The axiom used around Detroit for years is: Sheet metal sells. Put a fresh wrapper on old goods and watch the buyers line up. Maybe this could explain why the Mercury Cougar isn't the first name one thinks of when considering a stylish coupe. Detroit invented the big two-door personal luxury coupe, and the Cougar's basic shape has been around since 1989, although it does receive a new grille and tail lamps for 1996. But look a little closer -- this is one rare cat. With its V-8 engine and rear-wheel drive, the Mercury Cougar XR-7 faces a field of front-wheel drive competitors. Rear-wheel drive allows a better balanced drive train. The engine is not over the drive wheels, so the car's weight is balanced, front to rear. Front-wheel drive puts most of the weight up front. While this front-heavy drive train delivers better traction in snow,it's not so much fun to drive. Although a 145-horsepower V-6 is standard, pop for the bigger engine -- it's needed to move this 3,559-pound car with any authority. It's Ford's single-overhead cam V-8, which boasts 205 horsepower and 280 pound feet of torque. Combine that with an electronically controlled automatic transmission and you've got a drive train that positively purrs. It's the same engine that lives in the Lincoln Mark VII in double overhead cam form so, as you'd expect,there's little racket from the engine compartment. Although not overly powerful from a standing start, the engine has plenty of guts once you get going. Stomp the accelerator at speed and you'll grin from ear to ear. Stopping is just as assured as going, especially with the optional four-wheel anti-lock disk brakes. Despite some nose dive, braking is painless and straight. And the anti-lock brakes -- along with traction assist -- are a must for inclement weather. They delivered this car effortlessly through a downpour. Handling leans toward the sporting end of the equation. This car remains flat through corners and steering has the right amount of effort, although it can be quite heavy at parking speeds. You'll notice bumps, but won't feel them. The overall ride is slightly firm, but in no way punishing. At times, it's easy to feel every pound of this car's weight. But the handling is so refined, you won't care. Inside, Ford stylists have come up with a masterful dash that blends artfully into the center console. Switches are easy to use; they operate with a refined feel. The only bugaboo is the radio. It has a lot of small buttons and is hard to operate without taking your eyes off the road. The seats are extremely comfortable, offering firm support with the right amount of give. Back seat room in coupes is never generous, but it is better than average here, and Cougar's formal roofline means that rear-seat headroom is better than in its swoopier cousin, the Ford Thunderbird. The beige leather on the test car, along with the sophisticated dashboard design, im parted an air of luxury -- quite an accomplishment on a fully optioned car costing slightly more than $22,000. The trunk is long and wide, although not overly deep. But it did swallow boxes from IKEA with little trouble. The optional power moonroof opened wide and was quiet at highway speeds. Fuel economy was better than expected: an average of 21 mpg over mixed cityand highway driving. Want a stylish rear-wheel drive coupe with an eight-cylinder engine? Unlessyou go with its cousin, the Thunderbird, you'll have to step up to cars that are twice as expensive to get an equivalent combination of features and luxury. With the Cougar, you'll find a car with a serious dose of European road manners tempered with lots of traditional American car virtues. As I said, a rare cat.
Data on Cougar XR-7Base price: $17,430Major options: Package 262A (Cruise control, rear window defroster, powerlocks, six-way power drivers seat, aluminum wheels, 4.6-lite r V-8, automatic transmission), power moonroof, keyless entry, six-way power passenger's seat, autolamp, anti-lock brakes, traction assist, automatic air-conditioning, leather seat trim.Total price (including destination charge): $22,625EPA rating: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
Closest Dealers Listing this Car
Featured Services for the Mercury Cougar
- Sell your current car quickly and easily on Cars.com.