The cars we loved.
The Mercury Cougar was first introduced in 1967 along side the Mustang from which it was based. Over time it had grown in size and weight to become a nearly full sized personal luxury coupe during the seventies. During the eighties, the car had become smaller in response to demands for more fuel efficient cars, but it was still larger than it was when it debuted.
By 1998, after a two model year absence, the eighth generation Contour based Cougar arrived. It was noticeably smaller than any previous Cougar and was a direct response to the dwindling market for big floaty coupes that the Cougar catered to previously. The current market for sporty coupes was now ruled younger people who preferred cars like the Celica, Prelude and Eclipse.
The Cougar was thoroughly modern with a 24-valve DOHC V6 engine and a fully independent multilink suspension. Enem it’s smaller 4 cylinder engine used DOHC technology and advanced fuel saving methods. The design was all new and a first for Fords (then new) “New Edge” design philosophy. The hard-edged sculpted curves and angles inspired by Ford’s European Puma, was unlike anything on the road. Eventually it became the basis for Focus and even influenced the Mustang.
It’s design divided the press, but the car’s performance eventually won over many fans. When equipped with the Sport Package, a Cougar came with 16” rims and other parts from the Contour SVT. One of the Sport Package’s biggest draws was it’s ungovernered top speed of nearly 150 mph. with the V6. All Cougars were well-appointed with comfortable sport seats and glow in the dark controls that gave the car some luxury flair.
The Cougar was offered with two engines the 170 hp Duratec V6 mentioned above and a 2.0 l Zetec 4 cylinder with 130 hp. Transmissions ranged from a standard 4 speed automatic to a 5 speed manual. Nearly all the 4 cylinder cars were automatic, as they were the most popular with buyers.
The legacy of bigger is beautiful caught up with Mercury dealers, as they had little experience selling to the younger buyer who came into a showroom filled with older people looking at Sables and Grand Marquis. To drum up interest and boost sales, Mercury offered many special paint and appearance packages. Mercury even went so far as to introduce the “Cougar S” concept car. The “S” offered a beefed up V6 making 215 hp to all four wheels. Many of its components were directly from the Contour SVT. Although the S model was never produced, many of its parts were readily available at Ford dealerships.
A small refreshing in 2001 took some of the edge off the “New Edge “ design, but was not enough to stem the tide of declining sales. It was all too little too late, as the Cougar was canceled in 2003. Mercury has a long track record of poor marketing to the younger demographic with the Capri and later the Merkur. Now with the current Mustang a solid success, will Mercury try marketing a new Cougar? I hope so. The third time is the charm.