Buy/Drive/Burn: Mediocrity Personified in Sedans of 1996
You’ve seen all of today’s contenders before on the roads, likely more times than you can count. Forgettable because of how middling they were, hundreds of thousands were sold.
Which one would you actually buy with your own money?
The year is 1996 and you’re a family sedan customer. You don’t want to spend a lot of money, and it’s not important that your car be exciting in any way. Base model middle American, that’s you.
The most exotic of our trio today, the Ford Contour was an experiment in saving money. Rather than develop separate family sedans for Europe and North America, Ford developed a single car for both markets — a “world car,” if you will. In Europe, this new model was sold as the Mondeo, replacing the Ford Sierra. In the United States, it replaced the aged Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz.
By the time the Contour and its Mercury Mystique sibling arrived in the U.S. for 1995, the Mondeo had been on sale in Europe for two years. The base engine is our selection today, and it’s a 2.0-liter Zetec inline-four. 125 horsepower travel to the front via the four-speed automatic. European!
Dodge went in a new direction in 1995, as the Cloud Cars replaced stalwart K-car predecessors that had been stretched and broughamed as long as humanly possible. Specifically, the Stratus was a replacement for the Dodge Spirit and Dynasty. The LeBaron made way for the upscale Chrysler Cirrus version, while the airy-sounding Plymouth Breeze muscled out the Acclaim. Cab-forward design meant more room and a more aerodynamic shape than Chrysler’s boxy designs of old. Wheels were pushed to the corners, which shortened overhangs and gave the new Cloud Cars a more aggressive shape.
Today’s base Stratus is powered by a 2.0-liter inline-four engine it shares with the Neon. The single overhead cam unit delivers 132 horsepower through a four-speed auto. Forward shapes!
Pontiac Grand Am
Unlike the other two choices, the Grand Am name was certainly nothing new over at Pontiac. In its fourth generation for the 1992 model year, Grand Am is the oldest car here. The new Nineties design resided on the same N-body platform as the prior version, which debuted back in 1985. For 1996, the Grand Am received a bit of mid-cycle refreshing. More aggressive front and rear styling worked with additional side cladding for more Pontiac-ness, as the company continued to add additional plastic trim to each of its designs with each passing year.
While the GT is pictured here, our selection is the base model. Under hood (in all trims), the old Quad 4 was replaced with a more aggressive 2.4-liter dual overhead cam L4 engine. 150 horsepower raced through the front wheels via a new four-speed automatic; the three-speed passed away (finally) after 1995. Driving thrills!
They were all big sellers in their day, and delivered perceived value and reliability in the hot compact sedan segment. Which one’s the Buy for you?
[Images: Ford, Dodge, GM, IIHS]
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