Always look for the label when buying a Ford product.If you spot the "SVT" designation along fender or decklid, be advised thatthose letters signify that the vehicle has been anointed by Ford's SpecialVehicle Team. SVT means a Plain Jane or Joe has been transformed into a performancebeauty. The SVT crew has performed its magic on the Mustang (Cobra) and F-150(Lightning) pickup truck. Mustang and the F-Series truck were well-regardedbefore SVT intervention, but the team made each an even more attractiveperformer. The latest to undergo SVT surgery is the compact Ford Contour sedan, which,truth be said, is a slug unless you opt for the SE version with a 2.5-liter,24-valve V-6 and upgraded suspension rather than the base 2-liter 4-cylinderthat serves as a slightly larger Escort with more headroom. For 1998 Ford is unveiling the Contour SVT, a high-performance,road-hugging machine. We tested it here, where the roads twist and windthrough the desert, along with the rattlers--though the serpent populationdeclined by one when one of the scaled beasts tried crossing the road andlearned, up-close and personal, what road-hugging suspension means. Sorry,SPCA. We've said previously that the Contour SE with V-6 and upgraded suspensionis a Taurus SHO wannabe in a smaller and less-expensive package. The SVT takes the SE to a higher level of performance with its 2.5-literV-6 tuned to develop 195 horsepower rather than 170 h.p.; a suspension withretuned spring rates to eliminate road harshness; front and rear roll bars toimprove handling and increase stability; and more precise steering to put youand the car in harmony on the direction you want to go. The 16-inch tires, developed from Formula 1 rain-tire technology to directwater away from the treads, have added rubber along the edges for a firm grip.You enjoy lateral control when slithering snake-like around the sharp desertturns as well as vertical stability on the too-frequent roller-coasterstretches of pavement that run over settling sand. Performance means quickness off the line as well as road-holding stabilitywhenever you vary from a straight line. The Contour SVT has both. The 2.5-liter V-6 is quick, yet quiet, though a little rumble has beenbuilt into the exhaust to alert those who don't spot the SVT lettering, novelwire mesh grille, integrated fog lamps, rocker panel moldings, lowered hood,perforated leather seats with wide side bolsters for above-average support incorners and turns, and speed-rated 16-inch tires that set the car off from theregular Contour. What makes the SVT exceptional is that despite the 195 h.p. and ability toskip lively from a standing start, the fuel economy rating is a mostimpressive 21 miles per gallon city/31 m.p.g. highway. Above-average performance and above-average fuel economy. You usually don'tget both in the same vehicle. It means you have a functional four-door sedant hat the family can easily climb into or out of, and one that takes but asmall slice of the budget to feed. You have a performance machine atplaytime. The 2.5-liter V-6 acted relaxed at 80 to 90 m.p.h. and didn't have tobreathe very deeply traveling long laps at a steady 90 to 100 m.p.h., either. The 2.5 is teamed with a smooth-shifting, short-throw 5-speed manualtransmission, the only one offered. Ford officials say they don't have anautomatic that can handle the torque in this compact sedan. The 5-speed is great in the desert where stop lights and road constructionbarricades pop up about as often as the golden arches. The long straightawaygives way to a series of right/left maneuvers up a hill. Downshift, kick thethrottle and the 2.5 passes the test while the suspension complemented bythose 16-inch treads ensures the body sits flat without wiggle or wobble.Approach a roller-coaster stretch at speed and the body remains level over theseries of hills in your path without scraping bottom. The tires cling to thepavement to keep you from going airborne. Only 5,000 Contour SVTs will be built. With an automatic, more could enjoythis car on roads blocked summer-long by asphalt trucks dumping a fresh layerof skin or on city streets where traffic lights are a reminder you've justgone another block in the rush hour. For an automatic, you must settle for aContour SE with the 170 h.p. 2.5. There are a few gripes, however. A performance sedan capable of propellingyou at speeds in excess of 100 m.p.h. that comes with dual air bags andanti-lock brakes as standard (a pair of coyotes who didn't bother to cross atthe intersection learned how effective ABS can be in keeping a car in theproper lane in panic braking) doesn't offer traction control. OK, so here in the desert, snow is that stuff you see on the tops ofdistant mountains and ice is what you dip your bottle in until the brew cools.But when you have a car with a suspension as agile as the Contour SVT's, whynot offer a little added insurance so those 16-inch treads won't break contactwith the pavement? Another gripe is that when a car is meant to be driven hard, you wantoptimum visibility not only ahead and at the side, but behind as well. TheSVT's mirrors are a shade too small for optimum rear field of vision, such asthose required when hoping to spot a challenger approaching. Since Contour came out, the media has criticized rear seat room. For 1996front seat backs were slimmed to allow back seat occupants more legroom. For1997 you gain another half-inch or so, which means you still are aboutone-half to 1-inch short of being able to place your legs in a comfortableposition for long-distance rides. If seat bottoms were made a little deeper,your legs automatically would be drawn farther from the seat backs ahead androom would be gained. Another shortcoming is that SVT, with its leather interior, doesn't offeran integratedrear child safety seat. You have to settle for the Contour SEwith cloth seats to get one. Hmmm. Don't motorists who appreciate aperformance sedan have little kids they'd like to strap in a safety seat thatcan be hidden away? If you smoke, you can equip the car with an ashtray and lighter but indoing so, give up one of two cupholders in the center console. If you don'tsmoke, you get both cupholders and a power plug where the lighter would rest.It's the first no-cost optional "smoker's" package in a Ford car. The Contour SVT starts at $22,365. In addition to standard equipmentalready noted, you get five-spoke wheels with SVT caps, larger side-seatbolsters, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever boot, analog gaugeswith white facing, power locks, power seats with 10-way driver's movement,power antenna, remote keyless entry, but no deck lid spoiler. Ford said the car doesn't need one. If you want one for looks, you have toget the SE. The only options are power moonroof at $595, compact-disc player (thetrunk-mounted holder is large and will rob some cargo room) at $140, engineblock heater at $40 and the no-cost smoker's package. Only 700 of Ford's 4,300 dealers will handle the SVT when it goes on salein May. For information on local dealers with an SVT franchise, call1-800-Ford SVT. Ford says of the 5,000 to be built, 2,000 have been ordered based oninterest generated by its introduction at the Chicago Auto Show in February. Perhaps those 2,000 were Thunderbird/Cougar owners tired of two-door,rear-wheel-drive coupes, which are going to be dropped after the '97 model runanyway. Ford officials here said they are tinkering with another SVT pickup truckas a possible companion to the Contour SVT.
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||November 26, 1997|
|Matt Nauman||TheMercuryNews.com||August 29, 1997|
|Terry Jackson||The Miami Herald||August 19, 1997|
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||July 31, 1997|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||July 23, 1997|
|Ann Job||TheMercuryNews.com||June 27, 1997|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||May 23, 1997|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||May 11, 1997|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||May 2, 1997|
|Anita Lienert||The Detroit News||April 2, 1997|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||March 30, 1997|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||March 25, 1997|
|Tony Swan||Detroit Newspapers||February 6, 1997|
|Al Haas||August 26, 1997|
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