It's not a speeding bullet, but the Mercury Tracer gets you where you want to go in a civilized manner for a reasonable price.
Although it is Mercury's entry-level car, the subcompact has an extra portion of goodies in keeping with the upscale tendencies of the Ford car division.Standard equipment includes dual power exterior mirrors, remote gasoline cap and trunk releases, extra warning lights, adjustable seat height and lumbar support for the driver's seat, upscale upholstery and lighted door keyholes.
The car, available in two- and four-door hatchback models and a four-door station wagon, was designed by Ford in partnership with Mazda and is based on the Mazda 323. Ford owns 25 percent of Mazda, which also supplies Ford with the Ford Probe built in Flat Rock, Mich.
The Tracer is built in Ford's plant in Hermosillo, Mexico.
Judging by the test car, the plant does good work. Exterior and interior fit and finish were good and the tight, rattle-free construction gave the little subcompact the solid feel of a bigger, more expensive car.
The 1989 model Tracer test car was a two-door hatchback with the standard five-speed manual transmission. The base price of the car is $8,556 plus the mandatory $335 destination charge. There are few options and the test car had most of them, bringing the sticker to $9,981 plus the destination charge.
Major options included $688 air conditioning, $183 aluminum wheels, $182 cruise control and $137 for the upgrade stereo with cassette player.
Styling is pleasant and clean but not head-turning. The rear-end is nicely rounded, avoiding the boxy look often found on small hatchbacks.
The Tracer replaced the Lynx in the Mercury lineup, arriving in 1987 as a 1988 model. Tracer sales were 35,686 in 1987 and 56,698 in 1988.
The Lynx was the Mercury version of the Ford Escort, with a 94.2-inch wheelbase and four-cylinder, 1.9-liter engine producing 90 horsepower. The front-wheel-drive car weighed 2,183 pounds for the two-door model.
By comparison, the front-wheel-drive Tracer weighs 2,158 pounds and rides on a 94.7-inch wheelbase. Its 1.6-liter engine produces 82 horsepower.
The adjustable seat provides a decent driving position. Seats front and back are fairly comfortable, although some may consider them a bit too firm, and tall passengers will find rear seats a bit confining.
Ergonomics are generally good with most controls logically placed and within convenient reach.
The gauges are easy to read and include tachometer, speedometer, fuel and engine coolant temperature.
Idiot lights alert the driver to low fuel level, engine oil pressure, stop lamp malfunction, low washer fluid level and the usual other notices about safety belt unfastened, check engine, brakes, alternator and high beams on.
The four-cylinder powerplant has multi-port fuel injection and provides fuel economy of 28 mpg city and 35 highway.
The clutch is adequate but not the greatest. Most of the engagement action is in the upper part of the fairly long travel and it's not as smoothly progressive as it might be.
The car isn't quick but performance is adequate for a car in its size and price class.