By Jeremy Cato
Their code name was CDW27, but virtually all the details about these four-door sedans were public knowledge long before they went on sale in the Fall of 1994 as ’95 models.
The cars? The Mercury Mystique and its Ford sibling, the Ford Contour. By the time they hit North American showrooms, a European version called the Mondeo had already been named Car of the Year for the previous year.
Ford, anxious to promote a good launch for cars that replaced the Mercury Topaz/Ford Tempo, spent much of the first two-thirds of ’94 in a media blitz touting the new models. Unfortunately, all the positive spin in the world, not to mention six years and some US$6.5 billion spent in development, couldn’t hide the fact CDW27 had a back seat too small for too many of the families targeted as buyers.
Ford modified the front seatbacks in ’96 to give those in back more room. Early cars also lacked tilt steering, but that was fixed, too. In addition, a number of other running changes were made in the Mystique’s short life including a particularly significant re-make for the ’98 model year.
For the record, the Mystique differs from the Contour in front and rear styling and feature content. Mechanically, the cars are virtually identical. (So what I write here applies to the Contour.)
The Mystique’s strength? Above all else, a very, very rigid body structure that allowed the suspension experts to tune the Mystique’s suspension components, struts, springs, steering and brakes for tight, responsive handling. No small sedan from this era feels and performs in a more sporty way.
As Ford consultant and former world champion race car driver Jackie Stewart said in ’94 on the launch of the Mystique, “So when a man or woman gets into the car for the test drive, I’d like them to pay attention to OUR attention to detail.
“Appreciate the steering. Appreciate the braking system, which is the most advanced and as good as any car of its size and weight in the world today, without constraint of cost. And I think the NVH, that’s noise, vibration and harshness, is very good; the quality of those issues is very good in comparison to our competitors both from Japan and from Europe.”
For all its life, the Mystique came with a choice of two engines, both all-new for ’95: an inline four-cylinder that developed 125 horsepower and a 24-valve, dual-overhead cam V6 rated at 170 horsepower. Both were available with the standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic.
Other standard features: dual airbags and available four-wheel disc brakes, anti-lock braking and for a short time Ford offered an all-speed traction control system.
The latter used both brake and throttle intervention to maintain stability and steerability on slippery surfaces, by detecting imminent wheelspin and controlling it.
This was the first time, in fact, that an all-speed traction-control system was offered in a car in this class. Unfortunately, Ford didn’t offer traction control for very long. Apparently, the public didn’t want it.
Shortly after the launch of the Mystique, Ford went through a very public and embarrassing recall that had to do with the metal shield on the plastic fuel filler pipe. It could develop a static charge during refuelling, serving as an ignition source for fuel vapors. A fix was ordered quickly before a great many cars were sold.
Generally, the Mystique enjoyed a fairly good reputation for build quality. Customer surveys have found that overall reliability has been somewhere between average and slightly above average. But it’s worth remembering that even though the Mystique was around for only a few years, it went through many changes worth noting for buyers in the used marketplace.
That said, if you can live with the pinched rear seat, a ’95 Mystique is a very good value. The V6-powered cars are particularly sweet. And remember that by ’96, Ford had opened up space in back.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.