The 1996 Cougar

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Page Revised: 1 July 2019


Article by
Eric Dess

For the 1996 model year, the Cougar XR7 enjoyed a minor exterior refreshening and was once again on a new 2-year cycle. The Ford Thunderbird was also updated, and the two cars again shared some common exterior parts including the headlamps, side markers and hoods.


Some slight tweaking was made with both the V6 and V8 engines for 1996.

1996 Cougar 3.8L V6

The standard 3.8L V6 got a slight horsepower boost, now up to 145.

1996 Cougar 4.6L V8

The optional 4.6 SOHC V8 remained at 205 hp. It did, however, receive a new upper intake manifold that helped bring peak maximum horsepower at a lower RPM and increase peak torque a bit.


Everything about the exterior was now rounded; gone was the traditional bumper overhang in the front, and in its place was a swooping profile. Headlights, grille, even the new body-colored door handles—all lost their sharp edges. It is possible that the "ovalization" or roundness of the styling was intended to mimic the all new oval-themed Taurus/Sable for 1996. While there was much more controversy on those cars, at the very least, the Cougar and Thunderbird received the look much more gracefully and, thankfully, with little awkwardness. Also, a bevy of all-new exterior colors debuted.

1996 Cougar XR7

A more rounded front end was sculpted, with more stylized oval air inlet openings. Chrome trim returned in a big way: the bumper covers and new side cladding sported rather tall bright accents. Also a new grille, partially overlapping the hood, returned to a more traditional Mercury waterfall form and was rounded at the bottom, creating a pronounced chin scoop on the bumper cover. The headlights became clear with "jewel-look" multi-faceted reflectors.

1996 Cougar XR7

The old floating side moldings were gone, replaced with thick lower body cladding with bright trim imbedded. The cladding gave a more chiseled look to the lower portion of the sides. Also note the new 15" aluminum wheels. The 4.6L models lost the "V8" badge on the fenders.

1996 Cougar XR7

While the taillights remained unchanged, the new bumper cover (again with bright trim) featured an oval lower sculpt. While not as smooth-looking as the previous bumper cover, it nonetheless carried the new theme through just fine.

1996 Cougar Grille Emblem

For only the third time in its entire history, the Cougar logo was changed in 1996, albeit slightly. The old logo was now "filled in", giving a thicker appearance. The new logo appeared in the grille and on the C-pillars, but not on the steering wheel center (the traditional cat's head still resided there). The grille logo was outset by a ring containing the MERCURY letters and 11 equally-spaced dots. This was probably a tribute to car emblems of the 50's and 60's. However, it may have been slightly incongruous with the rest of the car's rather contemporary styling. While not particularly exciting, the new symbol did update the traditional logo with a more contemporary flair.


When the interior turns out as beautiful as the '94 interior did, you don't mess with it much—and Ford wisely followed that advice. As a result the 1996 Cougar interior remained largely unchanged. Several new interior colors were introduced, though.

1996 Cougar XR7 Interior

A new paisley seat pattern appeared on the base seats.

1996 Cougar XR7 Climate Control

A new optional semi-automatic temperature control system debuted in 1996.

Cougar Sport Model

Midway through the 1996 model year, a new model called the Cougar Sport debuted. It was more like a factory Special Edition than a true sport model, and in fact was similar to the mid-year special 1995 Cougar, The 1996 Sport featured a luggage rack and 15" BBS wheels that were also used on the 1992 25th Anniversary Cougar. The Cougar cat's head logo was embroidered on the seats. Very late in the 1996 model year, the luggage rack was deleted for a new factory rear spoiler with built-in LED third brake light. The spoiler carried over to the 1997 Sport.

1996 Cougar Sport


The Cougar's new look did nothing to increase sales—in fact, just the opposite happened, likely due to exploding sales of SUVs and light trucks. Still, the rumors persisted about the demise of the MN12 platform. Sales were definitely falling off, and Ford saw that any further investment in this chassis would not yield the benefits they'd hoped. Sometime during the 1996 model year, the green light was given to the front-drive successor to the Cougar, said to be on the new Contour/Mystique/Mondeo platform. At one point it was not sure if the 1996 model year would be the last for this generation Cougar. But Ford decided that for its 30th anniversary, the Cougar name would live on for one more model year in rear-drive form.


(standard) - 3.8L (232 cid) V6; 145 hp @ 4000 rpm; 215 lb-ft torque @ 2750 rpm
(optional) - 4.6L (281 cid) SOHC V8; 205 hp @ 4250 rpm; 280 lb-ft torque @ 3000 rpm
4R70W full electronic 4-speed automatic with overdrive
Front 10.8" disc, rear 9.8" drum
Optional with ABS - Front 10.8" disc, rear 10.0" disc with antilock brakes
Wheelbase - 113"
Overall Length - 199.9"
Overall Width - 72.7"
Overall Height - 52.5"
Cargo Capacity - 15.1 cubic feet
Fuel Capacity - 18.0 gallons
w/V6 - 3558 lb.
w/V8 - 3725 lb.


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