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Considering sport compacts like the Honda Civic Si and Volkswagen GTI carry price tags in the $30,000 range nowadays, it’s hard to find a car that can offer driving enjoyment for a bargain. Driving enthusiasts are left with the option of the used car market, which is still pretty high. For example, we found that used examples from Honda, Volkswagen, and even Kia are still selling for a pretty penny. However, we also found one American compact sports coupe that everyone likely forgot about — the Mercury Cougar.

This compact sports car is from an extinct American automaker

A rear view of the 2001 Mercury Cougar car
2001 Mercury Cougar | via Getty Images

Unless you rack your brain hard enough, you likely won’t remember the Mercury Cougar. No, we’re not talking about the awesome muscle car from the 70s; we’re referring to the compact revival in 1999. For die-hard enthusiasts, that’s a bummer, but hear us out.

The 1999 Mercury Cougar debuted when compact sedans and coupes were popular. Honda and Toyota were busy revamping the Civic and Corolla, and Kia and Hyundai weren’t exactly churning out the best products. Ford Motor Company decided to put some skin in the game by replacing the existing Ford Probe with the eighth-generation Mercury Cougar.

It was a weird move, but considering automakers nowadays are reviving old nameplates in the form of odd body styles (ahem, Dodge Hornet), the Cougar’s transformation was not too out of pocket.

Sadly, the Mercury Cougar’s debut was at the wrong time. Although it was marketed toward a younger crowd and provided some competition in the market, it didn’t catch on and was discontinued in 2002.

However, its specifications were still interesting. Let’s take a closer look.

What made the eighth-generation Mercury Cougar so cool?

The Mercury Cougar was introduced in 1999 and was revamped over the next couple of years. In 2001, Mercury changed its aesthetics slightly, making it more aggressive. Its low-slung look, angular head and taillights, and hatchback shape were indicative of the times and provided a unique take on an old classic.

The eighth-generation Cougar was the first Mercury to feature a transverse-mounted engine and front-drive configuration. There were two different engine choices – a 2.0-liter four-cylinder Zetec engine and a Duratec V6.

The four-cylinder engine produced a paltry 125 hp while the more stout V6 churned out 170 hp. That may not sound like much, but as the Autopian notes, “Remember that significantly more expensive FWD sports coupe of the same era, the Audi TT, was making on 10 hp more. So, it wasn’t bad!”

According to Motorweek’s track testing, the V6-powered Cougar got to 60 mph from a standstill in 7.9 seconds and down the quarter-mile in 15.9 seconds. It’s not impressive by today’s standards, but it was much quicker than the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic at the time.

Power aside, the Mercury Cougar handled well with its MacPherson front struts, quadralink rear suspension, and stiff rear anti-roll bar. It also had the same brake system as the Ford Contour SVT, which allowed it to screech to a halt in only 116 ft from 60 mph.

Ultimately, the eighth-generation Mercury Cougar may not have been as cool as the muscle car it was derived from, but it was a unique alternative to some of the bland commuters of its time.

How much does a Cougar car cost?

Did we mention that the Mercury Cougar is cheap? A recent nationwide search on CarGurus revealed that many eighth-generation Cougars sell for anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000. Considering most used coupes today cost around $20,000, that’s a steal!