The Mercury Mystique and Mercury Tracer
Mercury started the 1990s selling the Topaz as its compact car, but a much tastier compact Mercury arrived for 1995. Called Mystique, it was essentially that year's new Ford Contour with a slightly more-conservative look and somewhat higher prices.
The price stemmed from the inclusion of several features that were optional on the Ford. Thus, the $13,855 Mystique GS cost $545 more than the counterpart Contour GL, but gave buyers a full console, tachometer and power mirrors without asking. The uplevel LS boasted still nicer trim, a few more goodies and a starting price of $15,230.
To its credit, L-M Division didn't monkey with the basic design originated for Ford's European Mondeo, so this front-drive Merc had a genuine "sports sedan" mystique. That was particularly true for handling and roadholding, which set new standards for small domestic four-doors. Workmanship was also in a higher league: tight, solid and thorough.
Performance was rather tame with the base 2.0-liter 125-bhp four-cylinder, but bordered on exhilarating with the optional, new 170-bhp 2.5-liter "Duratec" twincam V-6. The back seat was cramped enough for grown-ups to feel like sardines, but that was about the only serious complaint. Overall, Mystique was vast improvement over the tepid Topaz.
Yet despite mostly positive early reviews, buyers just didn't take to Mystique. Contour sold better, but also wasn't attracting as many buyers as its predecessor. Dearborn did what it could, reshaping the front seatbacks and rear seat cushions to gain a precious inch of aft legroom, touching up the exterior appearance, and reworking the front suspension to more closely match that of the European Mondeo.
But nothing seemed to help, and Contour/Mystique bowed out after model-year 2000. Hindsight suggests Mystique suffered more from its nameplate than from any inherent flaws, a factor that would increasingly bedevil Mercury in years to come.
The compact Tracer was reskinned for 1997 to emerge as a handsome, efficient little car, nicely equipped and sensibly priced. Like sibling Ford Escorts, these four-door sedans and wagons appealed for competent road manners, a higher standard of finish than many rivals, and a 110-bhp single-cam inline-four that delivered decent performance, even with the optional four-speed automatic transmission.
But when Escort began phasing out for 2000 to make way for Focus, Tracer stepped aside to be replaced by…nothing. Mercury sales had mostly been trending down of late, and Dearborn product wizards decided the entry-level Merc wouldn't be missed.
For more information on Mercury models, see:
- Mercury New Car Reviews and Prices
- Mercury Used Car Reviews and Prices