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Future Classic Friday: Ford Cougar

Published 09 February 2018

Ford's first attempt at launching one of its US sports coupes in the UK met with limited success, the Probe failing to ignite the passions of the UK's performance car fans thanks to its limited dynamic capability and rather naff interior.

The Cougar, though, was something altogether different. Whereas the Probe was based on the platform and running gear of the Mazda MX-6, the oily bits beneath the Cougar came from the much-lauded Mk2 Mondeo, a car widely regarded as one of the best handling of its era. 

In its home market, the Cougar was marketed as a Mercury, the model name being one that had a long and powerful heritage with the US brand. As such, it only featured Ford badges on its nose and tailgate, with a round Cougar inset on the steering wheel in place of the usual blue oval. 

The car made its debut in the UK to much fanfare, with the wraps being pulled off at the 1998 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. The reveal was followed up by a high profile TV campaign featuring Dennis Hopper driving a silver car to the backing of Steppenwolf's Born to Be Wild, the second of Ford's advertising campaigns to use a Hollywood theme after the Puma's clever Steve McQueen CGI debut.

Ford Cougar (15)

The Cougar wasn't a bad steer, either. Like the Probe that it replaced, it was no edgy sports car, but it was a good grand tourer, with a well composed chassis and good steering, plus a far better ride quality than that of its predecessor. It received mixed press reviews, with critics bemoaning the fact that Ford's second attempt at a 'New Capri' failed to deliver the requisite excitement, while its protagonists were keen to point out that the Cougar was a likeable coupe-interpretation of the already excellent Mondeo platform. 

And to perfect the art of fence-sitting, we'd suggest that both of them were right. The Cougar was no sports car, but it was a good coupe - it was Ford's aggressive marketing and undefined PR that made the launch a tricky one, as the car's positioning was difficult to understand.

The Cougar's 'New Edge' styling was also one that puzzled the jurors. Whereas the 1997 Ka and 1998 Focus were both universally praised for their brave design approach, the Cougar's low, narrow stance didn't lend itself as well to the clash of angles or challenging triangulation that defined the smaller cars. Indeed, when the Mk3 Mondeo appeared in 2000, the 'New Edginess' had been toned down a bit, partly down to the Cougar's mixed reception.

Today, then, the Cougar is a bit of an anomaly. It's a car that has plenty of fans, not least for its excellent ride and handling combination and super-smooth 2.5-litre V6 engine, at least if you plump for the six-pot version. In Ghia X trim, it's also a very plush interpretation of the grand tourer concept, while low prices make it an interesting car to own for not a lot of dollar.

Ford Cougar (12)

On the downside, it's a 1990s Ford and that means it's far from immune from rot, so check the sills and rear wheelarches carefully for corrosion. It's also a car that's getting increasingly rare - there are significantly more Capris left on the roads than there are Cougars, to put it into context. 

Now is the time to buy a good one while they're still in existence, not to mention cheap. Just £1000 will buy you a really smart one, and at that price, the Cougar is one cool cat.


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