1996 Mercury Mystique Review
European flavor and fun in a small and stylish package.
We've had a year to get used to the soft, ovoid shapes Ford stylists penned for Mystique and Contour, and much of the shock value is gone. The Mystique, in fact, has a normal, almost conservative look to it, with its low, wide headlamps and conventional air intake. The Contour, on the other hand, retains its startling ovoid air inlets and elliptical headlights. Front exterior panels aside, the two are virtual twins.
Some bright trim has been deleted from the 1996 models, leaving only wheels and badges as indicators of base (Mystique GS, Contour GL), or uplevel (LS and LX, respectively) trim and equipment. Contour is offered in an additional sporty SE version, which carries a small spoiler on its rear deck and its own seven-spoke alloy wheels. Ford is also readying a limited edition SVT version of the Contour for mid-year release, offering more power and sharper handling.
All Mystique and Contour models (except the SE) list the 130-horsepower, 2.0-liter, Zetec inline, 4-cylinder engine as standard equipment, though all are available with the much more powerful 2.5-liter, Duratec V6. The larger engine comes in an option package that includes 4-wheel disc brakes, larger tires and stiffer suspension. Base transmission for either engine is a 5-speed manual, with a 4-speed automatic available at extra cost.
Our test car was a Mystique LS, with V6 engine and 5-speed manual transmission.
Though Ford rates the Mystique and Contour as 5-passenger sedans, they are at their best when four or fewer are on board, something that's true of any car in this size class. Interior space is limited in back, even though an extra inch of head and leg room has been carved out of the 1996 cabins by a redesign of the front seatbacks and lowering of the rear seat cushion. Even with that added space, adults won't want to spend much time in the back. All models now have folding rear seatbacks that increase luggage space.
Driver- and front-seat passenger will find their part of the interior to be cozy as well. Here, there's just enough space available for comfort. The front seats have short cushions, but are otherwise supportive and suitable for long drives. Base front seats have manual adjustments that include tilt and lumbar support settings on the driver's side; a 10-way power driver's seat is optional. Steering wheel, pedals and switches are all nicely positioned, and switches have a soft surface that's easy on the fingers.
Interior appearance is first-rate, from the curved dashboard to details on the door panels. Some critics feel that the dash is made up of too many separate pieces, but that's a matter of opinion; all agree that the overall look is appealing. Instruments are clear and legible.
Mystique and Contour do offer plenty of stowage area in back. More, in fact, than the slightly longer Honda Accord. Trunk liftover is low, and the space is well-shaped to handle luggage or grocery bags.
Aside from a few extra touches such as height-adjustable front seatbelts and a pollen filter in the ventilation system, Mystique and Contour carry a light load of standard equipment in base form. That's normal for cars in this price range. Adding desirable options pushes the price into the premium area for a small midsize car: A fully-loaded Mystique LS such as our test car crosses the $20,000 frontier. However, it also provides a few features (all-speed traction control perhaps the most important) not available on competitive cars.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 1996 Mercury Mystique, click here: 1996 Mercury Mystique.