See Also: 1998.5 Mercury Mystique

1998.5 Mercury Mystique

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1998.5 Mercury Mystique

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Available in 2 styles:  Mystique 4dr Sedan shown
Asking Price Range
$1,647–$4,651
Estimated MPG

19–24 city / 28–35 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 1 of 4

By 

TheMercuryNews.com
Now entering its fourth year on the market, the Mercury Mystique exists in automotive anonymity.

A compact sedan that's a close replica of the Ford Contour, the Mystique competes against the cheapest versions of the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima as well as close-in-price domestic rivals such as the Pontiac Grand Am and Dodge Stratus. The Mystique is outsold by all those others. In fact, after a first-year peak of 62,609 sales in 1995, Mystique sales dipped to 57,102 in 1996 and dived to 41,038 in 1997.

New as a 1995 model, the Mystique was praised for its European-like ride and handling. But those same critics, including me, dinged the car for its too-small back seat and unappealing exterior.

For 1998, Ford designers and Mercury product planners have done a lot to boost Mystique sales, including increasing rear-seat leg room for a second time in the car's short history. It now has nearly two inches more room in back than when it was introduced.

Other changes for 1998 include minor exterior alterations, the addition of a low-fuel warning light and improvements to steering, suspension, shifting and the four-cylinder engine.

The resulting Mystique is more refined, but it's doubtful many will notice. From the first, this was a car that was too easily dismissed by buyers who saw more or better elsewhere. Getting these people to look again, considering the competition, is a daunting obstacle.

Our test vehicle was the 1998 LS with a 170-horsepower V-6 and the manual transmission. Priced at just under $20,000, including several options such as an upgraded stereo and anti-lock brakes, this Mystique was comfortably equipped. This version includes leather upholstery and air conditioning as standard fare.

1998 Mercury Mystique

Like others in this size-and-price class, the Mystique treads a narrow ground between traditional compacts like a Ford Escort or Toyota Corolla and mid-size sedans like a Ford Taurus and Toyota Camry. In this case, the car is probably roomier than it feels.

Take the back seat, for instance.

In the first Mystique, it was stunning how badly Ford designers had miscalculated the American market. By building a world car, they robbed the American-market Mystique of its rear-seat leg room. This was at a time where other automakers, especially Chrysler, were falling over themselves to provide more, not less, passenger room. The Mystique was obviously out of step.

For 1996 and again now in 1998, Ford scooped out room from the rear of the front seat to give those in back more stretching space. With this newest move, the lack of leg room is becoming less of an issue.

In terms of its exterior, the Mystique closely resembles the rest of the Mercury line. That means a pronounced chrome grille, elliptical head lights and alloy wheels. More subdued than its stablemate, the Sable, the Mystique nonetheless is a bit overboard in a market that seems to value understateme nt. While its size screams compact car, its design seems to reach for something much larger than that.

Perhaps that's the intention, but to me it just doesn't work. I'd value something simpler, something cleaner.

I have no similar complaints about how this car drives and handles. You can order a Mystique as basic transportation with a 125-horsepower four-cylinder engine and an automatic shifter or you can have some fun and pair the V-6 with a manual shifter.

While the four is a fine engine, the six is exhilarating. It moves this fairly light car with ease. Perhaps the best-handling car in this class, the Mystique rewards the driver with the time and temperament to do more than just go back and forth through gridlock every day.

The platform for the Mystique is shared by the Contour, the European Mondeo and the 1999 Cougar. It provides a tight body to base a tig ht little car upon.

If you can appreciate how this car looks and can stomach its interior in adequacies, then perhaps it might make a good choice. On the down side, a bit of wood and some blue leather are not enough to make this car anything more than a Ford Contour with a different name.

SPECS

What we drove: 1998 Mercury Mystique LS, a four-door compact sedan with a 2.5-liter V-6 engine and a five-speed manual transmission.

Base price: $17,645

Price as tested (includes options, California emissions and delivery charge): $19,235

Curb weight: 2,808 pounds

Length: 184.8 inches

Turning circle (curb to curb): 37.3 feet

Standard features: Dual air bags; air filtration system; fog lamps; alloy wheels; floor mats; split-folding rear seat; power driver's seat; tilt steering; air conditioning; cruise control; leather seats.

Options on test vehicle: AM/FM stereo with CD player; anti-lock brakes; smoker's package; power antenna.

EPA figures: 19 mpg (city); 28 mpg (highway)




    Expert Reviews 1 of 4

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