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Cougar a victim of timing

Despite huge success with big performance cars, Ford Australia has never had a lot of luck with its smaller performance models. GT Falcons and the like have pushed models such as the sporty Cougar coupe into the background.

Yet it's a good car in its own right and deserves consideration. Designed in Europe but built in the US, the original Cougar was known for its hard-edged styling and huge headlights. It was launched in Europe in 1998 and came here in October '99. Our version had the European handling pack, rather than the softer American suspension set-up; it featured larger wheels and tyres also to put more rubber on Aussie roads.

Unfortunately for Ford, Cougar managed to hit Australia about the time buyer interest in sports coupes began to wane. It managed to struggle on in this country until 2004 but was then quietly withdrawn from the new-car price list.

Its steering precision and ability to turn in sharply belie its front-wheel drive layout, although there is the inevitable understeering push if you fang it really hard at corners.

The 2001 model Cougar upgrade came up with new front and rear end styling (revised front and rear bumpers and new headlights and fog lamps). Inside was a hi-tech satin aluminium theme incorporating the instrument cluster, switches, gear knob, T-bar and handbrake; there was also a four-spoke leather steering wheel, the front seats were changed, a new design offering strong lateral support along with new trim patterns.

Although there's nothing wrong with the earlier version, those who know their Cougars have a preference for the 2001 upgrade.

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. Only 100 Eibachs were built.

The Eibach has a lower ride height, different spring ratings, revised shock absorbers Dunlop low-profile FM901 tyres with substantial dimensions of 215/45x17. Complementing its lower stance is a body kit based on one from Visteon in the US but modified by Tickford Vehicle Engineering to give it slightly more ground clearance for Australian conditions. The kit features an aggressive looking bonnet scoop.

Cougar is a relatively complex car, so repairs should be left to a professional mechanic. Ford still carries a full range of spares. Prices are about average for the class, meaning they aren't exactly cheap but not outrageous. Check with your local Ford dealer on how long it will take for them to come in after ordering.

Insurance can be on the high side, reflecting the car's sporting nature and the fact it's relatively rare in Australia.