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The 1999 Mercury Cougar Reboot Seemed Like A Good Idea But Was An Utter Failure

Depending on your age, you may have a very different image of the Mercury Cougar. Older folks probably point toward the original, which was a slightly more upscale and luxury-oriented version of the Ford Mustang. From there, the 2-door morphed into the kind of personal luxury coupe that was all the rage in Detroit in the 1970s, and the Cougar was one of the last cars to wave that flag.

Most of us have probably forgotten the Cougar’s last gasp: a front-wheel-drive 2-door that was styled and largely engineered in Europe. The 1999 Cougar could have been the car that rebooted Mercury. Instead, it was an utter failure.

When it arrived in mid-1998, the Cougar boasted edgy styling penned at Ford’s German design offices. It was the first Ford to import the Euro-centric “new edge” styling that would eventually be applied to the Mustang and the Focus. The design language boasted crisp cut lines, which had the double benefit of being easier to assemble than wavy Fords of the past. Elements of the look stuck around for more than a decade, though it’s hard to see any legacy in Ford’s current lineup.

The Cougar shared its FWD architecture with the Ford Contour and the Mercury Mystique. Power came from a 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 125 horsepower or a 2.5-liter V6 that put out 170 hp. A high-powered version based on the Ford Contour SVT was long rumored but never materialized. Contemporary reviewers praised the Cougar for its looks but found its handling and refinement were not up to par. The design was barely a year old when Car and Driver ranked it seventh out of seven in a comparison test against the cars it was designed to unseat: namely, the Honda Prelude and Mitsubishi Eclipse that came in first and second, respectively.

The automaker reworked the Cougar a few times during its 4-year run, but by 2002, with the Mercury brand’s future on the rocks, parent company Ford pulled the plug.

Though it was sold as a Ford Cougar overseas, the Cougar was the only truly unique Mercury in the company’s modern-era lineup. Every other Mercury in the division’s showrooms could be had with a Ford badge for a few bucks less, but not the Cougar. Those few who test drove the little coupe could be forgiven for thinking they were in something wholly unique. The Cougar had not a single Mercury badge, and most of its switchgear and trim were plucked from the European market.

A little over a dozen Cougars are currently on Autotrader, nearly all of which can be had for around $3,000 or less. This red first-year V6 model may be saddled with an automatic transmission, but it at least includes a bunch of optional gear, such as leather upholstery, side-impact airbags, a sunroof and a CD changer. Its Carfax indicates single-ownership history, meaning it may very well be the best rebooted Cougar left. Find a Mercury Cougar on Autotrader. Find a Mercury Cougar for sale

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  1. The Cougar died because this kind of garbage. The 7th gen was rear wheel drive and you could option it with a V8. The earliest even offered a manual. The fact they thought this would replace that is laughable.

  2. I had one with a V6 and 5-speed back in my college days, and while it drove well and looked cool for the time, unfortunately it wasn’t built to take a beating from a ham-fisted young driver as well as say, an Integra or Prelude

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz is an author specializing in helping in-market consumers get the most bang for their buck -- and the best car, while they're at it. When not virtually shopping for new and used cars, Andrew can probably be found under the hood of a vintage classic that's rapidly losing fluids.

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