July 12, 2003
Let’s not go so far as to call the Topaz a gem of a used car, but this older Mercury runabout won’t raise the temperature of your budgetary discussions, either.
Puns aside, The Topaz – and its Ford twin, the Tempo – were Ford’s mainstream compact entries from 1984 until the Mercury Mystique and Ford Contour arrived as replacements for the 1995 model year. They ranked among the best-selling cars in Canada for all those years and as such there are plenty of them out there.
Lots of choice means affordable prices for a four-seater that was sold with two- and four-doors and for a short time in the late 1980s to early ’90s was also available with a part-time four-wheel drive system.
From 1990-94, the vast majority of Topaz models were sold with a pretty anemic four-cylinder pushrod engine rated from 96-100 horsepower depending on the year and whether the car was equipped with a three-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual. The so-called “High Output” four-cylinder models had the most power, but when mated to a three-speed automatic transmission the pickup is extremely tame and fuel economy just adequate.
Not only that, the automatic is notorious for rushing to shift to a higher gear and then is reluctant to downshift for passing. So performance is without question a bit on the sluggish side.
Unless, of course, you find one of the V6 models that were sold from 1992-94. The 3.0-litre V6, borrowed from the Ford Taurus of the day, raised output to 130-135 horsepower and makes a world of difference in get-up-and-go. – with no serious fuel-economy penalty. The automatic doesn’t hunt for the right gear at all with the V6, either.
Still, both four- and six-cylinder engines were always relatively noisy compared to import rivals from Japan. That’s one sign of a lack of refinement. There are others, particularly in the quality of the materials and the overall fit and finish inside and out.
Interestingly, however, despite mediocre room inside, not to mention modest trunk space and at best humdrum ride and handling, the Topaz over the years has proved surprisingly durable. Replacement parts have always been readily available and affordable, too.
Then there’s the four-wheel-drive system to consider. It was designed to be easy to use and to deliver much-improved traction on slippery roads. Don’t go off-roading or you’ll be sorry. To engage or disengage the system, all the driver needs to do is flick a switch. Still, be sure to insist on a thorough mechanical inspection for any four-wheel-drive car. Too many moving parts here to ignore the problems associated with the wear-and-tear of aging.
You’ll also notice that a decade ago the Topaz came with motorized seatbelts for the driver and passenger. This is another place where mechanical things can go wrong. By 1994 an available airbag arrived for the driver’s side which combined with the three-point belts saw the end of the motorized driver belt, but not the passenger one. Cars without the airbag had motorized belts for both front passengers.
The Topaz got a minor styling makeover for 1992, with new sheetmetal, bumpers and body-side mouldings. Further refinements also subdued some of the noise evident in earlier models.
It would be hard to argue that the Topaz is anything more than basic transportation. So I won’t. The attraction here is of a car that is very, very affordable and given its age relatively easy to maintain.
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.