The 1999 Mercury Cougar is intended to replace the 93-97 Probe, and in fact was originally designated the third generation Probe. It is based on the Contour/Mystique platform (much as the Probe/MX-6 were based on the Mazda 626 platform). The most powerful Cougar will get the 170hp Ford 2.5l Duratec V-6.
I have the MotorWeek segment on the 1999 Cougar on videotape. If any BAPOC members desperately need to see it I can loan it to you. 20May98
30Jun98. Two weeks ago I attended Mercury's 'Pit Pass' test drive session in Toronto (for those non-Canucks, 'Pit Pass' is Ford of Canada's cross-country tour of new models where registered guests can test drive the vehicle of their choice. I found out about the programme from browsing Ford's web site).
There were approximately 70-80 people, split into two groups. On hand were three Cougars (V6 auto, V6 man., and 4-cyl man.), a Sunfire GT, Honda Civic Si coupe, Honda Prelude VTEC, and a Mustang V6 (?). The other group had a Dodge Avenger V6 instead of the Mustang. All cars had automatic transmissions, except for the two Cougars.
After a preliminary guided walk-around tour of the Cougar, the crew let us loose on the cars. The course was in a huge parking lot, with cones marking the boundaries. It consisted of a slalom, a rumble strip (to test the suspension and noise), and an acceleration/braking lane, where one is supposed to accelerate, then brake and quickly and change lanes to test the ABS and maneuverability of the cars.
There were a few surprises - the Civic handled the worst, understeering horribly. I had to really back off the speed for the slalom; the car wanted to plow ahead in a straight line over the cones. Body roll was severe, and acceleration was anemic, though this was probably the automatic transmission's fault.
The Sunfire GT was surprisingly powerful, but it leaned almost as much as the Civic, so the slalom was a weak point.
The Mustang didn't really belong in the test, in my opinion. That car is only acceptable with the V8. Handling was about mid-pack. I felt detached from the road in this car.
The prelude was nice and smooth, but it understeered more than I expected. A comfortable, competent car. It was not the top model, which would probably have performed better.
The Cougar was nice... real nice. The session ran out of time before I had a chance to test the V6 manual (damn!), but the other cars left me with a very favorable impression. The 4-cyl manual had more oomph than I expected, the V6 auto had less (again, handicapped by the transmission).
Both cars felt solid, the V6 more so due to it's taughter suspension. Both Cougars outhandled the field, being able to negotiate the slalom the fastest with minimal understeer. The stiffness of the cars were exceptional, no flex or groans negotiating the slalom. To be absolutely honest, I felt the V6 model could out handle my '97 PGT, but the only way to be sure is to drive both cars back-to-back on the same course. Too bad I couldn't take the Probe on the course;)
The fit and finish was also impressive. The exterior styling has grown on me, but I found some elements of the interior to be substandard. I opened and closed the glove box (this seems to be a good indicator of an automata's attention to detail) and it felt like a cheap plastic child's toy. Overall though, the driving position, gauges and controls were OK.
If I were in the market for a new car, the Cougar would be it. In fact, the co-worker I went with (a fellow PGT owner!) is about 90% sure he will buy one in the next two months. -thanks to CG.
The July issue of Car and Driver has a test of the 1999 Cougar va the new Accord Coupe.
The June 1998 issue of Car and Driver has a full page 1999 Cougar ad. Various blurred pics and one of the car parked next to a men's room door. Is this a desperate effort to prevent the Cougar from getting an image as a "girl's" car?
"The new Cougar parallels Ford's Probe. The Probe had embodied Ford's interpretation of the modern sports coupe for years. With the demise of the Probe and timing of this redesign, the Cougar is now the full-fledged successor to the Probe, thus adding another new incarnation for this venerable marque."
"The dramatic styling and wraparound instrumentation leave you feeling as if you're sitting in a Probe..."
- Velocity Automotive Journal http://www.velocityjrnl.com/a98/fa98 0202-mc99cg-2.html
I have driven the Contour SE and SVT, and they are by far the best handling small FWD sedans I have ever driven (much better than the V6 626, Jetta VR6, or Integra GSR, for example). So it should make a good platform for the new Probe replacement if tuned right. The Duratec engine I feel is better as well. Just as smooth, but with more low-end torque. Plus it has a timing chain instead of a belt, distributorless ignition, and the 170-hp version will run on 87-octane gas. But if the Cougar is gaining 300+ lb in curb weight, they will need to use the 195hp SVT version to keep the performance in the same league as the KL-motored 2nd gen PGT. And 195hp (or the 230hp that a 3.0L version might provide) is too close to the Mustang's 4.6 2V GT engine for them to offer it. Too bad. -RB
Microsoft CarPoint - Article - 1999 Cougar
ROCHESTER WHEELS REVIEWS: 1999 Mercury Cougar
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Bay Area Probe Owners Club Website