Used 1996 Ford Contour Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1996

Designers sculpt and adjust interior seating to make more leg- and headroom in the backseat. Five new colors are available and improvements to shift effort on manual transmission models make the 1996 Contour more competitive.

Vehicle overview

Ford spent $6 billion developing this new "world car," designed to be the best compact in every market in which it was sold. The program tested Ford's ability to utilize all of its worldwide resources to create a car that would streamline production, thereby slicing overhead and building bigger profits.

Who cares? The result is the Ford Contour, and for the average amount of a typical car purchase in the United States today, you can get one loaded up with equipment, with performance and road feel you never would have expected from a sedan made in America. Actually, the road manners of the new Contour are no mystery, given that Ford of Europe did the development work on this car.

Contour replaced the Tempo last year, which in 1984 represented cutting-edge styling but was as stale as flat Diet Coke by 1994. The SE variant of the Contour comes with a 24-valve, twin-cam, 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter V6 engine that doesn't require a tune-up until the 100,000-mile mark. Also included on the SE are a sport suspension, big tires mounted on alloy wheels, and more sporting front seats. Load on air conditioning, power windows and locks, moonroof, cruise, traction control, anti-lock brakes and a CD player with premium sound and the sticker stays under $20,000, with lots of room for negotiation. Contour GL and LX are equipped with a four-cylinder engine, and are surprisingly zippy in feel when mated to the manual transmission. Optional on GL and LX is the uplevel V6.

Much has been made in the automotive press about the Contour's rear seat. Our editor is six-feet tall, and he has never once griped about discomfort in the back seat of the 1995 Contour. Nonetheless, Ford has wisely redesigned the front seatbacks, scooping them out to provide another inch of leg room. Later in the year, the seat cushion will be lowered and moved back to further increase space. We've applauded the high, firm, supportive rear seat of the Contour; hope these changes don't make the Contour's rear seat a mushy, unsupportive, eat-your-knees-for-breakfast affair like those found in the back of the "roomy" Dodge Stratus.

Other changes for 1996 include five new exterior colors, the deletion of the bright chrome strip on the front and rear bumpers, and improvements to shifting effort on the manual transmission. Contour GL models can be ordered with a split-fold rear seat and 15-inch alloy wheels are available on GL and LX. One thing we wish had been changed is the stiff seatback adjustment knob. Why a knob? Credit European design influences. It's hard to turn, and it's hard to adjust while driving. Put a lever on there like a normal American car.

The Contour looks good and handles like higher-priced German sedans. The body structure is stiff, and the ergonomically correct instrument panel features legible dials and well-placed controls. We really like the way the Contour feels, but the Dodge Stratus offers a convincing argument to shop around before buying, unless you pop for the five-speed SE variant.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.