Compact car; Built in USA, Mexico
  • 4-door sedan
  • 4-door wagon
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,600 – $2,500*

1998 Mercury Tracer Trio 4-door sedan

1997 Mercury Tracer 4-door wagon

1998 Mercury Tracer Trio 4-door sedan

1997 Mercury Tracer interior

1997 Mercury Tracer interior

  • Optional antilock brakes
  • Fuel economy
  • Price
  • Rear-seat room
  • Road noise

Neither the Tracer nor its Escort sibling set any new standards for subcompacts. Even so, they’re more refined than before, with more standard features, sensible design, competent road manners, and reasonable prices–whether new or secondhand.


On sale in the summer of 1996 as an early ’97 model, the redesigned Tracer continued as Mercury’s smallest model. The subcompact got a new engine, new styling, and a fresh interior. Wheelbase was unchanged, however, at 98.4 inches. Except for some distinctive styling touches, Tracer was a clone of the Ford Escort. Dual airbags were standard and antilock brakes were optional. The revised dashboard featured an “integrated control panel” at its center, like those used in the Mercury Sable and Ford Taurus to house the climate and audio controls. Sole engine was a new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, rated at 110 horsepower, with 5-speed manual transmission or optional 4-speed automatic.

Yearly Updates

1998 Tracer
Except for newly depowered airbags, only minor changes were evident this season, such as a larger central console.
1999 Tracer
Minor changes for 1999 included addition of an interior trunk release and a standard remote-entry/antitheft system to the LS. Tracer then faded out of the Mercury lineup.


transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

All Tracers have the same basic powertrain: an overhead-cam 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that develops 110 horsepower, driving either a 5-speed manual transmission or optional 4-speed automatic.

ohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.0/121
Engine HP 110
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 125
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic

Road Test

Acceleration is adequate with either transmission, though a Tracer feels livelier with manual shift. Low-speed power is good, which is a bonus in Tracers that are equipped with automatic. The automatic transmission shifts more smoothly with the new engine, and also downshifts faster for passing and merging. The new engine is quieter than the previous 4-cylinder, but road noise is prominent on all models.

An LS sedan with manual shift averaged an impressive 31.2 mpg, with about two-thirds of the driving on highways. In a more even mix of urban and highway driving, mileage will naturally be lower.

A well-tuned suspension helps the Tracer absorb bumps better than most subcompact sedans and wagons. Handling is competent rather than sporting, though steering feels natural in turns and its on-center sense contributes to stable cruising.

Front seats have ample head room for adults and adequate leg room. The rear seat is short of space for anyone over 5-foot-8 or so. Rear knee room is tight, but toe space is good. Tracer’s new dashboard places the audio and climate controls in an oval control panel, which is easy to reach and decipher while driving. Cargo space is adequate, and the rear seatback on all models folds down for additional room. Visibility is good on the whole, but the sedan’s rear roof pillars are thick enough to block the driver’s over-the-shoulder view.


Model Tested: 1998 Mercury Tracer LS sedan

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 3
Fuel Economy - 7
Ride Quality - 4
Steering/Handling - 4
Quietness - 4


Controls/Materials - 5
Room/Comfort Front - 4
Room/Comfort Rear - 3
Cargo Room - 2


Value - 5

Total: 41


4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
98.4 174.7 67.0 53.3
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
12.8 12.8 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.0 36.7 42.5 34.0
4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
98.4 172.7 67.0 53.9
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
63.4 12.8 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.7 39.1 42.5 34.0
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 Tracer 4-door sedan


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 3
Front Passenger Injury - 3

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 3
Rear Passenger Injury - 3


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 109
Injury 151
Theft 53

Trouble Spots

Automatic transmission
Description: The transmission may not engage right away when shifting out of park after the car has been parked overnight because the torque converter drains down. (1997)
Brake noise
Description: Clicking noises come from the brakes, especially after they are applied following a change in direction, due to excessive clearance in the caliper brackets. (1997-99)
Cold-starting problems
Description: The engine will not start or the cooling fan may not shut off (killing the battery) in cold weather due to moisture in the integrated relay-control module. (1997-98)
Description: The dome light may come on while driving or fail to come on when the door is opened. (1997-98)
Engine noise
Description: The blower motor may chirp or squeak at low speeds and is corrected with a replacement motor having better brushes. (1997)
Fuel gauge
Description: The gas gauge may have an error of about 1/8 tank, may drop from full too fast, and the tank may take fuel slowly due to a problem with the fuel-sending unit or slosh module. (1998)
Oil leak
Description: In cold weather, moisture can freeze in the PCV system and, when the engine is started, the dipstick pops out of its tube and oil leaks out. (1997-98)
Oil leak
Description: The PCV system can get clogged with ice in freezing temperatures causing crankcase pressure to build until oil blows out the dipstick tube and all over the engine. (1999)
Audio system
Description: Electrical noise caused by the electric fuel pump in the tank can cause a buzzing noise when the AM band of the radio is selected. (1997-98)

Recall History

Description: Certain TRW driver’s seat belts made on December 6 and 9, 2002, for replacement use, exhibit a no-lock condition and may not provide adequate protection in a crash.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.

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