- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

"Love is lovelier the second time around," Frank Sinatra used to croon. That sentiment expresses part of the way I feel about the Mercury Cougar Zn during my second road test of the sports coupe.

No, I am not in love with the Cougar, but I find it a much more pleasant car the second time around. The term "sports coupe" describes it well. This perky front-driver may not be a sports car but it does provide sporty driving and its edgy styling is showing more legs than I originally expected.

Mercury freshened the 3-year-old coupe with two new models this past year, the Cougar Zn and the Cougar C2.

My test car was the Zn. The Zn stands for zinc and the yellow clearcoat paint job featured on the new model. It is bright enough to make a canary cringe. As time passed I began to like the bright color.

The Zn also features a hood scoop plus standard 17-inch machined aluminum wheels with ebony accents and center caps.

The C2 comes with a one-of-the-kind French blue paint. It is also offered in silver frost, white or black.

The Zn test car included the V-6 sport group option. It included front fog lamps, rear-deck spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and other goodies.

The Cougar's styling didn't set too well with me the first time around, but now that I've become accustomed to the New Edge Look I'm becoming more excited about its possibilities. Ford Motor Company has announced that it will stop production of the Cougar within the next few months. This should provide would-be buyers an opportunity to purchase an excellent sports coupe at a "fire sale" price.

I was impressed with the rear hatch that allowed easy access to the main storage area that is capable of providing 14.5 cubic feet of luggage space.

As I said earlier the Cougar is not a true sports car. It is a sporty coupe that is pleasant to drive. It handles well, has a fair amount of power and its all-around performance won't embarrass its owner.

All Cougar models have been provided with improved front and rear suspensions that reduce noise, vibration and harshness and improve ride quality. Other improvements for the current model includes rack-and-pinion steering.

The test car was equipped with the 2.5-liter Duratec electronically fuel-injected V-6 that produces 170 horsepower at 6,250 rpm. Torque is 165 pounds-feet at 4,250 rpm. Sounds like more than enough for a small coupe, but the four-speed automatic transmission steals too much power from the engine. Only the base four-cylinder models are offered with a stick shift.

Economy is fair. I averaged 23.6 miles per gallon in combined city and freeway conditions. The Environmental Protection Agency rates it at 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.

The base engine for the Cougar line is a Zetec inline four-cylinder engine that provides 125 horsepower and 130 pounds-feet of torque.

Braking is provided with discs up front and drums in the rear. The optional anti-lock braking system was included on the test car. I wouldn't buy a car that did not have ABS. In my book it is a must for safety.

The interior styling is excellent and I found the analog instrument panel and controls both handsome and easy to read. The rear seats are for small children only. Adults will find legroom there almost nonexistent.

This is not true of the front seats. There is plenty of room for 6-footers and the bucket seats are superior to what one would expect to find in a small coupe.

I drove the Cougar on several long trips and arrived at my destination feeling good and this cannot be said for all small coupes.

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