Mercury Cougar (1999)

Styling [Photo of 1999 Mercury Cougar]

The newly redesigned Mercury Cougar is quite different from the Cougar ofyears past. You might remember the Cougar as a very American-looking largecoupe. (In fact, it was built on the same platform as the FordThunderbird.) The new Cougar, however, is much more Japanese in both itslook and feel. It's sporty, not unlike the Mitsubishi Eclipse, but withmore heft to it. It shares a platform with the Ford Contour/ MercuryMystique, which are nice, small sedans. The Cougar is also quite flashy,even a bit garish, with a look that is clearly designed to appeal to youngmale, testosterone-poisoned drivers.

Driving Experience

The 2.5-liter DOHC engine (also shared with the Contour) has plenty ofpower. It's sporty, though a little harsh. Because of the driver'slocation, relatively low down to the ground, the Cougar is just slightlynoisier than most cars. Some of that noise, however, was undoubtedlycontributed by the high-performance tires that were installed on the Cougarwe test-drove.

Visibility is fine at the front but not so great in the back, thanks to thecombination of a large C pillar (the post between the rear seat and therear window) and small, narrow back window. A spoiler in the back furtherinterferes with the driver's visibility--but it attests to the driver'svirility, we suppose, so it has to be there.

The Cougar has a firm suspension, sporty handling and excellent braking,with an overall feel that is harsh and quick. It takes the corners _very_flat--even at reasonably high speed, which is definitely a nice asset.While driving in wet weather, we sensed that we might have been starting tolose the back end on a few occasions. We also noted that the Cougar has asurprisingly wide turning circle for a small car--somewhat inconvenient ifyou live in the middle of a city.

Ergonomics

The Cougar was relatively comfortable. Unless your last name is Houdini,however, you might find it a little difficult to extract yourself onceyou're in. The cabin felt a little bit on the small side and bordered onbeing claustrophobic at times. Head room and leg room are okay.

We found the ergonomics to be fine, with the possible exception of thewindow switches and power door locks, which are located on top of thewindow sill instead of at the armrest. After we got used to this anomaly,we admit that we found it nice to have the door locks easy to view andreach. Another inconvenience is the trunk release, which is down near thedriver's left foot--wayyyy far forward. There's a small light nearby, whichdoes help, but it's not a particularly well thought out location.

One design idea we did not particularly like was the very steeply raked, orangled, windshield. The windshield angle created an annoying dashreflection and, if you're the least bit tall, you might find it difficultto see out of the top of the windshield.

The model we test-drove had comfortable leather seats. The back seats,however, are best described as "watermelon holders"--that is, twoindividually molded seats. It's a pretty small space, and there's lousy legroom. Anyone bigger than Tara Lipinski would be hard pressed to spend morethan about 10 minutes back there.

The Cougar has a 50/50 foldable rear seat, and there's an impressive amountof trunk space, considering the overall size of the car.

This engine fits very tightly into its compartment. Repair and maintenanceof belts is easy and the spark plugs are in a manageable location, thoughthe rear bank is tough to reach. The oil and fuel filters are in acceptablelocations. Major servicing, on the other hand, will be tough, due to thelimited space. For this reason, in its later years we would expect theCougar to be expensive to fix. Repairs like water pumps, cam seals, valvecover and cylinder head gaskets will likely be above average in cost.

Maintenance

We'd love to see the Cougar with a four-cylinder engine and a turbocharger.That would provide a lot more room to make repairs and service the engine,while still leaving the Cougar plenty of power.

Reliability

The Cougar should have good overall reliability, while the cost of partsand servicing should range from moderate to high.

Overall comments

Before you plunk down some money on a Cougar, however, we'd suggest youalso take a look at the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Dodge Avenger, Honda Preludeand Toyota Celica.

Overall, the main reason to buy a Cougar is for its styling. If you lovethe way this car looks (and some people undoubtedly will), you'll overlookthe harsh ride and the difficult ingress and egress, and fall in love withit. If the looks of this car don't take your breath away, you can walk awayfrom this car with our blessing, because there's nothing here you can't getin other vehicles

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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