Topaz strong entry in small-car field

January 19, 1992|By John R. White | John R. White,Boston Globe

The Topaz LTS, the top-of-the-line Mercury version, is no glamorpuss, but it isn't chopped liver, either. The base car has a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine as a power plant. That is a reliable, economical engine, especially with the standard 5-speed manual transaxle, but not too exciting, although almost any manual can be fun.

The tested Topaz LTS has just about everything you'll need or want for $14,220 plus $465 delivery: rear defroster, power lumbar adjustment, aluminum wheels, performance radials, gas shocks, power seat, air conditioning, tilt wheel, power locks and windows. This car came with one little option, one of the few available, that I would just as well not have had: 3-speed automatic transmission for $563.

Under the hood, everything is clearly labeled, the necessary items -- dipstick, fluid reservoirs and the like -- easy to reach. The engine is transversely mounted, but even the spark plugs facing the fire wall seem to be in reach of the average mechanic without any sophisticated tools or taking the car apart.

The 4-door handles well enough; it's no sports car, but it corners competently, feels good on the curves, exhibits little body lean -- and no perversities of motion when the going gets a little hairy. The ride is somewhere between firm and soft, not crisp, not mushy, occasionally busy, mostly pleasant.

It's a decent four-passenger car. Up front, the headroom and legroom are good, although the seat travel is limited more than it should be, probably to protect the rear passengers. The back seat offers fair to good legroom, fair headroom. Unfortunately, the door openings are a bit small. Up front, don't leave the sun visor down, lest you hit it with your head when you return; it's hostile, and sudden contact smarts.

The gauge cluster is clear, the controls generally good. I would prefer the horn button be moved to the spokes near the rim of the steering wheel, in reach of a thumb, instead of in the bottom center of the hub. But the speed control is retained on the outboard edges of the wheel hub, very conveniently placed.

And, because the Topaz has no air bag, it qualifies for the idiot belts, motorized shoulder, manual lap. This is something of an irony, since the Tempo was the platform for Ford's first big test of air bags, a very successful venture into promoting safety and securing performance data.

The car with the V-6 and juice drive is still EPA rated for 20 miles per gallon city, 24 highway, a very reasonable estimate.

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