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Model Year Info

The 1988 Mercury Cougar

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Page Revised: 10 May 2019

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The 1988 model year proved to be a great one for the 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 XR-7

1988 Cougar XR-7

The 1988 Cougar XR-7 was perhaps the most recognizable of all aero Cougar models.

The 1988 Cougar XR-7 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 (argent wheels were optional on the XR-7). Interestingly, there were no special "XR-7" C-pillar emblems, but the standard LS emblems instead. And there was special pinstriping for the XR-7, a decal that rode above the upper shoulder line and terminated at the grille. The 1988 Cougar XR-7 was perhaps the most recognizable of all Cougar models from 1983 to 1988 and continues to be desirable even today.

Mechanically the XR-7 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 engine 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 XR-7 Analog Instrument Cluster

The big news for the XR-7'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 XR-7 as well as the LS.

1988 Cougar XR-7 Interior - Cloth

The 1988 Cougar XR-7 interior in Smoke Grey cloth.

1988 Cougar XR-7 Door Panel

Cloth XR-7 interiors got a soft cloth insert on the door panels.

1988 Cougar XR-7 Front View

The XR-7's front end featured the aforementioned striping and body-colored grille.



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 XR-7 model, the 5.0L V8 received a new quasi-dual exhaust for a total of 155hp.

Smart Cougar buyers could order a fully-loaded LS model with the V8 and have a virtual XR-7 clone.

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 XR-7 model and then insuring it at full value was, as you may guess, not cheap. The trouble was that, even though the XR-7 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 XR-7 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 Cougar 3.8L V6 Engine

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 Cougar 3.8L V6 Balance Shaft

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

The LS interior was virtually unchanged from the previous year.



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 aero Fox 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.



Features Unique to 1988 Cougars:
  • MPFI 3.8L V6 engine with internal balance shaft
  • Monochromatic XR-7 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)

Tech Specs

CATEGORY DETAILS
ENGINES LS: 140 hp MPFI 3.8L (232 cid) V6; optional 155 hp SEFI 5.0L (302 cid) V8
XR-7: 155 hp SEFI 5.0L (302 cid) V8
TRANSMISSIONS 4-speed overdrive automatic (AOD) - all models
BRAKES Front: 10.0" vented disc
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 LS: 3,237 lbs.
XR-7: 3,485 lbs.
HOW TO SPOT ONE XR-7's are monochromatic with 15" Mustang GT-style wheels. No discernible 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/XR-7 V8-302 5.0L Safety Recalls
1. 95S28 NOV 95 Safety Recall 95S28 - Ignition Switch Replacement

Cougar/XR-7 V8-302 5.0L General Recalls
1. 93B31 DEC 93 Throttle Body Lever Grommet - Recall 93B31

 

Production Breakdown

  • 113,801
  • 99,313
  • 14,488

LS Production

XR-7 Production