What Happened to the Ford Tempo, the Sedan That Couldn’t Keep Up?

There are some vehicles previous owners don’t want to admit to driving, and the Ford Tempo is one of them. It had a short run with Ford, but this was long enough to help land the American automaker on some not-so-desirable lists of vehicles to avoid. So, what was wrong with the Ford Tempo and its corporate cousin, the Mercury Topaz?

The Ford Tempo had a lackluster ten-year run

The Ford Tempo pictured in a 1983 May issue of the Denver Post
The Ford Tempo | Glen Martin/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The story of the Ford Tempo and the Mercury Topaz began back in 1984. According to Hot Cars, “The Tempo and Topaz were part of a resurgence strategy by Ford to provide more environmentally decent, fuel productive, and more modern styled varieties to contend with the European and Japanese imports.”

It all sounded perfect. Save the planet, make your fuel go further, and get people to buy more American-made vehicles. It sounds a lot like what automakers are trying to do now. Things started off well. In the first year that the Tempo and Topaz hit showroom floors, there were 107,000 two-door models and more than 295,000 four-door models sold. 

In 1992, Ford created the second and last generation of the Tempo. There were a few mild upgrades, such as some change-ups to the grille, a new instrument board layout inside, and different engine options. Sales seemed to be going strong for the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz, yet Ford still decided to let them go. Here’s why.

Ford knew it was time to let the Tempo go

Some vehicles have a knack for always having a modern look, like the Ford Mustang or the Porsche 911. If properly maintained, even an older model can still turn heads. The Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz couldn’t do that.

Talks of discontinuing the Tempo began in 1993. One reason was that Ford had decided to stop production on the 2.3-liter HSC engine. This engine had been specifically designed with the Tempo in mind, and cutting it meant developing a new engine for the Tempo, which might have meant a major redesign.

The other reason was that the Tempo wasn’t aging well. The auto world was moving forward, and it was quickly becoming apparent that Tempo and Topaz couldn’t keep up.

With that thought in mind, Ford decided that the two would have their final run in 1994. After that, both vehicles faded into obscurity, except for being remembered as some of the most problematic cars to hit the road.

The Tempo was also riddled with problems

Some vehicles make the NHTSA list for all the wrong reasons, and the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz both fit this description. There were several recalls on both cars, which helped land them as number three on our list of the ‘10 Most Recalled Vehicles of the Past Quarter Century.’ Some of the issues which caused both vehicles to be recalled include a short-circuiting ignition switch and fault cooling fans. Both are fire risks, which made driving these vehicles a nerve-wracking affair for their owners.

Ford Problems took it a step further by detailing the worst problems, what broke the most, and the model years you should probably avoid if you consider a Ford Tempo for your next ride. The worst issues included stalling while driving, oil leaks, vibrations, and fuel pumps that kept stalling. Two people reported “friggin thing won’t start.” The engine, fuel system, wheels, cooling system, and transmission were what broke the most. The model years to avoid include 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1998. The ’93 model got the most votes as the worst of the worst.

Even so, the reviews on the website Cars aren’t that terrible, and it has a 3.8 out of 5.0 stars from consumers. 

Interestingly enough, the Mercury Topaz is considered one of the 10 most ticketed cars on U.S. roads, so this is another reason to avoid these cars.

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