1997 Mercury Tracer

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1997 Mercury Tracer
Available in 3 styles:  Tracer 4dr Sedan GS shown
Asking Price Range
$1,017–$3,745
Estimated MPG

28 city / 37.2 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

By 

AZCentral.com

Better-looking, better-driving, a better all-around car, the Mercury Tracer comes to us for '97 as a bona fide addition to the "much-improved" category.

Along with its sister ship, the highly popular Ford Escort, the Tracer shows how much can be done with just a little, and at a bargain-basement price.

The bottom line is especially attractive considering its slightly upgraded Mercury designation, which includes not only better features and trim, but the customer service of a Lincoln-Mercury dealership.

For people on a budget, this is a way to get into a well-equipped, driveable little car that's economical and a cut above the econobox genre.

Tight and rattle-free, the Tracer feels more substantial than it really is, the roar of the little four-cylinder engine providing the major clue that this is really basic transportation.

The Tracer offers a reasonably roomy interior that will seat a family of four in relative comfort while delivering good gas mileage. Some extra body length over last year means improved legroom, though still a bit cramped for tall drivers, and a roomy trunk.

The upscale LS sedan we tested came equipped with an impressive range of features, including the "Trio" sport-appearance package and a full cargo of power and convenience extras, all for under $14,500.

The Trio designation, which includes a sporty-looking fender insignia, was somewhat inscrutable. You need three to make a trio, right? Well, three of what? Why not quartet, since it seats four and is powered by a four-cylinder engine? Maybe I'm missing something.

The engine, a Mazda design, has also been improved, with power boosted 25 percent over its 1.9-liter predecessor, because of split-fuel induction. It's still no drag racer, with just 110 horses, though it does have decent acceleration in the lower gears, and its highway cruising is smooth and unobtrusive.

Still, among domestic economy cars, the Dodge Neon has a base 132-horsepower engine, and Chevrolet's mainstay Cavalier has 120. A 150-horsepower engine is an option available in either car. Tracer and Escort buyers will have a 130-horse four-banger available for '98.

Our test Tracer was equipped with a five-speed stick shift, really the best way to go when dealing with an economy-oriented four-banger. Shifting was smooth and precise, though there was one unpleasant flaw: A shifter that vibrated nastily with engine speed, making the right hand feel tingly after a few minutes in city traffic.

But other than the buzzy hand, the Tracer is a fun-to-drive critter that darts in and out of traffic with aplomb, and tackles freeway driving with a healthy margin of self-assurance. The road-noise level is a bit high, but that's a common trait in this class of vehicles.

Handling is good, improved over last year with a stiffer chassis and firmer suspension.

For the economy-minded, the Tracer could be a good vehicle for long-distance cruising, delivering decent comfort and e xcellent gas mileage.

The Tracer also is a car you won't be embarrassed to be seen in. The car is stylishly rounded with some character creases in the hood and bright prismatic headlights, the kind of thing usually reserved for higher-priced transport. The overall look is definitely Ford, though somewhat small-car generic.

A station-wagon version, as well as the four-door sedan, brings even more flexibility to the equation.

The interior is suitably upgraded from the econobox run, the swooping dashboard reminiscent of the jazzy setup on the Taurus/Sable midsize twins. The seats are supportive and finished in a good-looking fabric.

Our Tracer came with all the bells, whistles and stereo upgrades, and included such favorable features as power windows, locks, mirrors and remote locking, all for well under $15,000.

Once behind the wheel of the Tracer, it's easy to forgetit's entry-level role and think of it more as a baby version of an upmarket Mercury. Relativ e to what else is out there, it succeeds pretty well.

1997 Mercury Tracer

Vehicle type: Four-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel-drive. Base price: $11,950. Price as tested: $14,475. Engine: 2-liter opposed four, 110 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, 125 pound-feet of torque at 3,750 rpm. Transmission: Five-speed stick shift. Curb weight: 2,457 pounds. Length: 174.7 inches. Wheelbase: 98.4 inches. Safety features: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes. EPA fuel economy: 28 mpg city, 37 mpg highway. Highs: Low price. Nice styling. High level of trim, features. Lows: Needs engine upgrade. Shifter vibration. Too much road noise.


    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

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