What's New for 1998
No changes to Mercury's recently redesigned entry-level car.
The Tracer has been Mercury's bread-and-butter car for years. Think of it as the car that brings consumers into the Mercury family. The Tracer's low price, decent reliability and above average crash test scores have consistently offered recent college grads and young families an attractive set of American wheels. Last year, in face of increasingly stiff competition, Mercury decided to redesign its entry-level vehicle.
The Tracer needed help in three major areas; the first is power. The old 1.9-liter four-banger just wasn't getting the job done against the newer cars. Heck, the lowly Hyundai Accent and Suzuki Esteem had more power available than the base 1996 Tracer. To tackle this, Mercury replaced the old powerplant with a two-liter overhead-cam engine that produces 20 percent more horsepower and 14 percent more torque than the one it replaced. This difference in engines is most readily noticed under hard acceleration; what was once a noisy bumpy affair is now a smooth, quite one.
Mercury's second area of concern was with body stiffness and vibration. Second-generation Tracers are notoriously wiggly over rough surfaces. The Tracer's tendency to shake, which leads to a lot of rattle-and-roll, can really punish passengers on long commutes. One-piece body construction, a cross-car beam and stiffer stabilizer bars solve this problem by radically improving the Tracer's torsional rigidity.
Fit and finish, the Tracer's third problem area, are also refined by the one-piece body construction; windows and doors fit better and are less likely to let in the weather. The instrument panel, a long-standing sore spot among Tracer owners, has been brought up to speed by the introduction of Mercury's Integrated Control Panel, first seen on the 1996 Sable. The ICP reduces dashboard clutter by combining the stereo and climate controls. The single-unit ICP is very easy to use and allows eyes-on-the-road operation of its systems. Further interior improvements include rear-seat heater ducts, an upgraded six-speaker audio system and nicer upholstery and dashboard materials.
Of lesser importance is the Tracer's new sheetmetal. Striking a more mature chord, the new Tracer has fewer cut-lines and a more polished demeanor than previous models. We find this ironic considering how much more fun the new one promises to be. In the end, we feel that Tracer is a real winner; no more increased blood pressure when merging with freeway traffic, no more shaking like a willow when driving over uneven pavement. Mercury has done a fine job updating this car. We are to starting see quite a few of these new Tracers on the road.