New Car/Review



By Tom Hagin


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 18,095
Price As Tested                                    $ 22,719
Engine Type              DOHC 24-valve 2.5 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 155 cid/2544 cc
Horsepower                                   170 @ 6250 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               165 @ 4250 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.4"/69.6"/185.0"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     2921 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  15.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                          P215/50R16 all-season          
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                 80 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32

 EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            20/29/25          
     0-60 MPH                                        8.0 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          16.5 seconds @ 85.0 mph
     Top-speed                                           135 mph

    * Sequential multi-port fuel injection           

The 1999 Mercury Cougar sets the tone for a new look at Mercury. It's based on the company's Mystique sedan but is more of a head-turner. For decades a rear-wheel-drive mid-sized coupe, Cougar now competes in the compact sports coupe field, targeted toward a much younger buyer. It comes as a four-cylinder version or as our test car, the Cougar V6.

OUTSIDE - The sports coupe market is favoring this type of bold, new design and although it shares 72 percent of the Mercury Mystique's parts, Cougar's sheetmetal is radically different. Its soft curves blend with sharp-edged creases and semi-triangular shapes, a noticeable contrast to today's countless array of bubble cars. We're used to cars with hatchbacks now and it's easy to forget how versatile they are for stowing cargo. While Mystique has a very solid structure, Cougar's chassis is 18 percent stiffer. With the exception of the optional polished alloy wheels, there is virtually no brightwork on the outside.

INSIDE - The same angles and curves continue on the inside where things look inviting. The instrument binnacle houses a full compliment of gauges, each overlapping the other slightly. Its curved inside door pulls integrate into the door handles and window and mirror switches where they're easy to bump accidentally. Available side-impact airbags show that safety is high on Mercury's priority list. Standard front bucket seats are well-bolstered and comfortable, while the rear seats are nearly bucket shaped. Buyers of compact coupes traditionally accept that rear seat room is either tight or non-existent, but Cougar offers more than most. The seats back there split and fold, so long items can be transported easily. Standard Cougar features include air conditioning, rear window defroster, power windows, outside mirrors and door locks, AM/FM/cassette, tilt steering, cruise control and a micron filtration system. Our tester's convenience package added a rear wiper washer, remote keyless entry, added lighting and lighted vanity mirrors.

ON THE ROAD - Entry-level Cougars come with a 2.0 liter, 125-horse four cylinder engine that gives 130 pound-ft of torque. Our test model, however, came standard with a V6. It's a 2.5 liter unit, with dual overhead camshafts and 24 valves. It gives 170 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. Torque is the factor that gives a car off-line launch and most of Cougar's available torque comes at very low RPMs. Power delivery is smooth and consistent, and when the car is compared to its competitors, it looks very good in the power department. While our test car came with a four-speed automatic transmission (a gearbox only available with the V6), buyers can equip their cars with a five-speed manual. The stick-shift is slightly "notchy" when rowed through the gears but changes the flavor of the car from a somewhat lively tourer that's uninspiring to drive, to a nimble road machine. Traction control, a system that reduces wheelspin on slippery surfaces, is optional.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Cougar's unit-body platform is stiff and composed, though its ride character is not compromising. The front rides on MacPherson struts, which, along with the rack-and-pinion steering system and anti-roll bar, are mounted to a separate, vibration-reducing subframe. The rear suspension is called Quadralink by Mercury and features strut-type coil spring/shock units and a passive rear wheel steering system. Its long wheelbase and nearly 70-inch width give it the ability to absorb bumps easily and pushes the wheels to the outermost corners of the body shell. It is fun on twisting roads, and even though the V6 model must make do with 64 percent of its weight over the front wheels, understeer is not much of a problem. Braking hardware on V6 models includes four-wheel disc brakes with an optional anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags and side-impact door beams are standard, traction control, ABS and side-impact airbags are optional.

OPTIONS - Convenience package: $720; automatic transmission: $815; ABS: $500; power driver's seat: $235; polished alloy wheels: $185; leather seating surfaces: $895; special California registration: $469; California emissions: $170.

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