The Mercury Cougar’s Final Generation & Journey Into Obscurity

Just gonna cut to the chase here, I have never seen so many consistently dirt cheap cars online (outside of craigslist) before I looked at used Mercury Cougars. The last generation of this car is just… Well, take a look.


Those aren’t even the cheapest ones.


That six hundred dollar car? It’s not even the base engine. It’s the V6. It only has 115k miles on it, but it has had SEVEN owners. I’ve seen eighth-generation Cougars with 13k miles on them that have had three owners–that’s only like four thousand miles per person. Check out the monthly payments on that six-hundred dollar car if you wanted to get a loan:


At 10% APR with a not-great credit score, the car is only $14 bucks a month (for sixty months).

The question then changes from, “Can I afford this?” to, “Will the car last that long?”

Beater Appeal

‘Beater appeal’ is a big part of a lot of these pre-recession American cars. You buy one as a winter car for a couple hundred bucks, you beat the piss out of it, and then you either scrap it, re-sell it, or leave it on your front yard. That’s really all it would be good for.

Some of the cars from this era kind of… break the mold a little? The Cobalt SS is one of them–where it actually ended up being pretty good, and still a good buy today.

The final generation of the Mercury Cougar is not like that. At all. In fact, I’m not sure why (besides the biblically low prices) you would buy one.

The First Cougar

Image result for 1967 mercury cougar

The first-gen Mercury Cougar is just a peach of a car–especially the ’67. Its styling is both novel and attractive, a series of great V8s were offered, and it wasn’t a very big car–the wheelbase is half an inch shorter than an F30 BMW 3 series. It’s basically a more blunt-faced, square shouldered Mustang.

I would tell you more, but this car was made more than fifty years ago. I’m also sure there’s a forum post somewhere detailing every possible trim and option. Lets take a real brief look at how the Cougar changed over its eight generations (1967-2002). I already showed you the first generation, so lets hit number two.

Second Generation ’71-’73

Okay, maybe not as handsome as the first generation. Still doing alright though, could be worse.

Third Generation ’74-’76

Mercury Cougar XR-7 2-Door Hardtop.jpg

Not a ton changing here, maybe a few minor aesthetic differences, still looking OK.

Fourth Generation ’77-’79

A little more square-jawed. Pretty typical styling for the era. Definitely slipping a little but still alright.

Fifth Generation ’80-’82


Slight improvement over the fourth-gen? Grille is a little wider–looking a little more modern. Overall not bad.

Sixth Generation ’83-’88

87-88 Mercury Cougar.jpg

So, this car makes me think of death. Let’s just keep scrolling. We can forget about it. Haha, what sixth generation Cougar? What are you talking about?

Seventh Generation ’89-’97

94-97 Mercury Cougar.jpg

I don’t think I have ever seen one of these cars, but at least it’s better than the sixth-gen.

Image result for 1997 mercury cougar

It does have an extremely strange roofline, though.

Eighth Generation ’99-’02

1999 – 2000 Mercury Cougar photographed in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canda.

This is a Mercury Cougar?

The Final Generations

I was only around for the final two generations of the Cougar. I can only recollect ever seeing the first and eighth generations and realizing, “Hey, That’s a Mercury Cougar!”

I’m sure anybody a little older who’s reading this will look at the final car and say, “That’s not a Mercury Cougar!”

And by many standards you’re right!

Ford’s Last Cat

2001-2002 Mercury Cougar -- 03-30-2011.jpg

The Mercury Cougar–even at its worst–always had three characteristics. A V8, rear-wheel-drive, and a big comfortable chassis. This car has none of those things.

This was because the eighth-gen Cougar was actually supposed to be a Ford Probe– one of the most unfortunately-named cars ever. Ford decided to streamline their offerings, and the Probe didn’t cut the mustard. However, Mercury had just discontinued the Cougar a few years earlier. What a golden opportunity to re-introduce the Cougar name.


The wheelbase was about as long as a BMW E46 3-series, which made it about six inches shorter than the previous generation Cougar. It received fully independent suspension–only one of two generations to get this.

It may have been shorter than the other cars, but because of it’s reasonably sophisticated suspension (multi-link at the back and struts up front) it should still be comfortable.

But–of course–it wasn’t.

No More Couches

The seats in previous Cougars were very comfortable. Just the classic wide, couchy seats you would expect in a big American V8 coupe.

The seats in the eighth generation are apparently horrendous. Not like, the textiles used or the lack of adjustability is bad; the actual shape was not designed for human beings.

Here’s what Car and Driver had to say about the 1999 Mercury Cougar’s seats:

“From day one (with 242 miles on the clock), the logbook began collecting uncomplimentary observations concerning the driver’s seat.

380 miles: “Haven’t gotten comfy in the seat in 42 miles.”

519 miles: “Even with the lumbar in the flattest setting, there is this big beast poking my back.”

818 miles: “Seat bottom is concave, leaving a gap at butt level with the seatback.”

3500 miles: “A curse on the moron who designed the lumbar setup for the driver’s seat.”

There was more of this — much more, and more caustic. And the net result was that the Cougar became a sort of pariah. With the exception of Uncle Fred Gregory, who likes a lot of extra lumbar support, no one wanted to drive it on long trips, and so it languished at times, falling steadily behind schedule in mileage accumulation.”


Two engines were offered. They could be backed up by either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The first was the 2.0 liter, four-cylinder Zetec (125hp), and the second was the 2.5 liter, six-cylinder Duratec (170hp). Considering this car weighed about 2900 pounds, they aren’t THAT slow (0-60 in 7.7 seconds for the V6), but the performance certainly doesn’t live up to the looks.

The 2.5 liter V6 apparently suffers from very bad “rev hang”. When one comes to a stop, the engine apparently sticks at around 2k-3k RPMs for a few seconds in order to improve the car’s emissions. The car apparently does this often–Car and Driver said, “the engine hangs onto revs as though it has a two-ton flywheel.”

It also torque steers really badly, despite having less-than 200 horsepower and no torque-inducing forced induction.

The Good

Every Car and Driver employee said that, at the time, this car turned heads. I believe them.

Jim Scoutten said, “Drive-in window for lunch pickup–18-year-old female couldn’t stop talking about my cool car!”

Nice, Jim!

Fred Gregory said, “In the pickup-truck states of the West and the Great Plains, the Cougar couldn’t have gotten more appreciative looks if I’d had Sharon Stone naked in the passenger seat.”

Alright, Fred!

The V6 engine also supposedly sounded alright.

That’s all the good parts.

The Concept that Never Was

Before this car got canned in 2002, they made a neat concept of it. Not just a sort of fiberglass show car, either. It was apparently a drivable concept.

The Cougar S (Here’s a link to some pictures)  had a number of changes. The important ones:

  • AWD
  • A modified 3.0 liter Duratec V6 (215 horsepower)
  • A body kit that screams Need For Speed Underground 2
  • Lowered, sportier suspension
  • The rear track is a whole 3 inches wider
  • Much bigger brakes

Although it was allegedly drivable, they never gave the car to the press, so there’s no road tests. I wonder where it is now.

The End

Mercury killed the Cougar in 2002, and then Mercury was canned in 2011. It’s a shame we never got that AWD Cougar, but at least you can pick up a regular one in exchange for a few shiny buttons or a loose stick of gum. There really is no silver lining here.

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25 responses to “The Mercury Cougar’s Final Generation & Journey Into Obscurity”

  1. Maymar Avatar

    The sixth gen Cougar cleans up pretty well once you get into XR7 spec (although I don’t know if I’d take it over the contemporary Thunderbird Turbo Coupe). Also, the 7th gen is still super common around the Toronto area, especially as a really cheap way to get something with a V8, IRS, and that won’t cost quite as much to run as something European and heavily depreciated. As a bonus, they’re typically in pretty decent shape and relatively low mileage as someone’s last car (gone are the days when senior citizens decided to drive slowly off into the sunset in a coupe with enormous doors, with the current crop gravitating to crossovers). Again, the Thunderbird looks better, but for something sub-$2k that takes well to mods, it’s something.

    I sort of like the 8th gens too – it’s a Mondeo coupe, so it should drive decently. Although, apparently maintenance is a nightmare (as the V6 was likely an afterthought for the North American market). I’d take a chance on the $600 car though.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      Sixth generations were HUGE improvements over the fifth generations. As I recall, dealers pressured Ford into pushing up the release of the 1983 models, to keep the 82’s from uglying up the showrooms. Both are Fox bodies, but the 5th gens had neither style nor performance, resulting in low sales.

  2. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    Fun trivia, Sci Fi author Keith Laumer (the Retief series) owned one of the largest collections of 1st generation Cougars in the world.

  3. mdharrell Avatar

    “…especially the ’67.”

    I can take or leave the side marker lights of the ’68, but I do prefer the rear-view mirror mount of the ’67. Mirrors affixed to the windshield are no fun to repair.

  4. salguod Avatar

    I always thought the conventional wisdom was that Cougar styling started on a high note and dropped with each generation, with a slight uptick for generation 4, dropped off a cliff for generation 5 and rebounded for generations 6 and 7. As you said, the 8th is really a completely different car. I like it, but it has a reputation as a terrible car.

    For the 5th generation, pull up images of the same era Thunderbird, Ford Fairmont, Ford Grenada, Mercury Zephyr, Mercury Marquis and the Ford LTD. They’re all pretty much the same box with different decorations tacked on.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      Mercury also sold a 5th generation Cougar wagon in 1982 (only) and a 4th generation Cougar wagon in 1977 (only). I think the main difference between the Cougar and the other Fox wagons was the hood ornament.

    2. Zentropy Avatar

      This is my view exactly. The 6th generation car is WORLDS better than the 5th, which is– excluding the 8th gen– the absolute low point of the Cougar’s history. The ’99 borrows the name, but has none of the genetics. It’s a Probe, pure and simple.

      In my mind, the only true Cougars are the first-generation cars, and I personally divide them into the great (’67-’68) and the good (’69-’70). I love the first two year models, but I think the revision in ’69 was a step backward. However, I feel the same way about the Mustang– ’67-’68 was the sweet spot.

  5. Scoutdude Avatar

    This has got to be the first time I’ve ever heard anyone admit they thought the Box Fox was an improvement over its predecessor AND that the Aero Fox was a step back. I’ve got to admit that if you want to build a serious sleeper it would be hard to beat a Box Fox Cougar complete with vinyl top and opera lights.

    1. Scoutdude Avatar

      Now that I’ve had time to recover, my take on the Cougar and its changing mission over the years.

      It started as a quick adaption of the Mustang, itself an adaptation of Ford’s smallest car, the Falcon. It was aimed at a more sophisticated buyer with its supposed European take on the pony car. By the time the Mustang reached its Clydesdale generation the Cougar had lost a lot of its unique flair. It was the Luxurious Sporty Car.

      So when the Mustang returned to its roots with the Mustang II based on the current smallest Ford the Cougar went the other way becoming a slightly tweaked Montego, the mid size car. It was the dawn of the every man’s Personal Luxury Car and it was a good move, initially. However that darn near killed it, in my opinion, when they later dropped the Montego name and you could buy a Cougar in Sedan or Station Wagon form. Surprisingly that lasted through the switch to the Fox platform and for several years the Cougar was just the mid sized Mercury, with only the XR7 keeping true to being a PLC.

      Somehow saner heads prevailed and when they spun up the aero coupes, the sedan and wagon became Marquis. It became something special again available only as a PLC or a sporty PLC depending on how you ordered it.

      The MN platform and for the first and only time was not based on the underpinnings of a run of the mill sedan, but instead was built from the scratch with a much higher level of sophistication than every before. It was now a Luxury Sport Coupe.

      Then we take a serious left turn to the final generation, it once again a sporty car based on ordinary sedan underpinnings, but now it was a hatch back with FWD and now the base engine was a 4cyl instead of 6 and of course no V8 to be had. Gone was any pretense of being more luxurious than the average car. It was just another small car and a sad end to a storied name in my opinion. And that is the opinion of an old man who’s small lottery winner dream garage would certainly have a 69 in it.

    2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      if you want to build a serious sleeper it would be hard to beat a Box Fox Cougar complete with vinyl top and opera lights.

    3. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      if you want to build a serious sleeper it would be hard to beat a Box Fox Cougar complete with vinyl top and opera lights.

  6. Jeff Glucker Avatar
    Jeff Glucker

    I crashed my dad’s 97(?) Cougar pretty good back in high school… Those things were FUN to a teen driver. V8 and RWD!

  7. Sjalabais Avatar

    It is strange that the last generation Cougar has such a horrible reputation. This is the generation Mondeo that started Ford’s much improved reputation in Europe. The Focus of that time even came out on top in a few reliability ratings. That happened simultaneously with Opel solidifying their reputation as crap – and it sealed their demise as Germany’s nr 2, making room for Ford*.

    Cougars in Urop are cheap, too, but not quite as “head first who cares”-cheap:!=EXPORT&ms=9000%3B5%3B%3B&mk=9000&md=5

    *I remember especially a long term test of the Opel Omega – 100.000 km was the common benchmark back then. The car was at the shop countless unscheduled times (8? 10?) and once, even the loaner, another Omega, broke down. Ouch.

  8. neight428 Avatar

    Never realized that they intended for it to be a Probe, though that makes total sense. For the last decade of its existence, Mercury was an afterthought, though I did have a crush on Jill Wagner.

    1. Turbobrick Avatar

      I don’t know about Mercury, but she ended up on my list.

  9. Sjalabais Avatar

    It is strange that the last generation Cougar has such a horrible reputation. This is the generation Mondeo that started Ford’s much improved reputation in Europe. The Focus of that time even came out on top in a few reliability ratings. That happened simultaneously with Opel solidifying their reputation as crap – and it sealed their demise as Germany’s nr 2, making room for Ford*.

    Cougars in Urop are cheap, too, but not quite as “head first who cares”-cheap:!=EXPORT&ms=9000%3B5%3B%3B&mk=9000&md=5

    *I remember especially a long term test of the Opel Omega – 100.000 km was the common benchmark back then. The car was at the shop countless unscheduled times (8? 10?) and once, even the loaner, another Omega, broke down. Ouch.

    1. Mister Sterling Avatar

      I can say that the ergonomics and seats ruined that car for my brief time with it. The exterior and powertrain were fine for the time.

    2. Vairship Avatar

      So now you know: if you come to visit the US don’t rent a car, but simply buy a last-generation Cougar. Sell it or simply walk away when your vacation is over…

  10. Turbobrick Avatar

    20 years ago those 7th gen Cougars were EVERYWHERE in Florida. It was an odd design then too, like the 80’s never ended for that formal roofline.

  11. ptschett Avatar

    2nd-3rd gen change was actually rather big, the Cougar went from being Mustang-based to being based on the FoMoCo intermediates.
    (That 2nd-generation car is a 1973 XR-7, by the way. Straight-across front bumper distinguishes it from a 1971-72. For some strange reason it has those silly ‘deer whistles’ and some kind of add-on spotlights by the A-pillar bases?)
    *I drove a ’73 XR-7 for most of my high school days. Originally my grandma’s car, then my parents’ 2nd car for a few years when grandma moved up to an ’88 Coupe de Ville, then mine when I was old enough…

    6th generation: what is your DAMAGE, Heather

    7th generation: odd roofline? …roughly contemporary to whenGM’s luxury coupes had the same shape as their cheap daily-driver coupes and more or less this same shape?
    I wouldn’t have minded owning a certain purplish ’94 Cougar XR-7 V8 that was on the used lot at my hometown’s Ford dealership, if the red ’96 Thunderbird LX V8 that my folks decided would’ve been better for me to take to college hadn’t existed. Part of me liked the Thunderbird’s aerodynamics and NASCAR credentials, but another part of me liked the MN12 Cougar’s rear-seat spaciousness and practical, long decklid.

  12. Mister Sterling Avatar

    I’m happy to see a lot of defenders of the 6th generation, the aero fox. Jeff can probably back me up that the Cougar was popular in the Boston area circa 86-88 thanks to the “Bostonian Edition,” which was basically a dealer-installed vinyl roof and badges. That roof ruined the distinctive rear quarter windows. I went to high school in Dorchester, and I saw quite a few of those driven by moms and Boston Globe employees across the Boulevaaaaaahd.

    I respect Peter’s opinion of the 6th generation. But I can’t deny I kinda dug the Thunderbird of that era. The ’84 FILA edition was a standout!

  13. P161911 Avatar

    For the first couple of years the 7th generation Cougar XR-7 was the same spec as the Thunderbird SC. Which meant that you could get the supercharged V-6 with 310 ft.lbs of torque, a 5 speed manual, IRS, and 4 wheel disc brakes. A real hot setup in the early 1990s.

  14. Elliot Daniels Avatar
    Elliot Daniels

    I own a black 2001 cougar 2.5 v6 98k miles. I’ve owned it for almost 2 yrs after owning big cars and trucks for yrs I saw this for cheap and its grown on me slowly. Mostly due to the shade trèe maintenance or lack of from the previous owner I’ve had to deal with repair after repair. Nothing too expensive or requiring an expert but its driven me crazy but I’m determined to get the under body and front end pieces together and nurse this beautiful running v6 purring again. Ill drive it till it quits running and yes, ill just park it in the side yard for show and memories. It does turn heads like, what? A cougar? Yep

  15. John The Hacker Avatar
    John The Hacker

    So sick of reviews like this. As shoppers we want to know if the car will be reliable, because in 2022 we see one cheap and it looks and drives like a dream. Its CHEAP. Not a Ford fan to begin with! Seat jel cushions are CHEAP at Costco. Uggh. WE DO NOT GIVE A FACK IF ITS MARKETED CORRECTLY. We do NOT care. Just tell us the reliability and STFU. Sheesh. You rich people and your petty grivances. Grow TF up. Not all of us can afford to collect vintage cars. Some of us have to actually work for a living. WILL THIS GET ME THERE???

  16. Kameron Peeks Avatar
    Kameron Peeks

    The zetec was 130hp. The throttle hang on v6 was from the imrc getting hot, just relocated & poof it’s fixed.
    There were 2 Cougar S models made during that generation. One that you listed & a supercharged 255hp? version.
    Had a zetec, 5 speed…I gave cobalts, ions redlines, mustangs, & many vtec Hondas a run for their money. And if it was any curvy road it was definitely a guaranteed win as that chassis handles curves.