Modern Classics: Mercury Cougar, 1999 2002 modern classics auto articles car culture
2000 Mercury Cougar; photo courtesy Ford. Click image to enlarge

By Jeff Burry

Photo Gallery:
Mercury Cougar, 1999-2002

The Mercury Cougar has a long and storied history, spanning five decades and eight model generations. Produced from 1967 through to 2002, it was sold under Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln-Mercury division. The eighth and final generation, produced from 1999 through 2002, represented the greatest departure from previous Cougar models.

While the original Cougar was rear-wheel drive and shared its platform with the Ford Mustang, the final offering shared most of its components with the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique sedans. The new Cougar was essentially a sport-compact equipped with front-wheel drive. With a curb weight of only 1,311 kg (2,892 lbs), it was the lightest and smallest Cougar ever produced.

The styling was “edgy,” though, and very European-looking. Ford had been experimenting with its “New Edge” design theme, which offered a blend of creases, edges and curves to the exterior. The appearance, described by some as looking like a material had been pulled taught over an angular frame, provided the Cougar with a very unique and aggressive look, unlike many other vehicles in its class at the time.

Modern Classics: Mercury Cougar, 1999 2002 modern classics auto articles car culture
2000 Mercury Cougar; photo courtesy Ford. Click image to enlarge

The “new look” Cougar was designed with the competition in mind, namely the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Dodge Avenger and Saturn SC1/SC2. At the same time, Honda was still producing the Prelude and had just recently introduced the two-door Accord, offering up some pretty strong alternatives to this new “cat.”

With an eye on performance and a wish to lure younger buyers to the Mercury brand, Ford equipped the Cougar with a fully independent multilink suspension, offering a firmer ride and tighter handling capabilities. In terms of demographic, Ford was hoping to lure 25- to 39-year-olds away from many of the Japanese imports.

The Cougar was further equipped with speed-sensitive steering contributing to greater driver control. Essentially, at low speeds there is increased “driver assist” while at high speeds there is less, all of which contribute to the overall enhanced “drivability” of the new Cougar. The ride was said to be both smooth and quiet thanks, in large part, to the Macpherson struts up front and the quadra-link suspension with stabilizer at the rear.

Engine choices were limited to a 2.0-litre 16-valve Zetec four-cylinder producing 125 hp or a 2.5-litre 24-valve Duratec V6 producing a more respectable 170 hp, the same engines that were offered in the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique. Both a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmission were available, with a very limited number (less than 500) of automatics matched to the smaller and less powerful four-cylinder.

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