Orlando Sentinel's view

Over the past four years, Ford’s Special Vehicle Team has turned in some mighty impressive work.

The SVT is the group of car nuts- mostly engineers – that is responsible for building limited-edition, high-performance versions of Ford cars and trucks.

So far, the SVT’s dossier includes the awesome F-150 Lightning pickup, perhaps the best-handling truck ever built; the Mustang Cobra, and now the Contour SVT.

The Contour SVT is a very special car. The heart, soul and spirit of the original Taurus SHO lives here.

When Ford rolled out the all-new Taurus SHO last year, there were many who felt that the new car didn’t live up to the first generation model, built from 1989-95.

With its high-revving Yamaha V-6 engine and subtle styling and trim upgrades, the first SHO won a cult following and sold in respectable numbers.

The new SHO has a V-8 engine, quirky styling and a hefty $30,000 price. Thus far, it has not sold well. But Ford probably will have no problem selling the Contour SVT.

Like the original SHO, this car is an affordable high-performance sedan the whole family can enjoy.


The Contour SVT comes with a souped-up version of the Duratec 24-valve double-overhead cam engine Ford uses in standard Contours and the car’s close cousin, the Mercury Mystique.

The SVT’s beefy 2.5-liter engine makes 195 horsepower. In the standard Contour and Mystique, the 2.5-liter engine is rated at 170 horsepower.

To get the extra power, SVT engineers tweaked the engine so that it breathes more efficiently. The pistons, cylinder heads and intake and exhaust systems have been modified. The result: 0-to-60 mph in a respectable 7.9 seconds, down from about 9 seconds in a regular V-6-powered Contour/Mystique.

Performance is civilized. The engine makes a hint of a growl when revved, but otherwise it’s exceptionally smooth and very quiet. The engine pulls hard at all speeds, giving the car a flingable, flexible demeanor.

Our dark red test car came standard with a five-speed manual gearbox. There’s no automatic transmission available, but no matter. The SVT is easy to shift because the clutch pedal is light and the shifter moves smoothly through the gears.

The SVT is a joy to drive in the city or on the open road. It delivers plenty of power and offers a level of refinement that is uncommon in this price range.

The four-wheel independent suspension does a credible job of managing the bumps and curves, but I feel as if the car could use a stiffer set of springs. The suspension almost feels too soft when rounding a tight curve quickly or driving over a large bump in the road.

Part of the SVT package includes better suspension components such as stabilizer bars and upgraded springs. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and brakes are excellent. Ford equips the SVT with disc brakes at all four corners. An anti-lock system is standard.

It’s tr icky making a high-performance front-wheel-drive car that is free of torque steer, a slight tugging to the left or right under hard acceleration. But it’s hardly detectable in the Contour SVT. Unless you drive it very hard, you won’t feel any interference from the drivetrain.


The Special Vehicle Team did more than just give the Contour’s engine a tuneup.

On the inside, the Contour SVT has a unique look and feel. Because the car is part of Ford’s ”world car” program, many of the car’s parts were designed in Europe. That’s where the Contour’s counterpart, the Ford Mondeo, is built and sold.

On the outside, the car wears special side cladding, unique front and rear bumpers, fog lights, chrome dual exhaust tips and special wheels.

When you settle into the driver’s seat, the first thing you notice are the SVT’s special instruments, which feature dark numbers on a gray background. I like the way the red needles light up at night. Thec mbination of colors is pleasing, and the gauges are easy to read.

I also like the firm, body-hugging black leather bucket seats, which held me snugly as I tried some roadgoing gymnastics. The seats also proved comfortable on several long jaunts.

As with the standard Contour, back seat legroom is a bit snug for adults, but not intolerable. The rear seatbacks fold forward, increasing cargo capacity. The trunk is very large for a compact car – it easily could hold three golf bags.

Our test car was fully equipped. The list includes cruise control, alarm system, power seats, door locks, mirrors and windows and air-conditioning. A power sunroof and a CD player added a reasonable $735 to the sticker.

Ford introduced the SVT along with the rest of the 1998 Contour/Mystique line in April. The ’98 model features a new grille and a few other cosmetic upgrades.

If you are looking for a sports car, but you need the room and practicality of a family sedan, you might find the Contour SVT an affordable car that can easily fill both needs.

Specifications: Base price: $22,365. Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, side-impact protection. Price as tested: $23,635. EPA rating: 20 mpgcity/29 mpg highway. Incentives: 4.8 percent to 5.9 percent financing.

Truett’s tip: For all practical purposes the well-equipped Contour SVT is a four-door sports car. It has plenty of speed and power, and it holds the road tenaciously.

Latest news

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1: 4 Things We Like (and 3 Not So Much)
Cadillac Escalade: Which Should You Buy, 2021 or 2022?
10 Biggest News Stories of the Week: Chevy Corvette Z06 Breezes Past Lucid Air