The 1999 Mercury Cougar is poised to pounce on a younger crowd. Said to be Ford Motor Co.’s first North American interpretation of its “New Edge” styling strategy, the Cougar boasts a sharp belt line that runs from the front bumper to the rear, ending at the cat-eyed taillamps and rear bumper. Sculpted creases on the lower door panels and under the quarters of the rear bumper create an interesting side relief. Inside the Cougar, the instrument panel is stark but functional, with analog gages accented by clear graphics.

The body structure is engineered to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness. The subframe is closed by a welded crossmember, forming a rigid carrier for the lower front-end subsystems. It restricts engine roll forces and supports the lower radiator mountings, steering system, lower suspension wishbone bushings, and antiroll bar pivots.

The Cougar has the same chassis, transmission, and four-valve overhead-cam engine as the Mystique and Contour models. The standard 2.0-liter 16-valve Zetec engine delivers 125 hp at 5,500 rpm. For those who prefer a fat cat, an optional 24-valve 2.5-liter Duratec V6 delivers 170 hp at 6,250 rpm.

An independent MacPherson-strut front suspension has angled coil springs and damper units with lower A-arms mounted on optimized bushings. The suspension arms, antiroll bar, and steering rack mount on a separate perimeter front subframe. An independent quadralink rear suspension with strut-type coil springs and damper units has two transverse and one trailing arm on each side, incorporating passive rear steering, supported by a rear antiroll bar.

A standard five-speed manual transmission operates on a new cable system said to ease shift effort while reducing noise and gear lever vibrations. Fine-tuning the steering system and providing a stiffer steering coupling with new bearings and seals let engineers improve the Cougar’s response to small steering adjustments. Stiffer springs and antiroll bar rates give greater body control.

For safety, optional side airbags help protect an occupant’s chest and head in side collisions. The airbags deploy from the sides of the front seat backs. Electronic sensors control the front airbags and additional satellite sensors control the side impact sensing. Load-limiting safety belts help minimize chest injuries, as does a semideformable steering column.

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