Mercury gives the Cougar a face-lift and new interior features; later in the model year, the company added a more potent S model. The Cougar is a front-drive sports coupe that arrived for 1999 as the first model to wear Fords new-edge styling, which features creases and crisp lines instead of curves and rounded shapes.
The Cougar is built from the same design as the Mercury Mystique and similar Ford Contour, both of which have been scratched from this years lineup. The new Cougar S, which arrived in early calendar 2001, inherits the 200-horsepower 2.5-liter V-6 engine from the defunct Ford Contour SVT and adds a stiffer suspension, larger tires and more-aggressive exterior trim. Mercury originally planned to introduce the Cougar S in spring 2000.
New front and rear fascias, narrow wraparound headlamps, a new grille and fog lamps, and a new rear spoiler freshen this years appearance.
Though the Cougar is related to the Mystique and Contour sedans, it shares no body panels with either. Its distinctive styling nearly hides the fact that it is a two-door hatchback instead of a coupe with a separate trunk.
The Cougar holds four passengers, with a pair of front buckets and a rear seat shaped for two people. The rear seat is split 50/50 and folds for extra cargo space, with releases for the seatbacks accessed from the rear of the vehicle.
The instrument cluster has a new satin aluminum face, as well as new graphics and pointer needles. Base models now come with a premium sound system and a single-disc CD player, and V-6 models add a cassette player.
Under the Hood
The base engine for the Cougar is a 125-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder. A 170-hp 2.5-liter V-6 is optional, and both engines team with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
The Cougar is the unMercury. It not only looks young and athletic, but it performs that way with a firm ride, youthful agility and commendable road grip. With only two doors and a tight rear seat, this isnt the most convenient car for more than two people. The hatchback design, however, gives it more versatility than regular coupes.