2006 Mercury Milan
The 2006 Mercury Milan is a new midsize sedan, and it's the best car Mercury has had for many years. Designed to compete with the Toyota Camry and other midsize family cars, the Milan is based on the superb Mazda 6 platform. It's smaller than the Montego and will be Mercury's entry-level car from now on. It shares much in common with the new Ford Fusion.
This Mercury has that just right look about it, and it's about time. It's one of the most stylish, contemporary Mercury sedans since the first one showed up in 1939. Perhaps it's not as adventurous in design as the 1957 Turnpike Cruiser with its cantilevered roof and power rear window.
But the new Milan is able to swallow and nestle at least four normal Americans inside, with more room here and there on the spec sheet than some very expensive cars. The interior is inviting and comfortable, the materials are very good, it's easy to use, and the detailing is better than average. We liked the contrast stitching in the seats. Fold-down rear seats add an extra measure of space and utility.
The Milan is available with four-cylinder and V6 engines. The V6 gets an EPA-rated 29 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.
Mercury Milan ($18,995), Milan Premier ($21,995)
Walk AroundThe 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 taillamps. The doors are the only shared body panels between the Milan, Fusion, Mazda 6, and the upcoming Lincoln Zephyr.
The traditional Mercury waterfall grille, as opposed to the Ford Fusion three-bar grille, is surrounded by a much more conventional-looking combination headlamp units (versus the Ford version's trapezoidal headlamps).
Out back, the high decklid is framed by a pair of bright LED taillamps that look like they came from a Japanese or German car, large and nicely integrated. The side view is pumped up several notches on the Premier version with its 14-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels and relatively fat 225/50 tires.
InteriorOn our silver Premier, the interior was black leather with contrasting white stitching on the seats and steering wheel, with black and white switchgear, black and white instrumentation with chrome rings, and lots of satin-finish metal panels to set off the black and white. Very tasty. And if you don't like the satin and patterned aluminum trim, there's a Wales Mahogany interior trim option at no charge.
The deeply bucketed front seats were especially cozy, more of an in seat than an on seat. 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. With the seat down, you get the 15.8 cubic feet in the trunk plus another 46 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats, making it into a once-in-a-while station wagon.
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 cupholders, 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 was generally quite high, satisfying to touch and 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.
We thought there was too much glare off the main instrument cover, likewise with the radio face and the otherwise lovely analog clock.
Driving ImpressionsThe Mercury Milan Premier's 221-horsepower 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, but 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 will also get the front end to pitch, too quickly and too high for our taste, leaving the front tires scrambling for traction and direction for an annoying split second.
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, a minimum-effort, minimum-feel tuning, but most people will probably not notice much difference either way. High-speed handling showed predictable, normal and usual levels of understeer.
The ride, over the universally awful streets of Detroit, was quite good, with lots of compliance to soak up bumps, not too much body roll, and quiet, smooth operation.
The brakes, on the other hand, were strong and direct, without a lot of wasted pedal travel before deceleration starts to happen, and low effort-to-stop ratio.
The Mercury Milan is a thoroughly nice family car given the confines of its very friendly price. From the waterfall grille up front to the brushed metallic trim all over the interior, this is a Ford platform upgraded to Mercury status, with more standard equipment and more soul than the Ford version. The Milan's main competitors are the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Pontiac G6 and Chevrolet Malibu. Mercury is attacking with attractive pricing and an attractive leasing strategy to attract young and first-time Mercury buyers.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in Dearborn, Michigan.