Like every Mercury, the newly designed 2010 Mercury Milan intends to be a more refined, up-market restatement of its Ford sister car, in this case, the Ford Fusion. Where base models of the Ford are thrifty and flintily efficient, the Milan offers more than a hint of luxury and style, and at bargain prices.
From outside, the Mercury Milan features a unique, toothy grille that growls with aggression. The sleek nose and canted headlight-surrounds express a dynamic, sporting character, and the car's flanks have a similarly attractive muscularity. In the homogenized world of low-priced mid-size sedans, the clean world-car looks of the Mercury Milan stand as a thoroughly convincing American alternative to the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and other midsize sedans from Japan.
The Milan interior is similarly striking. Featuring what Mercury calls a more technical look, the dashboard and interior are highlighted with stylish satin aluminum metal trim. Attractive black pebble grain covers the dash surfaces, which are fully equipped with added-value comforts and conveniences. Leather seating is standard in most models, another testament to Mercury's upscale aspirations.
The 2010 Milan provides an excellent array of powertrain choices. For those intent on green fuel efficiency, the Milan Hybrid has been rated by the EPA at a spectacular 41/36 mpg, City/Highway. For more power-hungry drivers, Milan's top-of-the-line 3.0-liter Duratec V6 delivers a forceful 240 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque. And for those who want good fuel mileage without paying the Hybrid's hefty price premium, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder like the one in our test vehicle delivers 175 horsepower, 172 pound-feet of torque and more than enough acceleration to keep pace with the race. Further, EPA rates the four-cylinder at 22/31 mpg, sensational figures in any mid-size sedan. For perspective, the diminutive, notably fuel-stingy Mini Cooper S only gets 23/32 mpg.
Mercury Milan is a capacious, handsome and winsomely efficient design that can go toe to toe with any mid-size low-price family sedan in the world. Even its four-cylinder variant provides vigorous performance. And its handling, stability and list of features, including available all-wheel drive, put it very high on our list.
Mercury Milan ($21,180), Premier ($24,320); Milan V6 Premier AWD ($27,800); Milan Hybrid ($27,500)
Mercury Milan and Ford Fusion are intimately related, sharing their structure, overall appearance and much of their equipment. But in the styling language of Ford designers, the Mercury is intended to make a dramatically different impression than the Fusion. The Fusion's front fascia is understated, with an all-business grille like a three-blade razor. By contrast, the Milan displays a huge gleaming grin that leads directly up-market toward Lincoln luxury.
Milan and Fusion exhibit the same athletic, ready-to-pounce stance. And no wonder. Both are bona fide world cars, with well-polished over-the-road agility and more than enough performance to make that agility relevant.
The Milan, with its luxury keynotes, is more grandiosely American than the Fusion, its Euro sister, but it still has the crisp look and sporty stance that owe a debt to Ford's profitability designing, building and selling cars worldwide. The Milan's aggressive grille and racecar-like undergrille aren't just for show, either; this is a contemporary mid-size sedan that is meant to devour large portions of interstate and look great doing it.
On its left-rear flank is Ford's capless fuel filler, one of those ideas that's so bright it hurts. Why didn't someone think of this decades ago?
Our Mercury Milan Premier test car with four-cylinder engine was neither the top of the Mercury line nor its bottom, yet its interior felt distinctly like a Mercury, delivering a little luxury at a bargain price.
The leather seating our Milan Premier was first class. The side bolsters and seat cushion lateral support were firmer than the Ford Fusion's. They hold the driver comfortably in place no matter how vigorous the maneuvering gets. Their leather seating panels were interspersed with breathable inserts in the center and back?good when the heat starts to climb.
The rear seats are really two semi-buckets flanked by a slab over the center hump to allow seating for three. Lateral support is minimal for the two primary back seats, while the center seat is for volunteers only. (Milan seats up to five.) On the plus side, the rear combines ample roominess for two with easy ingress and egress.
The black pebble grain dash was classy and rich looking. The instruments, distinguished from the Ford Fusion's by a clever faux three-dimensional appearance with a halo-like illumination of needles and dials, were attractive and effective in all but high daylight. In the latter, however, the speedometer numbers were hard to make out. Instrumentation was reasonably complete and included a water-temperature gauge. The message center below the speedometer can be configured to display average mpg, elapsed time, trip odometer for two different trips and fuel miles to empty. Switchgear is chrome trimmed, substantial and confidence inspiring.
The steering wheel contained cruise control and audio settings, and the adjusters were properly designed so that one doesn't inadvertently brush them while turning, accidentally re-selecting the audio. Excellent. And the optional Sony 12-speaker/six-CD audio with Sirius satellite was equally impressive.
Soft ambient lighting is available, providing cozy pale-blue illumination for the center console cupholders and other tasks that do not require turning on the interior lights.
The trunk offers a generous 11.8 cubic feet of stowage with low lift-over.
Concealed behind the Milan's surrounding interior panels is a full complement of front, side and curtain airbags. The car scored high marks in government crash-safety ratings: a maximum five stars for driver and passenger frontal crashes, five stars for front-seat side crashes, and four stars for rear-seat side crashes and vehicle rollover.
Our Milan Premier was a vigorous performer despite using the 2.5-liter Duratec four-cylinder instead of the more powerful 3.0-liter V6. In times past, the four-cylinder engine might have been chosen only because it was cheaper, obliging buyers to accept weak performance as an unhappy financial trade-off.
In the Milan, however, this smaller, 2.5-liter engine is a win/win. It costs less initially, provides entirely adequate performance, and delivers a stellar EPA-rated 31 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg in town. Unless you're Parnelli Jones, there is no downside.
Throttle response from the 2.5-liter engine was immediate, linear and smooth, and its ample 172 foot-pounds of torque ensured good acceleration from any low speed. Engine noise was audible, though not unpleasantly so, during acceleration. At highway cruising speeds, however, engine noise, wind noise and outside racket were negligible. This is a very quiet sedan.
The Milan's handling suggests anything but a bargain-priced midsize sedan. Its electrical variable-assist power steering is crisp and just weighty enough to deliver good feedback. Cornered vigorously, the chassis is well damped, without being in the least harsh or stiff. In fact, driven hard, the Milan is more agile, with less body roll, than either the latest Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. First rate.
All Milan transmissions are six-speeds, whether manual (in the base model) or automatic. Our automatic shifted deftly, almost undetectably. However, when low range was selected manually or the transmission was asked to kick down for acceleration, it proved slow and disappointingly balky in doing so. Overall, we rate the automatic highly and think it is an excellent choice for either engine.
The ABS four-wheel disc brakes did their job unobtrusively and effectively. The pedal was easily modulated to adjust braking force, and when asked, it provided powerful stopping. In addition, the brake system does double duty, serving as the operative force in the car's on-demand electronic stability control and traction control.
The Mercury Milan is a comfortable, roomy, well-tuned and safe driving machine with spirited, sporting road manners. It delivers finesse and sophistication well beyond that of many of its Asian competitors. And with optional all-wheel drive, it will offer dependable all-season transportation.
Ted West filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Milan Premier.