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IPASSING

New era dawns as a learz Detroit commits to building value-packed, world-class compact cars

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By Kevin A. Wilson
e target cuslomers. we d w ' l target competitors." So says Ford chairman Alex Trotman, explaining that compelition between automakers isn't war, a new model's mission isn't to "kill" the segment leader. "It doesn't happen that way." Trotman says. "Product doesn't kill ofher products. We've seen cars die. and we've seen companies die. but that's generally besause someone managed his business pwrly. 11's not nuclear war. Among strong competitors. il's more o f a boxing match that goes on and on. round after round." So. meel the new con(endeFs ir) Lhe light-middleweight arena. In this cmer. the Ford ContourMercury ~ y s d ~ u Ie n.the other, boastang a bigger . . body and styling that has a lonser reach. Chrvsler CIMS. 01 maybe they're i ; t h e same cwier. The Ford and Chryrler platforms mark the return of domestic makers to full competitiveness in a segment they'd all but conceded to imprters. Ln this segment. Ford has offered only the lowly Temwopaz. Chryrler made do with the Spiril/Ac~laim.and GM condnues to peddle N-body Grand Ams. Skylarks and Achievas. Meanwhile, 20-odd contenders from Asia and Europe divvy up nearly 2 million cuslomers. The tilrgets are mid-20s to 40-year-old couples or those with young fmilies. Contour and Cirms rewesent a sienificanl chanee in the wav Detroit approaches thew customers. The Ford shares its underpinnings with the Mondw. '93 European Car of the Year. This is simply a convenient Ehoncut for a global corn Danv that recocnizes similar customer demands -~ in different markets. i n imrrica, impnters penetrated deeply in the senment hecause they l e w d in their home markets that cuslomer demand for quality desi& and engineering are not tied to a car's external dimensions. The combination of quality and features importers offered at a bargain price made them great values. More necenlly. the shifl in monetary exchange rdtea opened the way lor the domesand Deuoil's leaner business pr~tices tics to fight back on equal footing. These new plalforms have the kind of engine and suspension sophistication that Detroit didn't even offer on big carwbrfore Tau1 would've been hard lo envision, then. that Detroit rus (1986). 1 would offer two domestically made 24-valve twin-cam Vbs. But

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here thev are. Note. too. that both Contour and Mvstiuue , , have lltult~ link independent rear suspensiona, s feature Nissan surrendered III Favor of a beam axle for its latest Maxima-a car that \lol\ 11) c,nr class higher than the new domestiu-in order lo kcep ihc pricc competitive. Thus Contour and Cirrus are more spaning panners that comhatasa, hoping lo deliver s message thal Detroit i s serioua this limc aroulld. &Ith c ; u sart what enthusi;trLs have heen asking for fro111ktrnit: lhcy answer that demand in cuncep and we hope in execution. I n that sense. sl least. Trotman i s righl. Ford and Chryalrr aren't eyeballing one another: Ihey're aiming directly a1 you. H

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1'-'"7 SKY-8168, CURYSLER i A NEW CLOUD
It's Cirrus, a compact that offersmidsize room inside
his is it, the t d y New Chryskr is finally hm. With the JA platform, beginning with
Cinus this Ocmba. the company's entire car mre is new i n the m t ttna v a n . As with the LH &s and New. 'shoppers bill be lured to the showmom by styling that delights the eye and an exceptionally momy cabin for its price, class. If ow n n n t drive i n a prototype is indicative. they'll f d it to be a c a r woRh shopping against such industry standnrds ~s the Honda A d and Mazda 626. C i will be followed in eady 1995 by the Dodge Shatus and Iata by a still-unnamed Plymnnh d o n .

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ord Contour and Mercury Mystique don't even go on sale until fall. but thev've already changed the world. -The world o f Ford, that is. Even before the cars arrive on the U.S. market. Ford has decided that this whole world-car concern i s so good that the entire company should be reorganized around the principle. Development of entire car platforms will be shared on a global basis. and the company suuctured accordingly. "With the speed o f light, sometimes literally. geography grows less and less important." says Ford chairman Alex Trotman. While he hails from Scotland, Trotman's background includes close experience with the integration of Ford o f England and Ford of Germany into the more efficient Ford of Europe. In a way, the globalization program he announced in April is merely the next logical step. But i f the CDW-27 project. which first generated Europe's Mondeo and then the Contour/Mystique, has forever altered Ford's vision o f itself, the cars may well forever alter the average American driver's vision o f what he can expect o f an affordable domestic sedan. We drove pmtaypc Ford C o n t m and Mercury Mystiques in late
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World engineering pays o f fin handling

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F e near San Diego, a n d fdWthatwithhunckedsofmik I in the Eumgean Fad Monden. We dh'~"B~+AW,"' 4)thatwesawgnatprwnisinthe platform Now mat we've duiven cars near Bodega Bay, we c a n say this: Ford will deliver on ahmkU the promise. The list o f standard and optional equipment for the Contour and Mystique reads less like that for an American-made compact than it does like a recent vintage German luxury car. Few shoppers in the $13,000 to $18.000 segment will expect to find charcoal-filteredclimate control, four-wheel disc brakes, dl-independent suspension. ABS and all-speed traction control, and an all-alloy 24-valve V6 designed to last IM),000 miles on only regular fluid and filter changes. Granted, some o f that is optional equipment (rear disc brakes come with the extra-cost V6, for instance), but there's no question that even the most basic o f Contours is a technologically sophisticated machine. From a size standmint. Contour i s iust about smt-on with Honda's benchmark Accord. its 106.5-inch wheelbase, 183.9-inch overall length and 69.1-inch width is almost to the inch within the Honda's soecs. Dimensions aside. dynamics are Contwr's smng suit. with its rigid chassis, contmlled but compliant suspension. and its four drivetrain combinations all conhibuting to a sprightly, fun-todrive character. How good i s it? Good enough that anyone benchmarkinga Nissan Altima SE or VW Jena 111 GLX as the standard-setter o f the frontdrive compact sedan class could be wrong. The V6 Contour SE may well be the new king o f this patticular hill-we'll only know for sure on longer experience o f the cars. Know this, though: Every time Ford debuts a new car, it tmts out Jackie Stewart, in name if not in person. Often as not this has amwnted to little more than a marketing-propelled nod toward his role as a corn

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Like L H and Neon, the JAs were developed by a crossdisciplinary "platform team." a concept that traces its domestic inception l o Ford's Taums but has been pushed to its extremes at Chrysler. Although targeted at the $15.000$18,WO segment (the bottom-end Stratus will be cheaper) dominated by compact cars. C i m s is technically not a compact but a midsize car. I t slips lhmugh the EPA's classification system at I II cubic feet of interior volume: one cubic foot above the cutoff between compact w d midsize. Ford's Contour is at 103. Pan of the JA's volume advantage is due l o the car's genemus width, and that's a consequence of designer M i c b l Santom's decision to draw the cars with an exaggerated pregnantg u ~ curve y l o the side of the car, an aspect seen best in plan view. That's the view o f cars Santoro had most often while attending art school in Manhattan-looking down horn high-rise stnrlures to the uaffic below. The interior is so wide at the B-pillar tha~ you could slip a slim briefcase alongside the left edge of h e driver's seat and into the back. There's plenty of elbow mom, along with a built-in safety margin in a side-impact collision. Santao is 28. and like the aher, d y youngish m m b e r s of the JA w o m r team will happly tell you lhal M s designed a car for p ple in his own demgiaph~c gmup. kdesigners and engineers have paid attention to the way in which people really use cars. For instance. Cir-

rus cksigrwn W e d people in a gmmy slue p a h n g lut making note of featurn that workthose lhal didn't. Cirms has a spoiler lipon the aft end ofthe decklid in put bgause it's visible hthe driver's seat a d h e l p you lid the right-rear mmer of the car when backing out of a W n g s p a What makes C i m s sland wt in the segment L s lace. I n e beyond its interior volume ir 1 waterfall grille is set in a pmlmding bumper that looks like a s t u c k a t lower lip. Santom had drawn an even more-dramatically vaditional Chrysler grille that ertended farther down into ihe air dam. but the engineen couldn't cool the engine properly with the configuration. The resulting compromise look\ like one. but the rest o f the car is exquisitely drawn. Inside. aside from some absurdly sculptured pseudo-wood trim. Cirrus has a c o n t e m p rary, useful design. The cabin also feels like a much more roomy and comfortable place to spend some time than is the case fur many competitor$. This is especially true o f the space behind the rear doors, where Chrysler has a clear edge over Altima. Accord and. yes, Contour. Still, you pay ,the price for swwpy styling with some worry over headroom, and in cab-fomard design, this

applies both front and rear. As with the L H cars. the windshield header seems awfully close l o the brim o f your huehall cap. though it's largely an optical illusion. That static evaluation is tine, hut don't these thing, move'! Yes. they do. Buyers have a choice of a IJOhp 2.4-liter ti)ur (a balance-

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27, according to its program dimtors in both Europe and the United Slates. is the project on which Stewart has had the most influence in all
these years. 7hwsands of test miles were racked up on Scottish Highland back roads, mostly scouted out by Stewan himself. "It is absolutely the k t testdrive route for car development that I've ever encountered." Stewart proclaims, his Scouish accent turning route into rrmoor. He didn't go racing over those road%,either. "When Idrive a car for evaluation. Itend to go quite slowly. I f you go too fast you have to concenmte on your driving and you don't have time to notice how the steering feels or how well the shifter works." And when Stewan was done evaluating the can on those roads. when he spoke abwr what g o a i handling was all about. vinually everyone at Ford listened. The mosl-cited exnmple comes from late in the car's develovment. when Stewart returned from a tour in prototype and remarked that he'd had to make a minor steering correction pan way though the curves. Alerted. Ford's own test driven: noticed the same h n g . though i t was so subtle as to be easily overlooked. Subtlety notwithstanding, the "prob lem" was fixed by revising the antimll bar mount. Contour development chief Ray Nicosia snys h e car uacked steadily all the *me. hut some toque feedback from the bar mounting sent a "false" signal to the wheel that uiggered a natural response to correct the steering.

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pany consultant. But CDW-

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And the car does uack steadily. Turn the wheel once into a turn and hold your settingthe Contour warps around the curve in a smooth motion. The quadra-link rear suspension design incorporates some rear toe-in for passive rear-steer assistance. Steering feel i s as g w d as you can expect from a front-drive car, with the singular exceptiun of being too isolated at the dead-ahead position. Ford offen a choice of four drivetrain corn binations: a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic gearbox paired with the 125-hp Zetec four, as used in Europe's Mondeo for the past year. or the all-new. Clcveland-huilt 2.5-liter 170-hp Duratm V6. The latter hasn't l quite the verve or spirit nf VW'h VR6, but i can't be faulted on refinement or design sophistication. It's smooth. producing just the right throaty roar when put to work. The

American-made Duratec's alloy block ir cast using the rame lightweight Coswonh process as Ford ncing engines. This is a fin1 for p ductioniar use. and it pays off: The fully dressed V6 weighs only 40 pounds more than the ca.st-imn Eumpean four. In charge of the program wu Bruce Covenuy, who can h m l y conceal the pride that this. the CDW-27's most sophisticatedengine, war designed in the United States. "That wa.* a I ~ I $ reach for us." he rays. The American input may he mo\t cv~dcnt in the fat-hottomed toque curve. "We didn't w a n t to build one of those rev-happy wrenm en." Coventry explains. And indeed. i t hasn't that elecuic-motor hum l o high rpms thal's found in the like-sized M a d a V6 (in the 626. MX-h and Ford Prohrl. But the Durdlec wan to its 6700 rpm redline nicely. Yet. below
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rbdt toquu &om pannn Mitsubishi) a a 2.4 has the tcque to pull sbwgly through the
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EPA aa mlciab. 0 p t i m uZ . U d V6(brlorrM)unlmhrclOn)r rrfm t w r - . p r d .utomrtlc

about i t . It may also be the case that Ch~~krhas-U~hhofthe

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ldehp 2 5 l i t e r iron blocwalloy head twin- automatic g e a h x , while Fwd's 2.0-liter (and cam V6, bc4h coupkd to a four-speed au@ several cdur fours in this class) vlavs at the matic. Only tbe &will be offerad in Oaobz. limits of acqmbility in this resp&. The 2Aliter win show un when the Stratus Chwsler's six feels olentv , m ~e wtcoma o n slmm in ~cbuarj or so. The be& most of the impm cpposition, but Ow drive was confined to Chrysler's Dodge will sku o&r a 2.Oliter (Neon mdor) the engine's characta is not what yw'd call Chelsea, Mich., Proving Gmunds, on both a with Rn-npcal but this somewhat noisy base spaklig. Enginemare still fine-tuningthings short mad-racing type course and on a loop m&umh has been eliminated from the like LhUtlc tipin nsponsc and the elccbunic dcsinned to simulate various ~ublic bvwsvs. c m U ; k ~ ~ a a e r i s t h e o ~ l ~ m a~ ng ~a Ol n ~t h e ~ a u t ~ ~ s o t h i ~ m i g h handled t The& well on the fiat mad &&e, box otkcd m tbe I A ratwe. Clwskr kks the c h n e befat the car reachesmodmion. and absorbed most any imgular surface 51*8bg~tojustiij~eiopn&tofamanuai & ~ l ; e s x i s r i w ~ h a ; i s t h a t ~ u y s ~ e r available at the proving grounds. Oved, mmsnbfortbeV6.Fudamorti~esthefost againhnsonitshunckacarwithmonnoticb the car felt much Wre a unaller LH car. or at of ita f i v q d against Eurupean sales, so it abk d v i b m t i o r h & m s s (NVH) than the least as good as an Accord. an d l & tbe chdce of manual o r automatic average for its rnmpctkm. Even making If styling sells c d it does-hae even though it exto sell few manu- allowf a the rough edge typical of pme Chrysla's JAs are caning to marks with a als in tbc US. msrku Still, Ford has an edge types, t h c ! s a lot of mchanical and nxui strong edge. Couple that with the sizc advanonlypertisllyoffsabythefactthatchrysla's noisepembatingmCnrbin--andwelolowthat tage in its price class, above avenge over-thevinuaUy everyone wtw dmve the prototypes rod pnformam, a gemally m n g market told Chtyskr as much. At the time, them was and a widespnad belief that Chryslm is the morethansevenmonthskftbefaefull-tiltp hama car company on M mi it I& w &OD, s o perhaps something will be done rnahcrwrasstayintheofhg..

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and is headingjustthis side ofthe line. - The early JA-vladam rmcthat we dine and min.exibted b u with ex&llem kss ~ - Eumaan flava, u&&md&l;:than has Fwd's similar Contow S E Thae's some beefy antimll action at work here.but W s sku olentv of annoliaoce &om the h t unalual-~gt~control k~ and . rrar ~multilink ~ amen&.

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Cmlour's dkk bnldlgM (tar M )
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than you can manage on your own with any
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ovrswldonng.otrpnr.CWni.ywt (#low), Is funalaul,~ . n d e d tmm Europe's Yonf o r Anwriun

amount of ~ . wrestling and toe-dancing. It uses the brakes to adjust for slip at low speeds. and controls the throttle a t higher speeds. It's the next best thing to rear-drive. The full-on enthusiast version. the V6lfive-speed Contour SE. has mildly tweaked suspension (stiffer bushings. unlike the topline Mystique L S ) , six-inch-wi&. 15-inch alloy wheels rather than the standard 5.5-inch 14s. plus splendidly supportive spnt bucket seats. It sham the new MTX75 manual transaxle with the base cars. The MI-bearing mounted shifter wasn't as p-ecise as we'd anticioated. the 1-2 shift r~~~ narticulady felt notch; on' several examples. though no worse than average for this class. If y w complain about the dad on-center steering feel. Ford pople nod knowingly: They're working on it. Ditto the lever to operate the tilt steering column. We've seen three different handles. none of which is sate isfactory. Again. "we're working on it." Nicosia explaimd that the European mechanism and handle, which works fine, allows the column to telescope. But the car scored poorly in U.S. federal crash tests with the telescoping column so a tilt-only mechanism had to be developed. Not long ago, we'd have e x p t e d an answer Like. "We'll get it next model year, we just ran w t of time." Nobody says stupid stuff like that at Ford anymore. It i s indeed. a new em.
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The seat of our pants and some side-by-side drives suggest thal a fourcylinder manual will tun with the automatic V6 combo. It's not taking anyihii away from Coventry to say that an enthusiast on a tight budget m i g h t be as happy with the base d r i v d n with optional ABS and traction mntrol. The Belgian-& 2.0-titer has served as the topof-thetine engine in ~ p since Monden's inmduc3WO rpm it also delivers the lion's share of tion more than a year ago: it's a swkt piece peak torque (165 lb ft st 4200 rpm). Dual that sings at speed. But it hasn't enough pull intake pons give it a two-engine characur. the f~ mSt &lEIican~ whm cwpled to the auto. docile pull from low down and thrilling Chassis dynamics are pmty much identisurge at high revs make it exciting with a five- cal regardless of engine choice. and if you speed and a splendid mate f a the automatic. can w i n your right foot to smash the gas Ford claims a 0-60 mph time of 7.5 sec- pedal onto the flwr if the car starts to plow in onds for a Duratedfive-speed Contour, and a tight turn. the traction control system (by just over 9.0 seconds with the same engine Allied Signal, and available on all powemain mupled to the automatic. combinations) will pull you thrwgh better

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