced. Its Mondeo sibling lived on in Europe, however, and is now in its third generation. This stylish, quasi-sport sedan was even driven by James Bond in Casino Royale and positive reaction to it has prompted speculation that it may eventually show up in the United States. Ford's "world car" Contour may soon live again.
Most recent Ford Contour
The Contour debuted in 1995 and was offered only as a front-wheel-drive sedan. Available in GL, LX and SE trim levels, the lower two trims came with a 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 125 horsepower, with a 2.5-liter 170-hp V6 optional. The six-cylinder was standard on the SE. All Contours were equipped with a standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic. Standard features included dual front airbags, tilt steering wheel and AM/FM stereo. Other equipment offered on the LX, SE or as options, included power windows and locks, air-conditioning, cruise control, sunroof, power driver seat, leather upholstery, and CD or cassette stereo. Antilock brakes and traction control were available on all models.
In 1998, the Contour received a midlife styling tweak with a redesigned front fascia and taillights that mimicked its Mercury brand sibling, the Mystique. The rear seat was redesigned to squeeze a few more inches out of the cramped quarters. The base-level GL was discontinued, while a high-performance SVT Contour debuted. Equipped with a 195-hp version of the 2.5-liter V6 coupled to a five-speed manual, this was essentially a sport sedan for people who couldn't afford pricier European marques. The SVT version offered fun handling and quick acceleration, with a top speed of 143 mph.
In reviews and road tests, we showered great praise upon the Ford Contour -- especially the SE and SVT versions. The 170-hp V6 powered the SE up from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, which was relatively quick for midsize sedans in the mid-1990s. We were impressed with this engine's broad power band and the wonderful pull it gave right up to redline. We also found that it handled better than many other competing sedans (or even sport coupes) thanks to its quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering and relatively sophisticated rear suspension. The SVT's additional horses, 16-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension and exterior styling enhancements made it even more desirable.
Downsides to the Contour were largely its cramped interior and questionable ergonomics. Ford's ubiquitous, small-lettered stereo drew considerable ire. Beyond that, the Contour was a fun four-door sedan that offered European moves at American prices -- one could even call it a "world car."
Past Ford Contour models
The Ford Contour lasted for only one generation from 1995 to 2000, with a midlife freshening in 1998. It replaced the Tempo in Ford's lineup.