When the Ford Capri was officially retired in 1986, marking an end to nearly twenty years of low-slung Sixties charm, the gap left by the Capri in Ford's model lineup was extremely noticeable, as the iconic coupé had been a mainstay of Ford's range for many years.
Ford first attempted to revive their sporty coupé model with the Mazda-based Probe, and while it was well received on both sides of the pond by the motoring press, scooping Motor Trend's Car Of The Year award in 1993, it was also criticised in Europe for being too similar to its Mazda counterpart, the MX-6 (Ford only engineered the body and exterior, while Mazda were responsible for the engine, transmission and chassis), while over in the US, the public were disappointed at the front-wheel-drive layout and the lack of a V8, prompting Ford to quickly develop and release the new Mustang instead. However, Ford weren't about to give up too easily, and a replacement for the Probe was quickly given the green light.
What resulted was the Cougar, a startlingly sleek and eagle-eyed slice of Nineties metal. Looking over it before driving it, it's hard to see why it was forgotten, with its smaller brother the Puma receiving most of the praise in recent years. However, the Cougar seems to be more fully formed and developed when compared to the Puma, certainly with features such as the sloping body lines curving upwards into a long rear end, finished off with angular rear lights and the front windscreen draining into a front end to frighten most bobcats.
Once I'm inside, I'm not a massive fan of the driving position: a little too high up for a low-slung coupé- but I'm buzzing to hear the 2.5 litre V6 engine that occupies the front end of the car. Turning the key, excitement building, my ears are treated to not the usual throaty growl or rasp that the V6s in other cars have offered, but instead a overenthusiastic purr, almost more fitting of a saloon car than a coupé. It's a little disappointing, considering what the racy exterior led me to believe, but I'm not giving up hope, especially with a few hours and some open roads around me.
Once you get the Cougar on the road, the handling feels crisp and firm, and the suspension moves to suit the angle of each corner you throw at it. The steering wheel feels like an elastic band- it recovers from each movement quickly and rapidly- important when cornering quickly. However, one issue that kept nagging at my mind was this- the engine. Bless it. It responds well to the throttle but any time you try to push the car past motorway speeds it whines like a horse on a treadmill.
While the specs are admirable- about 165 bhp from a 2.5 litre- the acceleration feels vague and requires you to really plant your foot down to feel any real burst in speed. The transmission is nothing special- a 5-speed Mondeo unit- but it feels pert and sturdy, and you can push the car right to the red line and not worry about crashing the gears in a cacophony of grinding cogs. Once my time was up and the Cougar's tank was dry though, I had my verdict..
Ford Cougar- the verdict
When I said that this car was a future classic, I hadn't driven it yet. Then I drove it, and I have to say, I still hold the same view. Despite its flaws (especially the unfairly underpowered engine) this car is unique and offers a sense of originality that other cars of a similar age don't have. Mainly because Ford barely managed to shift any. If you're looking for an original coupe with a bit of class, look no further.