Details count. The 1999 Mercury Cougar is proof of this. After spending some time with a Cougar, it is obvious that Ford did its homework when it designed this car. It also got the details right. The company did an excellent job of designing this car in such a way that it appeals to youthful buyers. Young folks, this writer included, love the Cougar. The car pushes just the right buttons in all the right ways.
For instance, take the Cougar’s radio antenna. It is perched proudly on the roof, directly above the windshield. That, to us, is very cool and very European; we like European things. We also love the way the moonroof deploys above the roof. For some reason, that looks cool too. Oh, and Ford got another small detail right. When the door locks are activated remotely, the horn does not honk — instead, the lights flash. Those of us who are in Generation X (or Y, in this writer’s case) want people to dig us for our sweet ride, not our obnoxious car alarm. The details count.
But Mercury got the fundamentals right too. This whole package is sweet. The Cougar comes complete with expressive sheet metal and exemplary driving dynamics. Batteries are included.
Our test car was equipped with the 125-horsepower 2.0-liter Zetec four-cylinder engine that also does time in the Escort ZX2 and Mondeo/Contour/Mystique triplets. Instead of the four-pot, we recommend the sweet 170-horsepower V-6 for a few hundred bucks more. The four-cylinder may be more miserly with fuel, but its excessive vibration and lack of power make us wonder why Mercury even sells a four-cylinder Cougar.
It is obvious that insiders feel the same way we do. Just before the introduction of the car, Mercury decided not to sell Cougars equipped with a four-cylinder and an automatic transmission. Why? The rumor is some higher-ups at Ford drove a car with that powertrain combination and were less than pleased with its excessive noise, vibration and harshness. The car we sampled was equipped with a four-cylinder engine and a manual transmission. We had a similar reaction. Buy the V-6.
1999 Mercury Cougar
While checking option boxes, we also recommend the "sport package," optional on cars equipped with the V-6. It includes fog lamps, four-wheel disc brakes, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather shift knob, spoiler, 16-inch aluminum wheels, a center armrest and more distinctive seats. At just $775, the package is a relative bargain, given the cost of a set of aftermarket wheels or fog lamps at retail. If they’re your thing, polished aluminum wheels are an additional $185.
As we said earlier, the four-cylinder engine comes only with a manual, while V-6 models can be optioned with an automatic transmission. Be forewarned, however, the automatic saps the fun right out of the V-6. It increased the V-6 Cougar’s zero-to-60 time from around 8 seconds to a painfully slow 10 seconds. In fact, the four-cylinder engine coupled to a manual transmission is as fast as the V-6 saddled with the automatic.
The base V-6 coupe has an MSRP of $16,095 — the four-banger (and we do mean banger) is $600 less. A fully optioned Cougar, with leather seats, side airbags, ABS, traction control, limited-slip differential, CD changer, and a moonroof can approach $23,000.
That amount buys a very eye-catching car. Inside, the Cougar has a look that is as extraordinary as the exterior. The cabin features a blend of unique styling with good ergonomics. An in-dash CD player or a trunk-mounted six-disc changer can be optioned over the standard AM/FM/cassette audio system. Interior materials give an impression of high quality. Many of the interior materials have interesting finishes never seen before in a domestic car in this price class. They rather remind us of the interior of Ford’s European Puma, a car that also has a flamboyant interior. Speaking of the Puma, we would love to see some aluminum accents inside the Cougar, like those found inside the Puma. That would be way cool.
While on the subject of suggestions, we have a few for engineers and product planners working on the next-generation Cougar. As most auto companies have found (some the hard way), coupes have a limited life span. So why not make a few changes to the Cougar after it has been on the market a couple of years.
What would we change?
Throw in the 200-horsepower V-6 from the Contour SVT. Add 17-inch wheels (like the Ford Scorpio wheels on the prototype pictured above — those look sweet!). Add "access panels" behind the rear doors as Saturn did on its '99½ SC (but add two, not one, as Saturn did. Didn’t GM learn that lesson with its new pickup?) And, if it does not cost an excessive amount of money, make high-intensity-discharge headlamps an option. It would take the high-tech look of the car to the next level. Lastly, do not forget to make a few tweaks to the sheet metal.
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