Used 1998 Ford Contour Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1998

A redesigned face gives this Ford more character, but the new taillight treatment is almost identical to the Contour's sibling, the Mercury Mystique. New alloy wheels and a slightly more commodious rear seat debut. Midyear changes included a model consolidation, the addition of depowered airbags, as well as improved handling and new wheels for the SVT.

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.

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.