New Car/Review

1997 Mercury Cougar XR7 30th Anniversary Edition

by John Heilig

Mercury

SEE ALSOL Mercury Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE:            4.6-liter V-8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 205hp @4250 rpm/280 lb-ft @3000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, 18.4 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         113.0 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    199.9 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    52.5 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     72.7 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3519 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     18.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  15.1 cu. ft.
TIRES:             P225/60R16
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, power driver's seat, 
                   cruise control, air conditioner,
                   AM-FM stereo radio with CD, 
                   anti-lock braking, traction control, 
                   dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $22,765

It's hard to believe that the Mercury Cougar is 30 years old. This former Mustang clone had a platform change in mid-life and is now a Thunderbird clone. And while it was a good car competing against the Mustang, it has become a truly elegant car living on the T'bird's platform.

Our tester this week is the 30th Anniversary XR7, which was a shock. It seems as if I was just driving the 25th Anniversary model. And while the 25th Anniversary car had a host of stylistic modifications to it, including a specially prepared color, the 30th Anniversary version is more subtle. Sure, there are still 30th Anniversary growlers on the C-panel and growler logos on the backs of the seats and on the floor mats, but the 30th Anniversary Cougar is changed only slightly from the standard car. But still the Cougar is a very nice car.

Power comes from a 4.6-liter double overhead cam V-8 engine that develops a healthy 205 horsepower. It drives the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic gearbox. Performance of the Cougar was excellent. We had very good acceleration and were able to maintain highway speeds with a minimum of fuss. The engine is relatively quiet. It lets you know it's there when you ask it to work but in general it does its job with little noise.

There's a little bit of wind noise from the Cougar at highway speeds, but highway speeds for this car are in excess of those black numbers on white backgrounds you often see by the side of the road. At "normal" highway speeds there is essentially no wind noise from the car, but this is a body design that has been massaged for 15 years now, so it should be quiet.

The Cougar is a two-door coupe, which, if you haven't been paying attention over the past 30 years, is what it has been primarily over that time. There were some flirtations with four doors and a station wagon for a short spell, but the Cougar has been a luxury coupe for most of its life. And it has a decent trunk, which you aren't always going to find in a coupe.

Cougar has become the vehicle it has become because of its styling. It is a classy personal coupe. Thank God the reverse sloping rear window has gone, replaced by a more normal sloping rear window. That, I think, has made the styling of the Cougar even more conservative.

Rear-seat legroom is surprisingly good in the Cougar. I would have expected it to be much tighter than it was. Had the car stayed on the Mustang platform it would have been tighter. We put two passengers back there for some longish trips with no complaining. We did push the front seats forward a bit, but it wasn't necessary.

Thirtieth Anniversary styling included cloth seats, which I liked. I also liked the growler touches. While I didn't like the reverse window styling of the Cougar, and frankly didn't like the car that much, the 30th Anniversary car seems to pull all the elements together into a nice package, stylistically and power-wise to make a very appealing car.

It has a few flaws. Generally, I don't like coupes because they are impractical if you use the rear seat often. However, styling on two-door cars is much nicer than on four-doors.

Cougar is a very comfortable car to drive. It's comfortable to be a front seat passenger in. I wouldn't want to spend a long trip in the back seat. But it accomplishes its purpose well, which is to provide a sporty alternative for Mercury buyers, and it has been doing this well for 30 years.

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