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The 1988 Mercury Cougar
      

For its final year on the Fox chassis, Ford dialed in a few tweaks for the 1988 Mercury Cougar. While there were no major changes anywhere on the vehicle, enough updates were made to qualify this as more than a carryover year. Ford confirmed that 1989 would bring about an all-new Cougar on a brand new chassis, so dealers expected higher volume in the showrooms—and they were correct. The 1988 model year proved to be a great one for the Cougar as sales soared.

 The 1988 Cougar XR7

1988 Cougar XR7
The 1988 Cougar XR7 now featured a striking new monochromatic paint scheme, available in Oxford White, Medium Scarlet or Black. They featured body-colored side moldings, grille and outside mirrors; blacked-out window trim; black door handles and key surrounds; and body-colored 15" aluminum wheels that came from the new 1987 Mustang GT (it was possible to have optional argent wheels on the XR7, however). Interestingly, there were no special "XR-7" C-pillar emblems, but the standard LS emblems instead. And there was special pinstriping for the XR7, a decal that rode above the upper shoulder line and terminated at the grille. The 1988 Cougar XR7 was perhaps the most recognizable of all Cougar models from 1983 to 1988 and continues to be desirable even today.

Mechanically the XR7 received an 8.8" rear differential, believed to be the only Cougar from 1983-88 to have the larger rear axle. No major suspension changes were made. The standard 5.0L V8 also had no power increase but the addition of a split dual exhaust bumped up total output 5 ponies to a total of 155hp. Once again the only transmission was the 4-speed AOD overdrive transmission.

1988 Cougar XR7 Dash

Left: The big news for the XR7's interior was the return of the standard analog gauge cluster, absent since 1986. A V8-spec tachometer was the only change from the last version. Also, the sport steering wheel, shown here, became standard. The full electronic instrument cluster was an option for the XR7 as well as the LS.

 

The 1988 Cougar LS

1988 Cougar LS
While the Cougar LS model was physically identical to the previous model year, save for color choices, there were changes to the engines. The base 3.8L V6 got an internal balance shaft and a new multiport fuel injection system for smoother operation and greatly improved throttle response. Power was now rated at 140hp and now the V6 definitely felt more powerful and responsive than its CFI predecessor. Fuel economy was bumped up slightly as a result. As with the XR7 model, the 5.0L V8 received a new quasi-dual exhaust for a total of 155hp.

Because auto insurance in America was such an expensive and tricky prospect in the 1980s, the idea of shelling out almost U.S. $20,000 (or more) for an XR7 model and then insuring it at full value was, as you may guess, not cheap. The trouble was that, even though the XR7 had a standard-output V8 and not the performance-oriented HO 5.0 from the Mustang, it was still considered a "sports" or "performance" model, thereby bumping up insurance premiums. However, smart Cougar buyers could order a fully-loaded LS model with the V8 and have a virtual XR7 clone, save for the paint scheme and wheels, and enjoy lower insurance rates. This proved to be a popular move for many buyers as the used market for 1988 Cougars routinely shows a plethora of V8 cars.

1988 3.8L V6 Engine

Left: The 1988 3.8L V6 featured an all-new intake plenum, lower intake, cylinder heads, valve covers, accessories and brackets, and air intake. The V6 started to strongly resemble the 5.0L V8 in layout and looks, and a few parts were even shared between the motors.

1988 3.8L V6 Balance Shaft

Left: An illustration of the 3.8L V6 internal balance shaft. It was installed to provide a counterbalance for additional smoothness and less NVH. However, it was removed in 1989 and never returned to the engine, apparently having not been as successful as intended.

1988 Cougar LS Interior (Cinnabar)

Left: The LS interior was virtually unchanged. Shown here is an LS interior in Cinnabar, a one-year-only color.

Conclusion
Sales picked up nicely for the Cougar in 1988, and as the chapter on the fourth-generation Cougar closed, the car proved to be durable, reliable and dependable, and a great value for the money. Lincoln-Mercury dealers knew that the Cougar was a solid bet and they looked forward to the debut of the MN12-chassis car to further their sales goals.

The era of the 1983-88 Mercury Cougar proved to be a very popular one. Not only did sales soar upwards throughout this six-model-year period, but the age of the "aero" car was now in full swing, as other automakers scrambled to copy Ford's look on their automobiles. Where competing GM gave up the rear-drive segment to go front drive (Grand Prix, Cutlass, Regal, Lumina), and aero-look clones appeared (Chrysler LeBaron), Ford had a virtual lock in the midsize rear-drive luxury coupe market. The aero Mercury Cougar was, quite simply, the right car at the right time.

ENGINES LS: 140 hp MPFI 3.8L (232 cid) V6; optional 155 hp SEFI 5.0L (302 cid) V8
XR7: 155 hp SEFI 5.0L (302 cid) V8
TRANSMISSIONS 4-speed overdrive automatic (AOD)
BRAKES Front: 10.0" vented disc
Rear: 9.0" drum
(Rear 10.0" drums with optional towing package and/or V8)
SPECIFICATIONS Wheelbase: 104.2"
Overall Length: 200.8"
Overall Width: 70.1"
Overall Height: 53.8"
Cargo Capacity: 14.6 cubic feet
Fuel Capacity: 22.1 gallons
Passenger Rating: 5 (4 with full console option)
CURB WEIGHT GS: 3,237 lbs.
XR7: 3,485 lbs.
HOW TO SPOT ONE XR7's are monochromatic with 15" Mustang GT wheels. No discernable differences between the 1987 and 1988 LS models.
RECALLS V6-232 3.8L Safety Recalls
1. 95S28 NOV 95 Safety Recall 95S28 - Ignition Switch Replacement

V6-232 3.8L Emissions Recalls
1. 91E14 MAY 92 Recall 91E14 Catalyst Inspection/Replacement - 49 States
2. 91E03 JAN 92 Catalyst Inspection/Replacement Emissions Recall 91E03

Cougar/XR7 V8-302 5.0L Safety Recalls
1. 95S28 NOV 95 Safety Recall 95S28 - Ignition Switch Replacement

Cougar/XR7 V8-302 5.0L General Recalls
1. 93B31 DEC 93 Throttle Body Lever Grommet - Recall 93B31

PRODUCTION LS: 99,313 [87.3 percent]
XR7: 14,488 [12.7 percent]
TOTAL: 113,801

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Features Unique to
1988 Cougars:
  • MPFI 3.8L V6 engine with internal balance shaft
  • Monochromatic XR7 model (only year for this body style)
  • Cinnabar interior color (only year in this body style)
  • Rose Quartz/Cinnabar two-tone exterior color (one year only)
  • Medium Regatta Blue Metallic exterior color (light blues were unique to each model year)