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For the first time ever, Ford Motor Co.'s upscale Mercury Division has a full-size minivan to sell.
The 2004 Mercury Monterey replaces the Villager minivan, which was developed through a joint venture between Ford and Nissan and built at a Ford plant in Ohio. (Nissan's version of the van was the previous-generation Quest; it since has been replaced with a dramatically styled all-new minivan of the same name.) The Villager was never considered a full-fledged minivan. It was far smaller than traditional minivans and in earlier generations it was extremely underpowered and carried a hefty price for its smaller package.
Ford Motor Co. is trying to breath new life into the Mercury division. However, it is doing so by feeding it vehicles that are basically Ford Division models. Such is the case with the Monterey, which is essentially a rebadged Ford Freestar, which in turn, is an updated and renamed Windstar.
The Monterey is a highly competent minivan. It's extremely quiet underway, on par with the new Toyota Sienna. Its ride is smooth, and steering and handling are responsive. Its 4.2-liter V6 is the largest displacement engine for a minivan and delivers adequate power. It has an upscale interior loaded with features such as heated and cooled front seats, a third row that easily folds flat into the floor, and a park-assist system. Safety features abound, though some are optional, and the Monterey is expected to perform well in a crash.
The Monterey is a traditionally styled minivan. It will blend in at the elementary school parking lot.
The Monterey, like the Ford Freestar, barely looks any different from the Windstar. In fact, the only exterior parts that are new from the Windstar to the Freestar are the hood, grille and headlamps, front fenders and rear liftgate. The only parts unique to the Monterey from the Freestar are the grille, which resembles that of the Mercury Mountaineer sport-utility, and the headlamps.
The one distinguishing feature of the Monterey is unusual. The front side windows lower below the inside portion of the door trim so when the window is fully down, the sill protrudes up. Designers say it was done to create an armrest of a comfortable height.
The Mercury Monterey benefits from Ford's tripling of investment in vehicle interiors. It features the same elegant interior as the Freestar with more upscale materials than the Windstar had. The focal point of the interior is a watch-like clock in the middle of the center dash.
The Monterey seats seven passengers, two in front, two in the second row and three in the third row. Its third-row seat folds into a well behind the seat, creating a flat floor like that in the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. The fold-flat third-row seat operates easily by pulling straps numbered in sequence and clearly labeled. The head restraints push down into the seat so they don't require removal to fold the seat, as other minivans do, a nice feature. Ford boasts it can be done one handed, and it is true. It operates about the best of any in the industry. Also, the third-row seat can be dropped backwards to create seating for tailgate parties.
With the third-row seat in place for passengers, the well behind it has about 25 cubic feet of cargo space. With the third-row seat folded and second-row seats removed, it expands to a generous 135 cubic feet of storage. The second-row seats slide horizontally on rails and also fold and tumble forward like those on the Mercury Mountaineer for easy access to the third row or creation of extra cargo space. Removing the second-row seats can be done by one person, but it's a bit clumsy; it's a task better suited for two.
The downside of the Monterey's third-row seat is its short height. Even normal-sized adolescents will find it cramped. Seat comfort, in general, is not terrific. The second-row captain's chairs and front seats are rather narrow.
The front seats can be heated and cooled, good for cold winter mornings and hot summer afternoons.
The Monterey has lots of storage space, from bins in the rear sliding doors for books and toys to double map pockets in the front doors. On the dash is a covered storage compartment for small items like cell phones. It also has numerous cupholders, including front door holders for 20-ounce bottles. Some of the beverage holders, particularly those in the far back are awkwardly positioned, however. Well positioned and well built are sturdy cupholders that fold down from the sides of the second-row captain's chairs. If kicked, as they likely will be, they snap back into storage against the seats.
Mercury Monterey comes with only one engine, the bigger of the two offered on the Freestar. Its 4.2-liter V6 delivers 201 horsepower and 263 pounds-feet of torque. It doesn't measure up to the horsepower of the new Nissan Quest, rated at 240 horsepower, nor the redesigned Toyota Sienna at 230 horsepower, though torque is competitive. Torque is that force that propels you from intersections and up hills when you have a full load of passengers, so torque is important.
Monterey's four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Ford claims consumer research showed minivan buyers didn't care if it was a four- or five-speed, which others, including the Honda Odyssey and even the Kia Sedona have, as long as shifts were smooth.
The Monterey Premier we tested was extremely quiet, on par with the new Toyota Sienna. Its ride is smooth, its power is adequate, and steering and handling are responsive.
The Mercury Monterey is an extremely competent minivan. Buyers considering the Monterey, however, should also look at a Ford Freestar as the only difference may be in price. The Freestar generally carries a lower list price than does the Monterey. However, depending on the trim level and content package, a Monterey with all of its standard fare could represent a better value than a Freestar that has to be loaded up with options.
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