Used 1998 Ford Contour

1998 Ford Contour
List price range

Pros

  • Energetic performance in the spirit of more expensive German sedans.

Cons

  • Standard tires on the GL model are inadequate for the engine's power. The Contour still uses Ford's, small-lettered stereo which is hard to tune without taking your eyes off the road. The back seat is inadequate for most full-size adults.

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Edmunds' Expert Review

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.

The result is the Ford Contour, and for less than 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.

The Contour comes in two flavors, the entry-level LX and the performance-biased SE. Both come standard with Ford's free revving Zetec four-cylinder engine and both can be had with the more powerful Duratec V6. We are big fans of this SOHC Duratec engine, which makes 170 horsepower. Its plentiful mid- and high-range power is just the thing for a spirited drive through the mountains.

Much has been made in the automotive press about the Contour's rear seat, and after spending a week with in the 1997 model, we found ourselves wishing for more room. The front seats in the Contour are great, offering plenty of room and very good support; not what one would expect in an American compact.

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 sports coupe owners in the stop light drags or in a run through the twisties.

While we aren't yet sold on the Contour's new exterior look, we still like the car a great deal. 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 for people who need more interior room the Dodge Stratus and new Chevrolet Malibu offer a convincing argument to shop around before buying.

Top consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the 1998 Ford Contour.

Bring the Contour back
Leo M. Gates, 7/17/2010
I bought my '98 Contour (2.0 Zetec VCT, 5 sp manual) with 26,000 miles on it 8 years ago and now it has just crossed over the 100,000 mile mark. It is reliable, comfortable and economical. I've replaced a few things over the years as expected but this car has spoiled me. Sometimes I think it's time to upgrade but when I read reviews,I go running back to my Contour.
Reliable and Fun to Drive
Wumbly, 8/28/2010
I have driven my Contour SE practically every day since I bought it new in 1998. It has the 2.5 L Duratec engine and a five speed manual transmission. This car drives and handles like a quality German machine. The manual transmission also has that German response and feel. I've put 225K miles on the car and it's still going strong. The AC quit a couple of years ago, but I'm too cheap to replace it. Other than that, maintenance has been limited to fluid changes, tires, brakes, shocks, and the front ball joints. Believe it or not, I'm still on the original clutch with no signs of slippage.
Get a good tow truck plan!
CLAZ, 6/28/2006
I originally leased this car for two years. I decided to buy the car because I had no problems up until that point. About two months afterwards, my transmission blew. 6 months later it was the engine and so on and so on. I ended up having to bring the car in for a minimum of $500 worth of repairs every 6 months like clockwork. Car had to be towed at least 10 times before I was finally able to get rid of it. Nobody ever really figured out the O2 sensor problem, electric problems,belt problems,etc. It's a shame because the car handled great after the repairs and it was very comfortable. Ford has the worst customer service I have ever experienced, they basically disown you after you leave the lot.
Fun but with problems
NatG83, 11/4/2009
Had 2.5L V6, Auto. Interior was mostly cheap materials, but ergonomic and simple. Seats were firm, but comfortable enough. Alot of issues with the HVAC. The fan motor resister pack blew out and the fuse box shorted. Water pump broke at 50,000 miles. The control for the secondaries on the air intake was made of plastic, thus it wouldn't work if it got too hot. Constantly had issues with O2 sensors failing. Had an issue with the fuel filler. Cheap wiring in the doors cause issues with speakers. But, engine was strong. Mileage was good, but the tank was small. Excellent handling with the Sport package. Excellent capability in the weather. Traded in do to misfire and detonation in one cylinder.
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Features & Specs

MPG
21 city / 32 hwy
Seats 0
5-speed manual
Gas
125 hp @ 5500 rpm
MPG
21 city / 32 hwy
Seats 0
5-speed manual
Gas
125 hp @ 5500 rpm
MPG
21 city / 32 hwy
Seats 0
5-speed manual
Gas
125 hp @ 5500 rpm
MPG
21 city / 32 hwy
Seats 0
5-speed manual
Gas
125 hp @ 5500 rpm
See all Used 1998 Ford Contour features & specs

Safety

NHTSA Overall Rating

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver5 / 5
    Passenger4 / 5
  • Side Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
  • Side Barrier Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver3 / 5
    Passenger4 / 5
  • Combined Side Barrier & Pole Ratings
    Front SeatNot Rated
    Back SeatNot Rated
  • Rollover
    RolloverNot Rated
    Dynamic Test ResultNo Tip
    Risk Of RolloverNot Rated
IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
    Not Tested
  • Roof Strength Test
    Not Tested
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
    Not Tested
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test
    Poor

More about the 1998 Ford Contour
More About This Model

Every time I hear one of my younger friends complain about the lack of choices when searching for a fun-to-drive sedan, I want to scream. Lack of choices? For cryin' out loud, sporty sedans make up, like, 98% of the car market these days! You've got the Pontiac Grand Prix GT, the Toyota Camry CE V-6, the Nissan Maxima SE, the Volkswagen Jetta GLX, and the BMW 328i, just to name a few. The inevitable rejoinder from my young friends is that the above cars are too expensive, that even the value-leading Toyota Camry CE V-6 starts at just under $20,000, and isn't there anything fun and fast that will cost less than the remaining balance on their student loans?

In fact, there is. It is called the Ford Contour SE. The Ford Contour SE has a base price of $18,070 (including destination charge) and has a standard equipment roster that includes a 170-horsepower 24-valve V-6 Duratec engine, 4-wheel disc brakes, 12-spoke alloy wheels, a performance-tuned suspension, fog lamps, an AM/FM stereo with cassette, air conditioning, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. We have recommended this car so many times to friends and strangers alike that we are beginning to feel that Ford should cut us in on some of its profits.

You may wonder what it is that we find so enchanting about this rather plain looking sedan. First is the powerplant, which winds up faster than a jack-in-the-box and makes a sound like 1000 screaming bobcats. Its 170 horsepower moves the Contour SE's 3030-lb. curb weight to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, as quickly as the much more expensive Honda Accord EX V-6. Straight-line acceleration, while not embarrassing, is hardly the reason that someone would love this engine. Rather, they would choose this engine because of its broad powerband and the wonderful pull it gives right up to redline. A motor designed not for the drag strip, but rather for an autocross event. Autocross is what comes to mind when experiencing the wonders of the suspension and steering as well. Despite the somewhat dated MacPherson strut suspension at the front of the car and an independent Quadralink suspension at the back of the car, the Contour SE handles better than many sport coupes. Combined with the Contour's quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering setup, this car feels race-ready right out of the box. Nobody at Ford was willing to own up to it, but we are fairly certain that the Contour's gearbox was improved for 1998 as well. Gone is the slushiness that made the critical 2nd to 3rd gear change a challenge in previous models, the shift lever in the 1998 Contour feels tight and accurate.

The week that we spent with our bold blue tester was enjoyable. The thickly padded sport seats, premium stereo with CD player, and eager-to-please attitude of this car kept us from watching too many Seinfeld reruns. Instead, we made excuses to be out driving. Each night when the workday was done I would offer to run some inane errand just to spend some time behind the wheel. It didn't matter how minor the task; everything from picking up dinner to dropping off a movie became a chance for me to exercise a lack of restraint while piloting this little rocket. The amazing tossability of this car inspired tremendous confidence, and caused this writer to seek out the road less traveled when planning daily drives.

Edmund's editors are not alone in their ardor for the Ford Contour. Nearly every enthusiast magazine has named it to their list of top vehicles since the car's introduction in 1995. Despite this, we in the automotive press, and you of the driving public, have asked Ford to give us a little more. Something along the lines of the first generation Ford Taurus SHO in terms of understated excitement.

Apparently distraught by the lukewarm reception its redesigned SHO received, Ford worked extra hard to make sure its uber-Contour got the right treatment from the Ford Special Vehicle Team (the people responsible for the Mustang Cobra, Taurus SHO, and Explorer-based Tremor concept vehicle). When souping up the Taurus, Ford looked to Japan to supply critical engineering components. The V-8 engine in the current SHO, for example, is a modified version of a high-revving Yamaha V-6. For the hot-rod Contour, Ford looked to Europe for ideas, not surprising given this car's sibling relationship with the European-market Ford Mondeo. As a result, the Contour SVT feels very Germanic.

What did Ford do to differentiate the Contour SVT from the SE? The most important thing Ford did was modify the engine to give it more horsepower. By introducing an extrude hone intake manifold and secondary ports for the cylinder heads and a unique throttle body and air filter, the freer-breathing engine is able to make 195 horsepower without increasing its displacement. A 2-pound reduction in the weight of the flywheel means that the SVT's engine spools up considerably faster than the SE's. This is important since peak torque in the modified engine occurs 1375 rpm higher than in the regular engine. Other performance enhancements in the Contour SVT include 16" alloy wheels, Z-rated Goodyear SC performance tires, larger front brake rotors, standard anti-lock brakes, a 19" front anti-roll bar, and a unique spring calibration. Visual enhancements include unique front and rear fascias, rocker sill extensions, dual exhaust ports, special SVT badges, and a very cool gray-faced instrument cluster. Luxury touches include leather seats, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, rear window defroster, and a power driver's seat. The price tag for all this? A mere $22,900, including destination charge.

Before taking delivery on our test SVT, we had read less-than-enthusiastic reviews from a number of our peers who claimed that there was little to differentiate this car from its already capable little brother. Needless to say, we were surprised and impressed when our tester positively knocked us on our butts. First off, the SVT is much more visually exciting than the SE model. The large round fog lamps and unique grille at the front end work nicely with the aggressive valence at the back of the car to distinguish it from a parking lot full of look-alike sedans. Second is the noise that bubbles up from the engine compartment. Shrill and assertive, this car sounds like a rocket getting ready for liftoff. The third and most critical difference is in the handling, which is improved to Audi A4-like levels. The smaller front anti-roll bar improves turn-in for tight corners, and the larger brake rotors make it possible to set up for hairpins at faster speeds. Did we see a difference between the cars? Hell yes. Is the difference worth the $4,830 price premium over the outstanding Contour SE? That depends.

We love the Contour. It is fun, fast and pretty practical. It does, however, have noticeable drawbacks that are worth mentioning. Despite its 4-portal design, the Contour offers limited rear seat room. While this is of no great concern for this childless editor, it bothers me to think that there wouldn't be enough room for an adult foursome to ride in comfort for more than a short distance. The Contour also has less than perfect ergonomics, easy to overlook when thinking about the near perfect chassis, but disturbing nonetheless. For example, the Contour still makes do with an abysmally hard to operate stereo; small buttons and smaller lettering make station changes at freeway speeds grounds for a reckless driving ticket. Other missteps include the impractical cup holders which offer little ability to hold any cup, and limited cargo space. We don't mention these things to talk you out of the car, we merely mention them as a contrast to our enthusiasm for the Contour's outstanding mechanicals.

If you are someone who needs a car for urban duty, but who enjoys long weekend drives through the country, the Contour SE should fit the bill just fine. It is plenty quick, and handles like a dream. Better still, its stealthy styling should keep the smokies wondering who is lighting up their radar guns. If you are someone who needs a car for urban duty and requires outstanding, race car-like performance and sounds, the Contour SVT may be a better choice. Be warned, though, owning a sedan that sounds like a race car, looks like a race car, and speeds like a race car may have an adverse effect on your insurance rates. As we mentioned at the beginning of this review, we have recommended this car time and time again. Driving the SE and SVT back-to-back sure hasn't made us regret that decision.

Used 1998 Ford Contour Overview

The Used 1998 Ford Contour is offered in the following submodels: . Available styles include 4dr Sedan, GL 4dr Sedan, SE 4dr Sedan, and LX 4dr Sedan.

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