Ford Cougar V6 review
by John Fife (9 December 1999)
If Ford's Puma is a hyperactive youngster then the Cougar is a laid-back cruiser. Indeed, it was an inspired choice to have Dennis Hopper star in the TV ad, as the car will appeal to the more mature members of the hippy generation who now want a slower form of "speed".
I first drove the Cougar a year ago, just after its launch. Despite the sharp looks, the first impression was of a relaxed tourer rather a sports car. It didn't get off its mark particularly quickly, but once on the move its speed through the gears was effortlessly prodigious.
The torque is impressive, reducing the need for constant gearchanging, but I wanted to change gear - often. The engine has a distinct growl that becomes aurally addictive from 4000 revs all the way up to 7000. Prodding the pedal doesn't give you a kick in the back. The Cougar just surges forward in a relaxed but powerful manner. This is a grand tourer of the old order, not a tyre smoking road-burner.
Inside, the seats look more inviting than they are. The squabs are too short for tall blokes, and the lumbar support protrudes noticeably, so that you sit on rather than in the driver's seat. It's still relatively comfortable, but it could be better. The driving position is fine, though, with the footwell stretching way down beside the high transmission tunnel, and the upright steering wheel falls naturally to hand, again as in a traditional sports car.
There are two seats in the back, and the deeply sculpted "bum depressions" were remarkably comfortable even for average-sized adults let alone children.
Initially I thought the suspension was too soft and the car rolled too much, but having lived with it for a few days, I ended up really liking it. In comparison with a stiffly sprung sports car, this was comfortable and yet still quick. Once committed to a corner it just dug in and hung on, the soft suspension swallowing the bumps and disguising the body roll.
The Cougar is practical when it comes to luggage, with plenty of space under the sloping tailgate, but not so practical when it comes to fuel stops. It only managed 250 miles between fill-ups, but that was partly my fault, listening to the V6 rather than Radio 5.
More recently I drove the new-model Cougar, and the first impression was that it was better than the launch model. The suspension was firmer and engine response sharper. If the first Cougar was the Puma's Dad, then this one was simply an older brother.
Everything just felt tauter. It turned in more sharply, with less wallow, but the ride was harsher, although I put that down to the new low profile Michelins. The engine was better too, quicker off its mark and quicker through the gears.
There were no radical changes or improvements, just a general impression of a tauter, more responsive car. In other words, I like it even more than the first one.
Second opinion: "What you have to remember, of course," the PR man said, "is that the Cougar is more of a tourer than a sports car." True enough, but I suspect that was more a case of putting on some spin after the event than a description of Ford's original intention. The Cougar does not respond well to being hustled along interesting roads, and if you want an enjoyable driving experience you would be better off with the Mondeo on which it is based. David Finlay.