The high-performance version of Ford Motor Co.'s U.S.-built Cougar that was unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show earlier this month and bound for the European market next year tentatively is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in March.

Powering the European Cougar ST200 is the 200-hp 2.5L Duratec V-6 engine already available in the U.S. in the Contour SVT and in Europe in the Mondeo ST200. It takes the Cougar to a top speed of 143 mph and enables the car to hit 62 mph from a standstill in 7.8 seconds, Ford says.

Ford is stiffening the Cougar suspension, shortening the steering response time and adding a larger rear anti-roll bar for the performance rendition. The car also gets 17-in. alloy wheels, special instrumentation with blue background and heated (driver and front passenger) leather seats.

Pricing hasn't been set for the car that will go on sale in Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland in early 2000.

In the U.S., the similarly equipped Cougar S model tentatively is slated to go into production at the Flat Rock, MI, plant in mid-January, about the same time as the European version. Ford is planning to build 3,000 of the cars annually for the U.S. market, with sales launch likely in March. The car is expected to be priced at about $22,000.