Ford SVT Contour
Ford SVT Contour. Click image to enlarge

By Jeff Burry; photos courtesy Ford

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Ford SVT Contour, 1998-2000

There are three letters in the alphabet that scream performance to Ford automotive enthusiasts: SVT. It stands for Special Vehicle Team and is the “performance” division of the Ford Motor Company.

Though usually associated with such vehicles as the Mustang and Ford F-150 Lightning, SVT turned its attention to the compact Contour four-door sedan in the late 1990s.

Known as the Mondeo in Europe, the Contour was introduced to the North American market in 1995 to replace the Tempo. The fuel-efficient Contour entered the market as a compact model, slightly larger than the Escort but smaller than the Taurus. Gas prices in Canada were on the rise with consumers paying approximately 65 cents a litre. Oh, to have those days back!

In 1998, Ford restyled the Contour and the folks within the SVT team were “put to task” to create a new SVT version. It utilized a specially tuned and highly-modified 2.5-litre Duratec V6 engine producing 195 hp and 165 ft. lbs. of torque.

Ford SVT Contour
Ford SVT Contour. Click image to enlarge

At first glance, you might not notice just how different this vehicle is compared to the more sedate Contour. The SVT version might be referred to as the “black sheep of the family,” the one with attitude. Colours available during its three year run were silver, black, red and green (the latter a new colour introduced for the 1999 and 2000 model years).

At the time it was one of the “hottest” vehicles in the compact class, sporting 16-inch Cobra-style SVT aluminum wheels, body-side skirts and mouldings. The new wheels were shod with P205/55ZR16 Goodyear Eagle F1-GS tires, the same ones as found on the Chevrolet Corvette at the time, only slightly smaller in diameter.

Silver mesh front and lower grills provided enhanced cooling for the 2.5 V6 Duratec engine, and looked cool too.

Slipping behind the wheel, the driver experienced a soft leather sport seat (available in either blue or tan), leather-covered shifter and hand brake, white-faced gauges, and SVT-embossed floor mats. Clearly, this was not your average grocery-getter.

The Contour SVT is renowned for its great handling. Check out the numerous consumer reviews in cyberspace – most speak to its incredible handling capabilities. The SVT team benchmarked BMW’s ride and handling characteristics when developing the Contour SVT’s suspension.

Ford SVT Contour
Ford SVT Contour. Click image to enlarge

The Goodyear F1-GS tires, which grip the road like crazy glue, also provide passengers with a more controlled and quieter ride. Even in wet and snow conditions, the tires will quickly eject water and snow. Having said that, for Canadian winter driving conditions, one would be advised to install winter tires at all four corners.

The SVT’s front suspension includes modified MacPherson struts and a 19-millimetre stabilizer bar, while the rear quadralink setup features an 18-millimetre bar. The revised shock absorbers produce a tauter ride at speed and dampen roll and pitch more effectively.

Reviewers speak of the car’s exhaust note. The engine note at high rpms is perhaps more memorable than the acceleration, with 0-100 km/h times pegged at 7.9 seconds – respectable for an average subcompact four door sedan but not really worthy of a vehicle displaying a SVT badge. Top speed was rated at 230 km/h.

The Contour SVT’s standard anti-lock braking system and large disk brakes assist the Contour in slamming to a stop in only 40.8 metres – impressive for a vehicle in the compact class.

If you are in the market for such a vehicle, be aware, they are rare. For its inaugural year (1998), only 4,485 were produced. 1998.5 saw 2,050 roll off the assembly line, 1999 saw 2,760 and in its final year (2000), a total of only 2,150 were available across North America to select Ford dealers. While rare, upon a recent browsing of Trader.ca, there were two for sale in Ontario for between $6,500 and $8,500.

Ford SVT Contour
Ford SVT Contour. Click image to enlarge

Some things you should be aware of include a poorly designed stereo system with buttons so small it might prove hazardous to your health if you’re concentrating on it rather than the road. The cup holders may also put the passenger at risk of severe scalding as they simply do not hold cups. A more serious concern is the fuel pump, which has provided some owners with problems.

The Ford SVT Contour is simply a “driver’s car,” a sports sedan with a serious attitude. To put this attitude into perspective, my recommendation would be to turn off the stereo and concentrate instead on that sweet-sounding exhaust note.

Oh yes, forget about the Tim Horton’s drive through and get yourself a coffee after you return from an exhilarating ride in the country – passenger optional.

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