Challenger dials are large, clearly marked, and well illuminated. In photo above, Dunne holds the gearshift lever—with a handle that feels more like a pistol grip than a shift knob.
We found visibility for parking and maneuvering restricted, and the dummy air scoops on the hood don't help the forward view. The car's white interior is bright and inviting but needs frequent cleaning. The front seats have very neat seat-belt refractors hidden under the carpet, with the belts threaded through the seat-back hinges. The glove box is very small, but the instrument panel well equipped; the speedometer even has a trip meter reading tenths of a mile.
Driving comfort is hampered by the steering wheel, which is set far back toward the seat. If you push the seat back until you have the wheel at comfortable distance, the average-height driver will have to stretch to reach the shift lever and pedals.
The power steering is quick and precise, but gives little feel of the road. With no reaction or feedback in the wheel, your reference framework for steering the car becomes almost entirely visual. This makes it more difficult to tell how much you should slow down when entering any given curve.
The ride was stiff, and the rear axle was very skittish on bumpy curves, calling for quick steering corrections. Under the hood, we found the plugs clearly accessible. But the coil and distributor are behind the air cleaner. The oil filter can be removed only from below.
Mercury Cougar. This one was the most civilized, quiet, and comfortable highway car in the group. Its engine turns slower for a given road speed than the Pontiac and Dodge engines. Yet it had surprising power and speed. The Cleveland engine really delivers performance, but it's also very heavy on gas.
The brakes were terrific (see chart). It handles very well, with predictable behavior in all situations, and ride comfort seems like that of a regular Mercury. Its combination of qualities make it a true supercar.
The interior is obviously expensive. The back seat was the most comfortable in this group. We disliked the hooding over the instrument panel—it makes you wish the seat were higher. The enormous nonfunctional air scoop on the hood also blocks vision. The windshield has a blind spot near the left-hand corner, plus an unwiped triangle on the extreme left. The Cougar is the only car in the group without hidden, articulated wipers. It's also the only one with intermittent wiper action-desirable in a light drizzle.
The gauges are well placed and easy to read, except for the clock on the right, which is almost invisible to the driver. The long reach to small controls is annoying. Heater switches are placed near the middle of the car, low down. Lights and wiper switches are deeply recessed, almost out of reach. The brake release is too far down for comfort-only about five inches above the parking-brake pedal. The glove box is too small to be of much use.
Some maintenance work is easy. The coil and distributor are positioned up front, and the oil filter is accessible from below. But a plug change is difficult because the spring towers crowd the cylinder heads and valve covers.
Pontiac Firebird. Here is a true wide-tracker. It looks like a GT racer of the '50s. The interior also has many racing touches—the small steering wheel with the soft, fat rim; and the short-throw shift lever with big knob. Continued