Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.
I was excited about the Cougar, and my only real complaint as that they decided to saddle the press car with the 4-speed automatic. That questionable decision seems to embody every attempt to try to sell something unique and sporty through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. They just don’t know what to do with it or how to sell it. The Pantera? Merkur? The Mazda-based Capri convertible? The German Capri was probably the most successful, but those sales numbers weren’t huge.
Like every other attempt, this generation Cougar was short-lived and is now mostly forgotten.
The below review ran on November 9, 1998.
For the first time in its history, the Mercury Cougar will be without a virtual twin at Ford. The original 1967 Cougar was essentially a Mustang. Subsequent Cougars were Torino Elites and Thunderbirds. The radically new 1999 Cougar highlights the plan to give Mercury a unique product line.
Unlike its staid, luxobarge predecessor, this Cougar is a small, sporty front-wheel drive hatchback based on the Mercury Mystique sedan. It showcases Ford’s “New Edge” design, which consists of unusual angles, folds, and creases dominated by a triangular theme. The most visible aspect is the belt line, which begins at the bulging cat’s eye headlights and rises upwards all the way to the bulging triangular tail lamps. The overall effect is appealing to some, hideously ugly to others. But it turns heads, most of them young, and that’s the point.
The interior has a molded, high-tech, space age ambiance with silver and charcoal dash and door trim combined with beige leather seats for four. Although all of the controls are within easy reach, they are not arranged or labeled as logically as in other Mercurys. The interior is cramped, which is the main failing of the Mystique sedan, but here it is more acceptable considering the Cougar’s sporty character.
Fortunately, the Cougar also gains the excellent driving position, firm ride, outstanding handling, and 170-horsepower, 2.5 liter V6 that make the Mystique the closest thing to an American BMW. Combined with low-profile 16-inch tires, you can throw the Cougar around like no other car bearing the name before it. Our car came with the optional four-speed automatic, but the five-speed manual would definitely be a better match. A four-cylinder is standard, and it’s only available with the manual.
Although styled to look like a coupe, the Cougar’s hatchback versatility allows for a cavernous 14.5 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear-seat up. Safetywise, it is the first Ford to offer optional side airbags.
There is no doubt the Cougar will bring younger buyers into Mercury showrooms, and its low $16,195 base price and a-la-carte option list means that those buyers will be able to afford it as well.
For more information contact 1-800-446-8888
Engine:170-horsepower, 2.5 liter V6
EPA Mileage:20 city/29 highway