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'99 Mercury Cougar

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 '99 Mercury Cougar

San Francisco:  Way back when the earth was still cooling, I worked at a Lincoln-Mercury dealer, Moriarty Brothers, in Manchester, Connecticut. I was (and am) a Ford guy and L-M, especially the Mercury, was seen as Ford's dowdy cousin to those that thought speed. (Man, we didn't even acknowledge the Lincoln side. Lincolns were for old guys.) But somehow, in a sea of land yachts and limos, Mercury saw fit to field cars in NASCAR's Grand National races, NHRA's drags, and even in the famous East African Safari. Moriarty even did their part, winning NHRA's SS/C at the 1967 Spring Nationals with a 1967 Comet Cyclone (390 cid) by the name of "Big Red".

So those of us who worked at L-M dealers were elated when Mercury finally introduced the Cougar as a 1967 model and immediately fielded a TransAm racing team. The Cougar was the Mustang's better-dressed, upscale cousin but inside, Cougar was still a fightin' cat (remember the GTE or the TransAm Cougars?).

Then somewhere along the way, L-M lost its direction and the Cougar became cousin to the Thunderbird. Instead of sleek, sophisticated and fast, like its namesake, Cougar became more like a neutered house cat.

Now the old Cougar's back. No longer just a different version of something from the Ford Division either. Cougar is back with its own, distinctive personality.

You'll either love or hate the '99 Cougar when you see one. I happen to love it. Yes, the styling is 'edgy' but that's what sets it apart from the crowd in the compact sports coupe segment. Someone took a big chance designing the Cougar. It's a sure thing that a committee didn't design it, and that's a good thing.

So, what do you get inside this rolling piece of modern art? How about an equally artful interior? I just kept thinking that the Cougar was one of the most complete designs I've seen from Ford Motor Company in a long, long time. I saw a continuity of design inside as well as outside the Cougar. Everything flows.

The interior was a fairly comfortable place for four people, even four adults. As long as those adults weren't much taller than 5'10" in the front and three or four inches shorter in the rear. Strange as it may seem, my long legged brother found legroom adequate in the rear seat but seemed to run out of headroom somewhere around his shoulders. Perfect place for Ichabod Crane's friend.

While I'm talking about headroom, let's discuss the front seat too. It would have been fine without the sunroof. Hasn't anyone at Ford Motor Company driven a Japanese car lately? Traditional sunroofs take up interior space because as the roof panel slides back it is parked just under the roof panel. Many Japanese cars solve this by having the panel slide back over the roof, on the outside. Saves a couple of inches of headroom. And a couple of inches would have kept my hair from rubbing on the headliner. (Yeah, I know I could have reclined the seat and looked like some kind of gangsta. But have you ever seen a fifty year old, gray-haired, white gangsta?)

Let's face it, cars in this segment aren't about tons of passenger space anyway. What they are about is fun. The Cougar abounds in the fun category. From its looks to its handling and on to its performance, the Cougar made me grin.

Engine wise, this Cougar came with a 2.5-liter, dohc, four valve per cylinder, V6 engine, that puts out 170 hp. Coupled with the slick shifting 5-speed manual transmission, the Cougar is capable of 0-60 mph in 7.8 seconds. The engine is about more than raw horsepower. It's also about flexibility, the ability to pull away smoothly in almost any gear. It's also about the sweet sound it makes as it winds its way to its redline. (This is the same basic engine that made such an impression on me in the Ford Contour SVT.)

The wheels were 16" aluminum, shod with 215/50R16 tires. They gave a nice, aggressive look to the Cougar and had a good compromise between ride and handling. I'm sure Mercury could cook up a potent version of the Cougar but I'd have to say that it's pretty darn good the way it is.

Highway fuel economy is quoted at 28 mpg and city is 19. What's more impressive is the price. As tested, the Cougar was $21,505; base price for the V6 coupe is $18,095. Go check other cars in its class, they'll be more. The extra $3,400 gets you a "V6 convenience group" (rear washer, remote keyless entry, etc), anti-lock brakes, traction lock, power sunroof (if you're over 5' 11", skip it), power driver's seat, California emissions (here we go again, another benefit to living in the "Golden State"), 16" wheels, trunk mounted CD player, and destination and delivery.

All in all, a tidy little package that can, and does, compete with the Japanese coupes. Try it, you might like it. By Bruce Hotchkiss AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

Lincoln Mercury Home Page

Column Name:  It's Quite a Ride
Topic:  '99 Mercury Cougar
Writer:   Bruce Hotchkiss
Byline:   AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Word Count:   850
Photo Caption:  '99 Mercury Cougar
Photo Credits:   Lincoln Mercury Public Relations
Series #:   1999 - 9



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