By on December 5, 2019

Today’s Buy/Drive/Burn is the first of two consecutive entries where we’ll be evaluating two-door offerings from the dawn of the new millennium. First up is the American car trio… though one of them is thoroughly European.

Mercury Cougar

Mercury brought back its Cougar nameplate in a very different way for 1999. Using the European-market Ford Cougar and badging it as a Mercury, Ford replaced two of its prior product offerings: the sporty front-drive Probe and the personal luxury rear-drive Cougar. Built on the same platform as the Ford Mondeo, the Cougar was available with inline-four and six-cylinder engines. Like the Probe, the Cougar was front-engined and front-wheel drive. Contrary to standard Ford operations, the Cougar was exclusive to the Mercury brand; there was no Ford twin in North America. Today’s selection will be the more powerful V6 version, with a 2.5-liter Duratec engine. Power is distributed via the four-speed automatic from the Ford Probe. Cougar lived on through 2002 before it was eliminated without replacement.

Chrysler Sebring

The Chrysler Sebring lineup was new for the 1995 model year, when a new coupe went into production at the Normal, Illinois plant alongside the Dodge Avenger, Eagle Talon, and Mitsubishi Eclipse. For the 2001 model year, Sebring expanded its range when a sedan joined the convertible and coupe. The coupe’s new design was more upscale looking than the seldom-recalled outgoing generation. Coupe customers could select from an inline-four 2.4-liter or a 3.0-liter V6. Both engines were provided by Mitsubishi. Today’s Sebring Coupe is a fully loaded LXi with the V6 and four-speed automatic. The Sebring Coupe was dropped after 2005. In 2007, new sedan and convertible versions continued on the evolved Chrysler-Mitsubishi JS platform.

Oldsmobile Alero

In 1999, Oldsmobile replaced its Achieva and Cutlass models with the singular and all-new Alero. Sharing the N-body platform with the Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac Grand Am, the Alero was available in two-door coupe and four-door sedan body styles. Engines ranged from 2.2 to 3.4 liters of displacement, with either four or six cylinders. Today’s Alero is a GLS trim with the 3.4L V6 from the Oldsmobile Silhouette. Power is delivered to the front wheels via a four-speed automatic. The Alero lived on through 2004, as Oldsmobile ceased to exist at the end of that year. It was succeeded by the Pontiac G6.

Three American cars, each serving the middle market with two doors and V6 power. Which one is worth the Buy in 2001?

[Images: Ford, Chrysler, Oldsmobile]

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45 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: American Two-doors for a New Century...”

  • avatar

    Easy: Burn, burn…and…ummm…burn.

  • avatar
    A Scientist

    Yeesh, stinkers one and all.

    Buy: Sebring: simply because it’ll probably have the most comfortable ride and be easiest to live with long term. I’ll admit I don’t know enough about the engines in these to speak about reliability, so I’ll just gamble on it I guess.

    Drive: Alero: It’s too bad really, when these first came out they actually looked ultra modern, high-tech, and even futuristic….and then proceeded to age like unpasteurized milk. Within only about 1-2 years, these cars looked HORRIBLY dated, and the cheap GM cladding did it no favors in that regard.

    Burn: Cougar: The “sporty” car that wasn’t sporty whatsoever. Terrible styling. Looked awful from every angle, just an incongruent mess. And of course, cursed with one of those ubiquitous, wheezing V6 engines every American car company threw into their “sports cars” back in those days. A guy I knew in the Navy back then actually bought one brand new, really thought he had something special. There was no end to the grief he got over his “chick car”.

  • avatar

    Buy Alero: I still see more of these around than any of the others. Neighbor has one in that ruby red color pictured above. Wheels are powder coated black with the Olds log in red.I think it might be his winter beater.

    Drive Sebring: Well received when they came out and drove pretty decently with the wheels pushed out to the corners.

    Burn Cougar: I liked the design but it was let down by a trouble prone V6. With manual transmission and V6 I would have “driven” the Cougar and burned the Sebring.

  • avatar

    Burn the Sebring. Easy choice.

    Drive the Alero at least once to see how it dealt with the 6 engine.

    Reluctantly buy the Cougar and hope for the best. My friend had a Contour that served him well but he also enjoyed his Pacer… so there’s that too. I think I only knew one person worth this Cougar and she bought at the employee discount price.

  • avatar

    Buy the Cougar. It is practically an X-type coupe so I have to buy it.

    Drive the Alero. My sister had an Alero GLS coupe. It was fine although I’d prefer one of GM’s other 2-door cars.

    Burn the Sebring. Not a convertible. Not a LeBaron. 0/10 would burn.

    • 0 avatar

      DSM products are made of a special diamond filament, I’m not sure they can be burned.

    • 0 avatar

      LOL…I can’t think of a better way to flagellate yourself like a medieval monk than buying an X-type AND a Cougar.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m having a really hard time finding an X-type that isn’t either way clapped out or way overpriced (28 gave me some values a month ago)

        Having better luck with GMT360s although finding a good 4WD/AWD one in FL is a little tricky. I’m going to be doing some home improvement work next year so I’ll probably focus there so I have a vehicle for Mulch Baron purposes.

  • avatar

    Buy – the Cougar offering in this trio of late 1990’s – early 2000’s cars. I’ve always found Ford’s “New Edge” styling of this era to be unique… and the Mondeo (a.k.a. – Contour/Mystique) inspired chassis offered commendable handling and road holding. Same car was sold in Europe as the Ford Cougar with great sales success. Pity that Ford/Mercury didn’t follow this car with a S197 Mustang platform derived Mercury Cougar replacement – circa 2005.

    Drive/Burn – yer choice on the Chrysler or Olds… I don’t believe either had major or glaring flaws in design nor execution other than what was common to Chrysler and GM at the time. Both were styled to be as inoffensive as possible… so, visibly, neither offers striking visual impact. Such an attribute can offer its own virtues at times, however.

  • avatar

    Buy: Sebring. the 2.4 is A-OK, and the 3.0 is past the oil burning years
    Drive: Alero. Like the Cavalier, they tend to be cockroaches. 20 years old and parts falling off but they still go.

    Burn: the “Cougar.” an abomination to the name. But then again there’s no Mercury Cougar made after 1972 worth buying.

  • avatar

    Buy the Alero. Still a good-looking car, and it’s probably a cockroach. In fact, if I needed a beater, I’d probably shop one today.

    Sebring gets the drive by virtue of the fact that it’s not the Cougar, which was excrement.

    Burn the Cougar. I’ve heard nothing but bad stuff about this car.

  • avatar

    Well, in hindsight, they all need burned to the ground, but if I was shopping in 2001. Well, I was, but I didn’t have any of these on my radar. I did buy an 01 Elantra, one of the first of the rounded “mini Jag if you squint a lot” in late 2000 and then traded it early 2001 on a Ford Focus ZX3 5 speed ( the 0% financing!) so you might see where this is going:

    Burn: Chrysler. Was never a fan of these cars, drove tons of “Cloud Cars” for a large rental firm in the late 90’s-early 00’s. I know this isn’t a cloud car, but it looks like one inside and out. Pass

    Drive: Alero. My wife had one in dark green and it was a really nice driving car for an N body, even if it was oddly styled. Decent steering, brakes and even with the 2.4, it wasn’t bad. V6 makes it that much better. Wife’s Alero developed a water leak and other GM “That They All Do That(TM)” issues which makes it a lease/drive and not a buy. When that lease ended, we leased an 03 Subaru Legacy.

    Buy: Cougar. My family has largely been Ford people when it comes to domestics. In 2001, I bought that Ford Focus ZX3 but I wanted a Cougar, just too much money for me, especially in top trim. I briefly owned (24hrs) a 95 Contour V6 5speed (in 1997) that developed a valve problem on the way home and I switched it for the Cougar V8 I had initially wanted to buy from the same dealer.

    So, I wound up with a 95 V8 Cougar in 97 and a Focus in 2001. I didn’t love the “New Edge” style, but I didn’t hate it, I think the Focus wore it better. The Contour/Mondeo platform drove really well for basic cars and the Duratec 2.5 V6 with a 5 speed was a lot of fun. I do remember the awful plastics in those interior, almost worse than the Alero. But still, I wanted one then and I’d make the same choice now. But it would have to be a 5 speed, the 4 speed would sap all the fun out of the Duratec and I’m fairly certain a manual was available with V6 Cougar?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, my uncle had a V6 Cougar with the 5-speed. It served him well until it was T-boned and went to the scrap yard.

      Not sure why the manual wasn’t listed as one of our options, that would make it the clear buy.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m on board with this… If the Cougar has a manual transmission, it might be a decent drive. (I know of one in my home town that had an automatic that didn’t last 6 months from new.)

        The other two… no thank you, crush ’em both. They are not likely to be on the road much longer at this point anyway! They both scream “buy here pay here” after being traded in the first time.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Drive: The Cougar but reluctantly. It was the final nail in the coffin of a once proud automobile name. Cougar was originally ‘the gentleman’s pony car’.

    Buy: The Alero. Had a Malibu of that generation and it was very easy to live with. In fact if they had offered it with a MT it might even have been ‘sprightly’. The Alero had a more upscale interior than the Malibu and was much more mature looking than the Grand Am.

    Burn: The Sebring. And if we did, would anymore notice or mourn?

  • avatar

    I had a 2001 Sebring LXi coupe with a manual. It was surprisingly comfortable and fun to drive at the same time. Great car while I had it but who knows about long term reliability of that engine.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: Alero- Even though the interior is Roger Smith bland the Ecotec 2.4 and venerable 3.1 V6 are robust.

    Drive: Sebring-The lengthened Eclipse platform makes it more livable plus the power trains have been improved from the 3.0 oil burner.

    Burn: Cougar-This former MN-12 owner thinks it’s hearsay though the Duratec motors are good. I once checked one out and thought the Probe or the last Escort ZX2 was a better vehicle.

    Honorable mention-Grand Am GT ram air, cladding and all.

  • avatar

    If only this was shifted a year back!

    I was at Costco filling up and a gentleman in an immaculate 1st gen Sebring pulls up. Period correct partial hood bra, newer, tasteful aftermarket wheels. I complimented him on it and he was very appreciative. The styling of those has aged quite well IMO. I don’t really care for the newer ones.

    As it stands, but me down for a drive on the Cougar, buy the Alero, burn the Chrysler.

  • avatar

    id burn them all, sell the scrap medal and go find myself a V6 5 speed Probe. Never got to try one of those.

  • avatar

    Failsegment. If you’re going to sacrifice dynamics for packaging, which is the purpose of FWD, then have some back doors and a back seat.

    But I’ll try to play by the rules and not burn them all.

    Buy: Alero. These were durable and surprisingly quick with the 3.4, although as usual with GM of this vintage the interior was complete garbage. One of these gave my ’89 SHO a surprising amount of trouble in a pull away from a light; I didn’t get a clean advantage until the secondaries opened in second gear.

    Drive: Sebring. These are actually Mitsubishi Eclipses from before the really terrible generation, so I’m sure it wouldn’t be a bad drive as FWD coupes go.

    Burn: Cougar. Those things were terrible in every respect.

  • avatar

    Corey, this one is difficult, in the sense that I don’t want to spend much time with *any* of these.

    So instead of rating these particular vehicles, I’m going to vote based on each OEM’s potential in 2001 vs. what they did with it over the next two decades.

    Buy: FCA. Then quickly resell.
    Drive: Ford. But leave the keys in it and the window down.
    Burn: GM. And with it, burn the new “Read all comments” ‘feature’. Eww.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, this new layout is awful. It prevents clicks on a comment in the comment bar on the main page from going directly to the clicked-on comment. It seems to be forcing reloads randomly; I lost one partly written comment when the page reloaded.

  • avatar

    Buy: Despite Orange Death and N-body being garbage, 60V6 will run for longer than you’d need it too so she’s a keeper.
    Drive: DSM at its finest. Sort of.
    Burn: “Mercury” Cougar.

  • avatar

    18yr old me was into all of these rides, so 18yr old me is going to answer, ignoring all of their foibles.

    Buy- Cougar. Loved it the second it was unvelied, and wanted one desperately. My wide self found sitting in it at an autoshow a huge letdown though.

    Drive- Sebring. Technically would also buy at the time had I the funds, being from a Mopar family. Loved the styling differentiation from the sedan. My dad bought an ’01 Caravan and I was all over this in the showroom while pops processed his paperwork.

    Burn- Only cuz one’s gotta go. I recognize it’s probably the best bet as a beater now, and I was fond of seeing this, the Intrigue and Aurora on the road back in the day. I thought the ginormous rear taillights were a bit much but the coupes lines were nice. Despite my Mopar upbringing, I’ve personally leaned towards GM rides. 20yr old me had almost ended up with a family friends used 1992 Olds ’98. It didn’t work out sadly. I’d love a well preserved Olds LSS to this day. Apologies for the tangent (:

  • avatar

    If I was asked this question back in the day, I would have given totally different answers. Knowing what I know now:

    Buy: Olds – the thing is a road roach. I still see them plying the roads and I’m no fan of the GM 3.4 and the awful things the Dexcool monster does. If you keep the coolant changed and accept that you’ll be doing head gaskets and/or manifold gaskets…

    Drive: Chrysler – best ride out of the box on these three choices, and a pretty nice interior. I mean let’s face it, the Olds was at peak Playskool for GM. The Mitsubishi 3.0 was good enough, but how many of these do you see on the road anymore?

    Burn: Mercury – just an awful car. It wasn’t an acceptable MN12 replacement it wasn’t an acceptable Ford Probe proxy, the interior was meh, the styling was starting to get dated (ya, ya, so was the Olds) and it just wasn’t reliable. If our choice came with the power moonroof I would burn it, crush it, shred it, and burn it again.

  • avatar

    Burn the Alero. It a poor attempt at pretending to be an Intrigue (much better car), with the most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever sat in.

    Buy the Cougar. Only if it comes with a stick shift. I got used to the styling and I like the way the motor spins.

    Drive the Sebring. It’s the only one of the bunch I haven’t driven.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    V6 Cougar with a stick was basically a 2 door Contour SVT IIRC. That was a great driving car for its time. The Auto would make it suck but still less thn the others. Drive it and swap in a stick and any missing SVT goodies from the Contour. At least it isn’t hopeless. Drive it. Even with the auto it handles at least.

    Buy the Olds I guess. Sucks less than the Sebring and I can be nostalgic about Olds. They at least seem comfy by my memory ant the 3.4 wasn’t all bad.

    Burn the Sebring. Terrible. I remember missing the Lebaron after driving one. How is it even possible to miss a Lebarron. Terrible cars.

  • avatar

    Buy the Alero. Like other GMs of the period, they run a long time, sometimes poorly. I actually liked the relatively clean styling and interior nice-ness of the farewell Oldsmobile lineup.

    Drive the Cougar. I admire the styling, but mechanically not too sure. I think it’s a very good early 90’s design. Read an article that said the design started with the designer sketching his cat.

    Burn the Sebring. It its probably a comfortable cruiser, but Mopars of this era dont’ do much for me.

  • avatar
    Holden Miecranc

    Bought an ’01 Alero GLS Coupe in ’04 with 15k on it. Almost 16 years later, I still have it as my winter car. Absolutely the most trouble free car I have ever owned. Excluding replacing the OEM plastic head gaskets, which I knew going into it, I’ve had nothing but general maintenance required to the car. Modded the daylights out of it for fun and now, with 170k on it, it still runs pretty well.

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