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By Jeremy Cato
The year 1999 marked a major departure for the Mercury Cougar. After a one-year absence, the Cougar named appeared again, but this all-new model was nothing like the immediately previous Ford Thunderbird-based Cougar that retired at the end of the 1997 model year (there was no ’98 Cougar).
The ’97 Cougar was a lumpy and ponderous car compared to the then-new Cougar. No surprise in that, really. The ’99 car used most of the mechanical bits and pieces of Ford’s European Mondeo sedan. The Mondeo of the late ’90s was an excellent place to start: strong brakes, tight chassis, smart and very effective suspension tuning.
Moreover, in terms of styling, the 1999-2001 car was much more interesting than the ’97 Cougar. In an effort to attract younger, highly individualist buyers, the designers went with a radical, European look, one full of interesting creases, lines and angles.
What you see in that Cougar (as well as the current car) is a styling approach Ford designers call “New Edge.” In designer-speak, New Edge relies on “clean folds and crisp intersections” to create a look of simplicity and precision. Front and rear overhangs (the area beyond the front and rear wheels) are short. All conspire to give the Cougar a look of always being in motion.
Meanwhile, the front grille and projector beam headlamps combine with low twin scoops and fog lamps to give the Cougar a bit of a snarl (sorry, couldn’t resist the “cat” reference). The rear is so intricately sculpted that in its convex shape it’s almost impossible to tell this is a hatchback.
The side mirrors are shaped to match the rest of the car, but that makes them too small, leaving the driver feeling a bit blind to the side and rear. The plunging beltline, however, does much to enhance outward visibility. And the driver is looking out from a cockpit with some real personality. There is a semi-metallic, machine-age look to the plastic textures that lends a high-tech air to the whole package. The controls make sense, but while the stylish white-on-grey instruments were and still are novel, for quick scanning in bright sunshine they are not as effective as good, ol’ white-on-black. They do illuminate well at night, though.
The door pulls of this car have always been a stylistic treat. Their curving arcs sweep into the A-pillars and contain the power window buttons. Unfortunately, the door release handles are right where the passenger often expects to find grab handles.
Dual airbags have been standard from day one and side bags built into the outer edges of the seat have been optional. The latter will protect both head and chest in a side impact.
If you’re testing a used Cougar, look for front buckets that are generous and comfortable; in the rear you’ll find two seats deeply scooped, with backs that split and fold forward for flexible cargo room. But those rears are good only for shorter folk.
Under the hood you get two choices for model years ’99 and ’00: a willing and smooth V6 (170 horsepower) or a 125-hp. four-cylinder for the economy minded. The V6 is a good engine, with loads of pulling power at 2,000 rpm. Look for 0-100 km/h times of about eight seconds. The five-speed manual has short throws but is a bit notchy. The four-speed automatic is convenient for the traffic rhumba, but robs the Cougar of some personality. By 2001, Ford of Canada was selling only V6-powered Cougars.
Road manners? Athletic, especially with the 16-inch wheels and low-profile tires. The steering is quick and precise, though slightly numb. In corners, the Cougar stays flat and poised.
And because this is a front-wheel-drive car, with 64 per cent of the weight on the front wheels doing all the work, well the Cougar is forgiving to those who go too hot into a corner. Forgiving as in safe; no tail-wagging here.
What used buyers shouldn’t be surprised by is plenty of wind and road noise at higher speeds, and when pushed hard the engine noises become quite loud. In terms of buyer’s alerts, nothing hugely worrisome jumps out, although a fair range of let’s say minor things are worth looking for — including liftgate problems and noisy brakes.
For such a sporty car, though, pricing is quite reasonable. This car is worth consideration if you want some pizzazz in your transportation.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.