expensive, suffered from quirky ergonomics and had less interior room. But saddled with the car for a while, Ford decided to take advantage of its best attribute–its sporting ability. By running it through their Special Vehicles Team, Ford created the SVT Contour.
While run of the mill Contours range from $14,500 to nearly $20,000 (and are almost always discounted heavily), the SVT is fully equipped at $23,000. Although it competes against some thoroughbred imports, this Contour performs. The 2.5-liter V-6 is hopped up from 170 to 195 horsepower. It gets a more taut suspension and 16-in. tires. The result is a quick sedan that’s fun to drive.
MERCEDES BENZ SLK 230
When Mercedes-Benz joined the growing crowd of small, sporty roadsters with its SLK230, they forgot one thing: a lot of people attracted to such vehicles prefer a manual transmission. For 1999, the company is correcting that by offering its first manual transmission in America since 1991. Of course, Mercedes-Benz isn’t renowned for the best shifting manuals, so most SLKs will continue to be sold with the five-speed automatic.
Starting at $40,000, the SLK230 is powered by a supercharged four-cylinder engine. With 185 horsepower, this is a quick car, although not as fast as other roadsters in this price class. But it has one thing going for it that no other car can offer: it’s also a coupe.
The body structure of the SLK is so robust it makes a very convincing coupe. Those who aren’t familiar with the car will even be surprised to see the top unfold.
For a small two-seater, the SLK is also practical. When the top is up, the trunk has a generous 9.5 cu. ft. of storage space. Before the top is lowered, a soft panel pulls out dividing the trunk roughly in half. The lower 3.5 cu. ft. can still be used for storage, while the top half is used to stow the roof.
TOYOTA CAMRY SOLARA
After dropping the coupe when the current generation Camry. arrived in 1997, Toyota has been readying a more sporting version of the Camry. The Solara takes basic Camry underpinnings and puts a more sleek two-door body on top. They have also made a few suspension modifications that add up to a surprisingly sporty ride. In fact, the Solara demonstrates the ability of the Camry chassis to offer some rather entertaining driving pleasure.
Meanwhile, the Solara is the first Toyota product to be engineered, designed and built in North America specifically for this audience. Starting out around $19,000 is the four-cylinder SE with 135-horsepower and a pleasant ride. A 3.0-liter V-6 is optional on the SE and standard on the uplevel SLE. This produces a rousing 200 horsepower and is offered with automatic transmission. At a tad over $25,000, the SLE gets plenty of luxury, including a potent JBL audio system that almost makes you want to live in the car.
Comfortable front buckets, a reasonable rear seat, generous trunk and a pleasant ride make Solara a nice car. Add the SLE’s 16-in. tires and performance