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The Mercury Sable provides a pleasant blend of family-car safety and mid-market value. It combines the virtues of high quality, five-star crash protection and comfortable accommodations (and those accommodations are even quieter for the 2003 model year), and adds in a healthy helping of driving fun. Especially when equipped with the optional Duratec V6, the mid-size Mercury is blessed with the kind of performance and agility expected in expensive front-drive sports sedans.
The Sable wagon is every bit as fun to drive as the sedan, and adds capacity for kids and cargo.
Looks are subjective, but we like what we see in the Mercury Sable. This latest Sable is not as daringly innovative as the groundbreaking design that introduced the nameplate back in 1986, but it's better looking. Nowadays, the Mercury Sable and Ford Taurus, seem to have slowly swapped places, so that the Sable is now the conservative older sister and the Taurus the adventurous sprite. But the old girl is still pretty easy on the eyes, if now in a buttoned-down, business-suit sort of way.
Like the very best automotive designs, Sable comfortably blends beauty and function. Its total passenger space, at 102.5 cubic feet, is only 6 percent short of the interior space of the full-size Mercury Grand Marquis. Subjectively, the Sable's interior feels huge, even for a mid-size car. The sedan offers a generous cargo space of 16 cubic feet. The station wagon has 38.8 cubic feet of space with the rear seat up and a cavernous 81.3 cubic feet with the seats down.
The Mercury Sable cabin has been refined for 2003. The control for the adjustable pedals has been moved to the revised instrument panel for easier use. Interior materials have been upgraded. Cupholders have been revised. And the interior is quieter, thanks to new insulation in the floor pan and wind-blocking seals on the doors, windows and sideview mirrors. Expanding foam fills the windshield support pillars to reduce noise further.
The refined interior space is furnished with controls and instruments that are admirably straightforward and user-friendly. For 2003, the interior also gets new color schemes and seating fabrics. A new process for applying wood grain trim enhances its appearance.
Power-adjustable pedals provide up to thee inches of movement, which enhances safety by allowing shorter drivers to find a comfortable seating position without sitting dangerously close to the airbag.
Sable can be ordered in either five or six-passenger configurations, pretty much regardless of trim. If you get the twin front bucket seats, they deliver surprisingly good lateral support without incurring a penalty in seating comfort, even for larger drivers. The cushions and seatbacks are on the firm side, which might initially seems a shortcoming; but firmer seats, if well-designed, usually feel more comfortable and reduce fatigue on long drives. This is certainly the case in the Sable.
The Sable's rear seating for three is spacious and comfortable, with the two outboard positions having a semi-bucket form. In our LS Premium, a pull-down center elbow rest presented us with two cup holders. And if you ski, or carry ladders everywhere you go, the positively enormous split-seat pass-through into the trunk will make your life immeasurably easier.
Other nice touches in the LS Premium include dual vanity mirrors with a rheostat for raising or lowering their illumination. Also, the sunroof opens with one touch.
In the area of safety, the Sable has earned the U.S. government's top five-star frontal crash-test rating. It is equipped with dual-stage airbags, which sense the intensity of the impact and deploy at one of two different speeds. In lesser impacts, gentler deployment reduces the risk of injury by the bags themselves. Head-and-chest side airbags are available as an option. Seatbelt pretensioners are standard, as is a system that releases small amounts of seatbelt tension to reduce injury.
The Mercury Sable is startlingly agile, controllable, even sporty for such a relatively large and roomy family sedan. Even with the stoic Vulcan in the engine room, the Sable chassis proves itself anything but unemotional. Its finely tuned variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering provides just the right amount of boost (less of it as road speed increases) and a constant stream of information to the driver. This live wire steering combines with a finely tuned front suspension to deliver surprisingly sporting driving sensations. Driven to the extremes, the Sable takes the safest course, understeering to warn the driver that traction has been overcome. But before exceeding the tires' grip, this family taxi feels for all the world like a closet sports sedan.
Having said that, the Sable still manages to provide a comfortable ride, one that gently deletes even the worst broken pavement as it passes beneath the wheels. Mercury has achieved a fine balance between crisp handling and gentle ride, the same sort of balance that has earned the best European sedans their loyal following.
Add the superb Duratec V6 to this mix, and the Sable really comes alive. Its fine handling qualities now complement a very responsive engine.
When heavy throttle is applied, acceleration is sharp enough that traction control is needed to prevent wheel spin. The Duratec makes a tactful but nonetheless exciting growl. So equipped, the Sable allows the hidden hurrier in you full expression, but in this car, who will suspect? It's just a family sedan, right? (Just smile and nod; nobody needs to know your secret.)
A test drive of the Duratec will demonstrate that it positively transforms the personality of this Mercury. With its finger-snap responsiveness, the Sable has a heads-up, ready-to-run willingness that knowledgeable drivers will find irresistible.
Once a styling leader, the Mercury Sable has retreated to a more conservative look, quietly handsome while avoiding the industrial blandness of its import competition. The Sable provides safety, comfort, quiet and practicality. Yet it's an enjoyable car to drive.
Mercury Sable resides at the large end of the current mid-size scale. Its interior is spacious and pleasing, and by and large, its controls and instrumentation are contemporary, straightforward and easy to use. Its list of safety features is comprehensive, and its five-star front-impact rating from the federal government is unbeatable. Its trunk is capacious.
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2008 Mercury Sable$11,621 | 78,703 mi
2008 Mercury Sable$12,989 | 49,674 mi
2005 Mercury Sable$5,995 | 70,852 mi
2004 Mercury Sable$5,781 | 97,745 mi
2003 Mercury Sable$5,999 | 94,385 mi
2002 Mercury Sable$4,250 | 134,581 mi
2002 Mercury Sable$5,995 | 89,482 mi
2001 Mercury Sable$3,999 | 172,799 mi
2001 Mercury Sable$4,299 | 120,504 mi
2001 Mercury Sable$4,995 | 138,843 mi
2001 Mercury Sable$7,995 | 97,838 mi
2000 Mercury Sable$4,599 | 138,647 mi
2000 Mercury Sable$4,995 | 150,132 mi
1996 Mercury Sable$1,500 | no mileage