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Mercury's Villager is smaller than popular minivans such as the Dodge Grand Caravan or Ford Windstar. Its dimensions are closer to a base-level, short-wheelbase van. Yet the Villager offers the luxury trappings of the big guys. It also offers more nimble handling and, some would say, smarter styling. Big families may miss the extra room of a long-wheelbase van, but others will prefer the Villager's quick reflexes and versatility.
Minivans aren't supposed to be fun to drive, and the Villager doesn't corner like a sports car. But it does handle well enough to generate some enthusiasm in the curves. The steering is sharp and accurate, and the Villager tracks very well on the highway, much better than most minivans. Stiff crosswinds barely move it from its intended path, and rough roads pass under its tires without jarring the steering wheel.
The Sport suspension does a good job of taming the natural roll and lean of a tall-bodied wagon. The ride seems just a touch stiff over concrete joints and tar strips, but composed over most other highway and street surfaces. For the technically curious, the front suspension consists of MacPherson struts with lower A-arms, while the solid rear axle rides on tapered monoleaf springs. Shocks are gas-pressurized front and rear and, as we mentioned before, Sport models get an anti-roll bar in the rear as well as the front.
The brakes can handle repeated stops from highway speeds, but the brake pedal has more travel than a passenger-car driver might want. ABS is a $590 extra, even on flagship Estates.
And despite its trim size and nimble handling, Villager weighs one side or the other of two tons, depending on trim level; add a family and their vacation gear, and the 170-horsepower V6 is a bit taxed when it has to haul it all up a steep grade. On a solo run up the East Coast, laden only with Christmas gifts, the Villager was able to overtake other vehicles in a reasonable stretch, but more horsepower would have made passing on two-lanes more comfortable.
Still, Villager is a leaner alternative to the longer-wheelbase minivans, and that makes it an appealing choice. It is more compact than its most popular competitors, so it's easier to park, yet it offers all the flexibility of the bigger minivans and nearly as much room. Mercury says the Villager has found great success with folks who no longer have kids to cart around, but still prefer the comfort and convenience of a minivan.
Villager offers clean styling, a commanding view of the road, and a clever interior design with optional captain's chairs. All of this makes it a great alternative to the Dodge Caravan. Though prices roll up quickly when you add all the goodies, the Villager's driving characteristics and flexibility make it a good value.