“The shape you want to be in.”
For 1988, Mercury’s Cougar personal luxury coupe received relatively few changes after 1987’s substantial restyling. For one year only, the XR-7 received a distinctive monochromatic paint scheme, available only in Oxford White, Medium Scarlet, and Black. Creating this look involved changing the wraparound bumper and body-side moldings from black to body color, and deleting the Medium Smoke lower-body accent used in 1987. The sportiest Cougar also received 15-inch cast-aluminum wheels that had previously been seen on contemporary Ford Mustang GTs. Finally, analog instruments returned to the XR-7 after one year with a digital dashboard.
Though the Cougar LS made do with an Essex 140 bhp 3.8 liter/232 ci V6 with fuel injection as standard power, all XR-7s came with a Windsor 155 bhp 4.9 liter/302 ci V8 with sequential fuel injection. Both engines received power increases in 1988, with multi-port fuel injection and a balance shaft for the V6 being worth 20 bhp, while split dual exhaust brought another 5 bhp for the V8. No matter what the engine, all Cougars came with Ford’s corporate AOD four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive.
Recorded 0-60 mph times are spare for the 1988 XR-7, but would likely have been a little under 10 seconds in the 3,485-pound car. Fuel economy ratings are more readily available; the XR-7 was rated 18 city/25 highway by the standards of the day (16/23 by today’s standards). With a 22.1-gallon gas tank, a Cougar XR-7 owner could expect an impressive range of 390 to 430 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.
Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on all Cougars included tinted glass, aero halogen headlamps, a front air dam, dual outside power mirrors, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, and power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes. Inside, air conditioning, cloth upholstery, and an electronic AM/FM stereo with four speakers were included. The Cougar’s base price was $14,134—about $31,700 in 2020 dollars.
With a base price of $16,266 (about $36,500 in today’s dollars or about what a 2020 Ford Mustang GT fastback goes for), the XR-7 added a Traction-Lok rear axle, a Quadrashock suspension, and P225/60R15 performance tires (a size still easily available) on 15-inch body-color cast-aluminum wheels. Inside, a sport steering wheel, articulated sport seats with power lumbar support, and a full-length center console were included.
Options & Production Numbers
Exterior and mechanical options for the XR-7 included a power moonroof ($841), an electric rear window defroster ($145), an engine block heater ($18), and Argent versions of the standard body-color cast-aluminum wheels. Inside, automatic temperature control ($162), power windows ($222), fingertip speed control ($182), and a tilt steering wheel ($124) were all available. Upholstery options included a leather-wrapped steering wheel ($59), leather seating surfaces ($415), and six-way power seats (either driver’s side only [$251] or driver and front passenger [$502]). A range of audio options included an electronic AM/FM stereo with a cassette player and four speakers ($137), the Premium Sound System with a power amplifier, two additional door-mounted speakers, and premium rear speakers ($168), a graphic equalizer ($218), and a power antenna ($76).
The 1988 Cougar sold well—Mercury moved a total of 113,801 units, with 14,488 (almost 13%) being XR-7s. For unclear reasons, Hagerty’s valuation tools do not track any Cougar after 1973, though they do value Ford Thunderbirds through their entire production history. Eighties Cougars occasionally show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I write this blog entry, there’s a Black 1987 Cougar LS with gray cloth seats and 33,000 miles listed for $6,900. Make mine Black, please.
Thanks to COOL CATS (a site devoted to the 1983-1988 Mercury Cougar) for providing helpful context for this post.
Other Mercurys I have written about include the 1983 Grand Marquis sedan, the 1986 Capri hatchback coupe, and the 1987 Lynx XR3 hatchback coupe. Regarding the Cougar’s Ford Thunderbird sister, I’ve written about the 1980 coupe and the 1983 Turbo Coupe.