While some Mercury models were gaining steam in the 1990s, the same could not be said for Cougar, which lost interest value after 1990 -- and a lot of customers.
In a way, this was probably inevitable. Like Thunderbird buyers, Cougar prospects were now mainly those who cared less about sporty performance than getting the most luxury per buck.
Since there was no point in giving people something they didn't want, Mercury swapped engines for the uplevel '91 XR7, yanking out the supercharged V-6 (and its five-speed manual transmission) for a good old 5.0-liter/302 V-8 with 200 bhp (and mandatory automatic). At the same time, the V-8 became a first-time option for the base LS, replacing its unblown (and unchanged) 3.8 V-6. Both Cougars also wore a minor facelift involving the hood, headlamps, grille, and back panel.
Cougar changed little for 1992, a disappointing way for the model to observe its 25th anniversary. So was the midseason birthday special based not on the XR7 but the everyday LS, with distinctions limited to just a monochrome exterior and fancy BBS-brand alloy wheels.
Model-year sales plunged by more than 13,000 to just over 49,000, which was only about half of what Cougar had tallied with its 1989 redesign. Then again, Mercury wasn't pushing the car too hard, and there were other, more-tempting coupes available in Cougar's $16,000-$22,000 price bracket. All the more surprising, then, that sales leaped to nearly 81,500 for 1993 despite only a single, little-changed XR7 without so much as a driver-side airbag.
A substantial '94 freshening made the XR7 look a bit different at each end without really improving it. But there were genuine improvements elsewhere: standard dual airbags within a reworked dashboard, newly optional traction control (with ABS required), and a switch in V-8 options from pushrod 5.0-liter to new single-cam 4.6 "mod."
Even with all this, the base price was held to just $16,260 -- which must have angered all those folks who'd bought '93s. But fewer folks bought '94s, model-year output easing to around 76,000. Fewer still opted for the little-changed '95s, which were pared down to just the XR7.
By that point, Cougar again looked like just another stray cat in the personal-luxury jungle, with nothing of substance to stand out in the competitive herd. It was certainly a long way from the exciting luxury ponycar of the '60s.
Excitement was never a trait of Mercury's compact Topaz, and still wasn't when the line ended after 1994. The high point, such as it was, came with '92, when all Topazes got a Sable-type "light bar" face and the sporty LTS sedan and XR5 coupe got the Sable's 3.0-liter 135-bhp V-6 as standard (optional elsewhere).
But the V-6 didn't do that much for performance, and a lack of buyer interest finally killed off the useful all-wheel-drive option that year. Topaz was further diluted for '93, down to just a two-door and four-door GS with "value" pricing but little standard equipment. Even a driver-side airbag cost extra, and then only with the base four and optional automatic transmission (the V-6 remained available).
Like Ford's related Tempo, this Mercury had come to have more appeal for rental fleets than retail buyers, which might well explain why sales for 1990-93 were relatively strong at 80,000-100,000 a year. Like vanilla ice cream, the Topaz was far from memorable, but offered enough to satisfy many people.
For more information on Mercury models, see:
- Mercury New Car Reviews and Prices
- Mercury Used Car Reviews and Prices