The redesigned Mercury Cougar came on the scene in 1999. Two new models added for 2001 give the new Cougar lineup a kick in the pants. The Cougar Zn has a zinc yellow exterior, hood scoop, spoiler, and 17-in. aluminum wheels with black center caps. Our test vehicle, the Cougar C2, has a bright blue exterior, blue instrument panel and stereo faceplate, color-keyed spoiler, and aluminum wheels with blue center caps. Also standard on the two models is an in-dash six-CD changer.

The C2 is equipped with a 2.5-liter V6, kicking out 170 hp at 6,250 rpm and 165 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm. There is plenty of pickup when needed although, sadly, it is linked to a four-speed automatic tranny. The standard five-speed manual would have made driving the car much more fun. Automatic transmissions are ridiculous in sporty cars.

The sporty theme continues inside. Brushed aluminum on instrument panel gages as well as the footrest, accelerator, and brake pedals give the C2 a hint of European styling. The leather seats, an $895 option, is a luxurious touch, but hardly a necessity. And, the back seat, as usual with these cars, is ridiculously tiny, suitable only for holding briefcases and grocery bags.

Another minor irritation the rear spoiler. It looks great and finishes off the car nicely. However, it cuts down on rear visibility, making a lane change a tricky proposition.

Additional modifications to 2001 Cougars include improved front and rear suspensions to cut NVH and smooth the ride, as well as higher-ratio rack-and-pinion steering gear for better control. The Cougar C2 handles well. The suspension is tight and soaks up bumps in the road, making them barely noticeable. Steering is crisp what you would expect in a sporty car.

Mileage figures rate at 29 mpg highway/20 city, which seems consistent with my rough calculations. This brings us to the final frontier price. Base price for the Cougar C2 is $17,200, surprisingly affordable. Option and destination charges bring the bottom line to $22,800.

Sherri Koucky