Ford Cougar
Ford Cougar Contributed

Ford still has bite

FORD Australia is pushing high-performance smaller cars strongly at the moment, with the Focus RS being a huge powerhouse for the size. This may result in a sporty model that didn't do so well in its day, but which might now just work for Ford.

That previous model was the Ford Cougar which was designed in Europe but built in the United States. It came to Australia in October 1999 less than a year after its European launch. The Australian Cougar had the European handling pack rather than the softer American suspension setup. It also featured larger wheels and tyres so is pretty good in the grip department. Its steering precision and ability to turn in sharply belie its front-wheel drive layout, though there is the inevitable understeering push if you do fang it really hard at corners.

The 2001 model Ford Cougar upgrade had new front and rear end styling by way of revised bumpers, there were also new headlamps and foglamps. Inside the new Cougar for the 21st century featured a high-tech satin aluminium theme incorporating the instrument cluster, switches, controls, gear knob, T-bar and handbrake. There was also a new four-spoke leather steering wheel. The front seats were changed, with a new design offering strong lateral support, together with new trim patterns. Though there's certainly nothing wrong with the earlier version, those that know their Cougars show a real preference for the 2001 upgrade.

The Ford Cougar has decent performance from its 2.5-litre twin-cam, 125kW V6 engine. There's good power, but as is often the way with European cars that are designed for high speeds, the engine doesn't really go hard until it's over 4000 revs. Then it opens up with a lovely sound that is sure to please those who enjoy their driving.

Ford Cougar Eibach, launched in August 2000, was a limited edition model aimed at giving extra punch in the visual department as well as even better handling than the standard car. The name came from the Eibach package designed by one of Europe's best known suspension tuners. The modifications to the Australian Cougar were done by a team drawn from Eibach in Europe, and Tickford Vehicle Engineering and Ford in Melbourne.

Only 100 Eibachs were built. Cougar Eibach sports a lower ride height, different spring ratings, revised shock absorbers and Dunlop low-profile FM901 tyres with substantial dimensions of 215/45x17.

Complementing the Eibach's lower stance is a body kit that's based on one from Visteon in the USA, but modified by Tickford to give it slightly more ground clearance for Australian road conditions. The kit features an aggressive looking bonnet scoop.

Unfortunately for Ford Australia, the Cougar arrived downunder around the time sports coupes started to wane in buyer interest so didn't sell in big numbers. The Cougar did manage to struggle on in this country until 2004 but was then quietly withdrawn from the new-car showrooms.

Today, Cougar prices are lower than they really should be for a car in this class; reflecting both the aforementioned loss in popularity in coupes and the fact that the Cougar never did gain a proper place on our buyers' radar. Consequently, you can get a lot of classy looking Euro sports coupe for a bargain price if you are willing to think outside the automotive square.

What to look for

Cougars are still relatively young and not many will have been thrashed, but it's still wise to do a full inspection.

Check that the engine kicks over within a second or so of you hitting the starter.

Ideally this should be tested after the engine has cooled right down during an overnight stop.

Make sure there's no hesitation from the engine under acceleration.

Even when it's cold the engine-management and fuel-injection systems should get it past the cold period without any obvious roughness.

Look for uneven tyre wear, especially at the front wheels, as this may indicate the car has been driven hard around corners.

The transmission, manual and automatic, should be clean and clear in their changes, with the auto not changing unless a different gear is required.

Examine the interior for signs of rough usage, though the materials and build quality are good and the Cougar usually resists anything but the harshest of treatment.

Any indication of crash repairs, such as poorly fitting parts, paint overspray or ripples in the body finish should have you immediately calling for help – or finding another car.

HOW MUCH?

Expect to pay from $6000 to $9000 for a 1999 Ford Cougar; $7000 to $11,000 for a 2000 Eibach or a 2001 Cougar; $8000 to $12,000 for a 2002 Cougar; and $11,000 to $17,000 for a 2004 Cougar.



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