1996 Mercury Mystique Review
European flavor and fun in a small and stylish package.
There are two distinct driving experiences available to Mystique and Contour owners. These aren't as much based on model choice--though the more expensive versions do have better interior trim and more amenities--as on power and handling.
Certain virtues apply to all models. The body structure is quite rigid, keeping squeaks and rattles at bay while isolating its occupants from excess road noise. Wind noise is low as well, making Mystique one of the quieter cars in its class.
The 4-cylinder Mystiques are fine commuter cars. Smoothness and economy are the prime criteria here, and the Zetec engine delivers on both counts. Hill-climbing and passing maneuvers are lengthy procedures, as they are with most small sedans.
You'll find that the base-level Mystique has a slightly stiffer ride than its rivals. That's more than balanced out by superior controlability. The European design heritage really shows through here, delivering one of the best balances between comfort and fun we've encountered in a 4-door sedan.
Things get even better in V6 versions. Our tester was a genuine driver's car, closer to BMW than Toyota in character. Stronger springs and shock absorbers keep the sportier Mystique even more firmly glued to the pavement while firming up the ride, more so than some buyers will like.
But the tradeoff is worth the minor decrease in softness. Every part of the Mystique's chassis works well to create a harmonious whole. We found the steering to be sports-car sharp, body roll almost non-existent and the brakes are superb.
And the engine is terrific. With 170 hp available, the Duratec can chirp the front tires from a standing start, making the traction control option a desirable addition. It's well-muffled in cruise mode, but has a healthy snarl when pushed. We'd rate it the finest engine in the compact-car field.
Some early manual-transmission cars were criticized for balky shifters, but our experience suggests that improvements have been made to the shift linkage. The optional automatic is good, and does little to diminish the V6's snap.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 1996 Mercury Mystique, click here: 1996 Mercury Mystique.