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Mercury Cougar Zn (2001)

SEE ALSOL Mercury Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

When Mercury resurrected the Cougar nameplate for the 1999 model year, it was applied to a car that had more youth appeal than any Mercury since the original luxury Cougar muscle car of the 1960s. It interested people who previously may have thought of a Mercury, if they thought of one at all, as a car for their grandparents.

But Mercury is not sitting on its laurels with the Cougar. Styling has Been freshened inside and out for 2001, and the model lineup has expanded. As before, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder or 2.5-liter V6 may be specified. Two new models are offered with the regular, 170-horsepower, version of the V6. The "Zn" gets its name from its brilliant "Zinc Yellow" color scheme - Zn is the chemical abbreviation for zinc. The "C2" has slightly different styling enhancements and a unique French Blue color. Both are primarily cosmetic upgrades on the regular Cougar V6. The Cougar S is more, with a specially-tuned 196-horsepower version of the 2.5-liter V6.

I've just spent a week with a 2001 Cougar Zn equipped with nearly all available options. Some coupes are best thought of as weekend toys. Not the Cougar. It's a high-style, eye-catching coupe with sporty performance and handling...and more comfort and space than expected. It is well-suited as daily transportation, with flair.

APPEARANCE: Other Cougars may be noticed for their curves- and-angles "New Edge" styling, but the Zn stands out even more with its namesake "Zinc Yellow" paint. This is not a low-profile machine. Although the 2001 Cougar's basic shape is unchanged, the front is livened up with a new grille and a lower fascia with a larger intake. Multiple lights exist under the restyled and appropriately feline headlight covers. At the rear, horizontal lines on the lower part of the bumper fascia mimic the new front end. Unique to the Zn are an inset faux hood scoop and six-spoke alloy wheels with black trim. The Cougar Zn turns heads.

COMFORT: The Cougar's interior styling may not be as radical as its exterior, but it's hardly bland. And, surprisingly, considering the car's coupe body style and modest size, a reasonable amount of space for people and luggage is also found inside. Four medium- sized people fit easily, or two tall adults in front and two smaller people in the rear. The Cougar's 2+2 rear buckets provide reasonable comfort for anyone under about five-foot-eight, with decent access. Although liftover to the hatchback luggage compartment is high, there is more than merely adequate space there, aided by a 50/50 split of the rear seatback. A cover keeps luggage as hidden as in a sedan with a regular trunk. So, the Cougar is a practical car at heart, but that's hardly the reason to buy a sports coupe. With its flowingly-sculpted instrument panel and new aluminum-face instruments and aluminum-and-rubber pedals, the Cougar has plenty of sporty style. The standard equipment level is high, including air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, and good stereo systems. Plenty of options are available to allow customization to suit personal tastes from spartanly sporty to near- luxury cruiser.

SAFETY: The 2001 Cougar has available antilock brakes, traction control, and side airbags.

ROADABILITY: The Cougar's fully-independent MacPherson strut front / multilink rear suspension is tuned for handling, with very little body roll in corners. With the Zn's standard P215/50 WR17 tires, the ride is accordingly firm. Comfort is good on smooth roads, but there is not much isolation from the road surface. Hey, it is a sports coupe, after all. And that tight suspension allows enjoyable cornering behavior, which is one reason for buying a sports coupe. It's a fun car to drive, and low interior noise levels make it a good car for long-distance touring.

PERFORMANCE: The Zn uses Ford's 2.5-liter Duratec dual overhead cam V6. It makes 170 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 165 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm, and has been refined a bit over the past few years for an improved torque spread. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and should bring out the Cougar's performance side. My test car was equipped with the optional electronically- controlled four-speed automatic, which brings out the car's personal comfort side. It shifts smoothly and quickly. For most people, the slight decrease in absolute performance with the automatic will be offset by the added convenience and lower stress in traffic.

CONCLUSIONS: Mercury's Cougar is a sporty coupe with potential for performance or luxury depending on how it is equipped.

2001 Mercury Cougar Zn

Base Price              $ 17,200
Price As Tested         $ 24,060
Engine Type             dual overhead cam 24-valve V6
Engine Size             2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.
Horsepower              170 @ 6250 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          165 @ 4250 rpm
Transmission            4-speed electronically-controlled 
                          automatic (5-speed manual standard)
Wheelbase / Length      106.4/ 185.0
Curb Weight             3200 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   18.8
Fuel Capacity           15.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement        unleaded premium, 91 octane, 
Tires                   P215/50 WR17 Firestone Firehawk GTA
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / solid disc, antilock 
Suspension, front/rear  independent MacPherson strut / 
                          independent Quadralink
Drivetrain              front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      20 / 29 / 20
0 to 60 mph            8.8  sec

Zn Package                              $ 1,395
Automatic transmission                  $    815
V6 Sport Group - includes: front foglamps, rear
 decklid spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel
 and shift knob, auxiliary warning system, light
 group, illuminated driver mirror       $    865
V6 Convenience Group - includes: speed control,
 rear washer & wiper, remote keyless entry,
 illuminated entry                      $    660
Antilock brake system                   $    500
Power tilt and slide sunroof            $    615
Power driver's seat                     $    235
Side air bags                           $    390
Smoker's package                        $     15
Cougar S leather sport bucket seats     $    895
Destination and delivery                $    475