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The Mercury Milan is a good choice among a superb selection of midsize sedans. Designed to compete with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Milan is based on the superb Mazda 6 platform. It is smaller than the Sable, and is Mercury's entry-level car. It shares much in common with the new Ford Fusion.
This is one of the most stylish, contemporary Mercury sedans since the first one showed up in 1939, and it just looks right. While it's not as adventurous in design as the 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser with its cantilevered roof and power rear window, it is good looking and modern.
The Milan accommodates five adults, with more interior room by most measures than some very expensive cars. The interior is inviting and comfortable, the materials are very good, and the detailing is better than average. We like the contrast stitching in the seats, and the fold-down rear seats add an extra measure of space and utility. Most important, it's easy to operate and use.
It's available with four-cylinder and V6 engines. Both engines are adequate but are not as powerful as engines offered by several competitors. The V6 gets an EPA-rated 26 mpg on the highway and comes with a six-speed automatic transmission, a rarity in this class that gives both better acceleration and better fuel economy than a five-speed automatic.
Ride quality is smooth, even on the roughest of big-city streets, making the Milan a good choice for Detroit, New York and other places with imperfect infrastructures. The Milan is very stable at high speeds and the brakes are very good. Order the optional all-wheel drive and you get excellent handling and stability on slippery surfaces, such as rain, snow and ice, further enhancing safety.
For 2008, the Milan gets new features and options. A tire-pressure monitor and keyless entry keypad are now standard, while rear obstacle detection becomes an option. Mercury's Sync communications and entertainment system and ambient lighting are offered for the first time, and the available navigation system adds voice activation.
The 2008 Mercury Milan comes in two trim levels, base and Premier, each offered with a four-cylinder or a V6. Front-wheel drive is standard; V6 models are offered with all-wheel drive. The base powertrain is a 2.3-liter, 160-horsepower four-cylinder with a five-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic is optional ($1045) and it adds aluminum wheels as well. The V6 is a 221-hp 3.0-liter that is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Milan four-cylinder ($18,725) and V6 ($21,975) models come standard with air conditioning, six-speaker audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3 player and auxiliary input jack, analog clock, overhead console with sunglasses holder, power locks, power windows, heated power outside mirrors, antitheft system, six-way power driver's seat with manual lumbar adjustment, four-way manually adjustable front passenger seat that folds flat, 60/40 split folding rear seat, cruise control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with secondary audio controls, remote keyless entry, keyless entry keypad, and P205/60R16 tires on steel wheels. The V6 is also offered with all-wheel drive ($23,825).
Options for base models start with a Moon and Tune Package ($795) with a power moonroof, AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD player and Sirius satellite radio. Sirius ($195) and the AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD player ($195) are available separately. A rear spoiler ($295) is offered. Ambient lighting ($295), which illuminates the front cupholders and front and rear footwells with a choice of seven different colors, is available late in the model year. An Appearance Package ($545) is offered for V6 models. It includes blue Alcantara seat and door trim inserts, blue interior stitching, fog lamps, rear spoiler, and P225/50R17 tires on aluminum wheels with painted pockets.
The four-cylinder Premier ($20,420) and V6 Premier ($23,295) add leather upholstery, automatic headlights, automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, leather-wrapped steering wheel, premium audio with six-disc CD player, fog lights, the Sync entertainment and communications system (late in the model year), fog lights, and P225/50R17 tires on aluminum wheels. The V6 Premier is available with all-wheel drive ($25,145).
Options for Premier above those of base models include a DVD-based navigation system ($1895) that adds voice activation for 2008; the Moon and Tune Elite Package ($895) that has a power moonroof, Sirius satellite radio and an eight-speaker Audiophile AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD changer; heated seats ($295); and the Audiophile stereo ($425) by itself. Late-2008 models offer an Amenities Package ($595) with rear park assist, universal garage door opener and ambient lighting.
Safety equipment on all models includes dual-stage front airbags; seat-mounted, torso-protecting front side airbags; side curtain airbags for head protection in both rows; tire-pressure monitor; LATCH child-seat anchors; rear-door child-safety locks; and antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution. Traction control is standard on V6 models. Rear obstacle detection is optional ($295).
The Mercury Milan looks as crisp and new as a $100 bill. It looks like it belongs to a completely different family of cars than the Ford Fusion, thanks to major changes to the roof, side glass, headlamps, grille and tail lights. The doors are the only shared body panels between the Milan, Fusion, Mazda 6, and Lincoln MKZ, all of which share its basic structure.
The Milan has a traditional Mercury waterfall grille, as opposed to the Ford Fusion three-bar grille. It is surrounded by much more conventional-looking headlight units versus the Ford Fusion's trapezoidal headlights.
In back, the high decklid is framed by a pair of bright LED tail lights. Large and nicely integrated, the tail lights look like they came from a Japanese or German car. The side view is pumped up several notches on the Premier version with its 14-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels and relatively fat 225/50R17 tires.
On our silver Premier, the interior was black leather with contrasting white stitching on the seats and steering wheel. The switchgear and gauges were black with white letters, the gauges had chrome rings, and there were lots of satin-finish metal panels to set off the black and white theme. Very tasty. And if you don't like the satin and patterned aluminum trim, Mercury offers a Wales Mahogany interior trim option at no charge.
The deeply bucketed front seats are especially cozy. Passenger sit in them more than on them. The rear seat folds down in 60/40 fashion, enabled by an easy-pull latch on each side to eliminate leaning over the decklid opening and fumbling for seatback latches.
The trunk offers 15.8 cubic feet. With the rear seats folded down, you get another 46 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats, making it into a once-in-a-while station wagon. The front passenger seat also folds flat to further increase storage room and allow loading of long items, such as a ladder.
The interior is roomy enough for a 6-foot, 4-inch passenger to sit behind a 6-foot, 4-inch driver, with real headroom. The rear door panels are scooped out for more elbow room. The rear armrest packs two cup holders, for a total of six.
Storage cubbyholes are all over the place, two in the console, one quite large one at the top center of the dash with a latching lid, two more in each front door pocket hollowed out to take a Big Gulp cup, and one in the bottom center of the dashboard, all of which add up to convenience and ease. The quality of design and materials for a car in this price class is generally high, satisfying to touch, and pleasing to look at.
The premium eight-speaker sound system played our favorite compilation CDs exactly as they sound at home on our high-end equipment, minus a bit of bass.
The Sync communications and entertainment system has a USB interface to connect with iPods and other MP3 players. Steering wheel and voice commands are used to control it. You can even tell Sync to play a specific artist, album or track stored on your MP3 player. The system can recognize Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, access their phonebooks, and play calls and read text messages through the speakers.
We had only minor complaints with the cabin. We thought there was too much glare off the main instrument cover, likewise with the radio face and the otherwise lovely analog clock.
The Mercury Milan's 221-hp V6 engine and Japanese Aisin six-speed automatic transmission give the driver the kind of power we all like when it comes to getting across the intersection or getting out of a tight spot. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of reserve after that, and there's not a lot of satisfaction in driving it hard.
The engine feels a bit choked and a bit underpowered, and doesn't sound like a powerful engine when prodded. A full-throttle kickdown maneuver causes the front end to pitch up a bit too high for our taste, leaving the front tires scrambling for traction and direction for an annoying split second. While this engine is adequate, the V6s offered by Honda, General Motors, Nissan and Toyota are more modern and have more power.
Fuel economy for the V6 is EPA rated at 26 mpg Highway and 18 mpg City. Those numbers drop to 17/25 mpg with all-wheel drive. The four-cylinder engine is rated at 20/29 mpg with the manual and 20/28 mpg with the automatic.
The four-cylinder engine has decent power but is not as strong as the four-cylinders offered by Honda, Nissan and Toyota. It requires planning and space to make a pass on a two-lane road. The standard five-speed manual transmission has numb, rubbery throws that are anything but sporty.
We found the steering to have a fairly hefty feel and effort at the wheel, but it was a bit too disconnected from the road surface for our taste. Aggressive cornering revealed the Milan to be predictable, with a slight bias toward understeer, which is the default handling characteristic for family cars. Handling was a bit sharper with the available 17-inch wheels and tires versus the base model's 16-inch tires. Stability at speed was impressive.
Ride quality, which we tested on the awful streets of Detroit, was quite good with either the 16- or 17-inch wheels. The Milan has lots of compliance to soak up bumps, doesn't exhibit much body roll, and is generally quiet and smooth in operation.
The brakes also proved to be strong and direct, without a lot of wasted pedal travel before deceleration starts to happen. It takes little effort to get the Milan to stop.
The Mercury Milan is a nice family car. From the waterfall grille up front to the brushed metallic trim inside, this is a Ford platform upgraded to Mercury status, with more standard equipment and more soul. Milan doesn't have the engines to compete with the best in the class, but it is comfortable, classy, and attractively priced. It rides nice on rough roads and is highly stable on the highway. All-wheel drive greatly enhances its safety and handling in slippery conditions.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed the original report from Dearborn, Michigan. Correspondent Kirk Bell contributed from Chicago.
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