The Montego is powered by a 203-hp V6. Front-wheel drive is standard. All-wheel drive is available for improved traction and handling in adverse conditions. The Montego was carefully engineered to protect occupants in the event of an accident. Safety engineers from Volvo worked directly on the Montego, drawing on the Swedish automaker's 50 years of advanced safety engineering.
The Montego offers one of the roomiest interiors in its class. Inspired by the ubiquitous sport utility vehicle, the Montego gives the driver a relatively high seating position and, consequently, excellent outward vision.
Its all-aluminum V6 engine features drive-by-wire electronic throttle control and is complemented by a six-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly and always seems to choose the right gear for the driving situation. The all-wheel-drive models come with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that's smooth and responsive and enhances fuel efficiency.
The steering and suspension are European in feel, offering quick response and minimal lean in corners. The brakes are excellent, responding quickly when the pedal is pressed and slowing the car quickly when necessary. Anti-lock brakes are standard on all Montegos, and all-speed traction control is standard on all but the base, front-drive model, where it's a no-cost option.
Montego excels in passive safety as well. Its basic structure was designed by Volvo, a company that built its reputation on safety before safety was fashionable. Add to that Ford Motor Company's Personal Safety System, which means that the inflation rate for the dual-stage front airbags is managed by a crash severity sensor and a weight sensor for the front-seat passenger. Side-impact and canopy-style airbags are optional. Thus equipped, Montego has earned top five-star ratings in frontal and side-impact crash testing by the federal government, and was named a best pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for frontal crash performance.
Mercury Montego Luxury ($24,430); Luxury AWD ($26,280); Premier ($26,880); Premier AWD ($28,730)
Otherwise, the Montego shares its general appearance with the Five Hundred. Their proportions of metal to glass are similar to that of Audi sedans, and the overall shape is not unlike that of the Volkswagen Passat. The Montego is tall for a modern sedan, a design influenced by SUVs.
High-intensity discharge headlamps are standard, as are large and bright tail lamps. The Luxury model comes with 17-inch alloy wheels while the Premium gets 18-inch alloy wheels, not just for looks but also for better brake cooling.
Safety was a top priority in Montego's design. Features that you can't see include energy-channeling frame structures engineered by Ford and Volvo that help absorb crash forces before they reach the passenger compartment, a strong crossmember in the roof, and an energy-absorbing cross-car tube that provides exceptional side-impact protection. In AWD models, even the central driveshaft collapses to protect Montego's occupants by absorbing crash energy. The Montego was designed to meet tough future standards for rear-end impacts.
Its trunk, at 21.2 cubic feet, is also the largest in its class (aided by a space-saver spare tire). Both rear seats and the front passenger seat can be made to fold down, extending the useful cargo area of the Montego to station wagon proportions. With the front seat flopped over, you get nearly 50 inches of storage length down the right side of the car.
Montego's interior design was influenced by SUVs. The beefy steering wheel looks like it came from an auto-show dream truck, with more buttons than ever for added convenience, easier operation of the cruise control, and more audio functions. Satin-aluminum cuffs accent the spokes on all 2006 models, making the wheel look more substantial. Other SUV design cues include the overhead console and the big brow shading the instruments. All the graphics are large, white on black, and very easy to read.
There's enough brushed aluminum trim to tell you you're in a Mercury. The Luxury model comes with a straight-grain wood trim, while the Premium gets burled wood trim. Three interior color schemes are available: two-tone grey, two-tone tan, and black.
A large, oval-shaped clock is the central feature of the instrument panel, which is dark on top and light on the bottom, just as the seats are dark on the outside and light on the inside (unless you opt for the all-black interior). The instruments are easy to read and the controls are easy and quick to use.
The driving position in the Montego is pleasantly high off the ground, affording excellent driver visibility. The seats sit about four inches higher than the seats in the discontinued Sable. Visually, they are a bit of a throwback, blocky and plain in appearance. But they are also large, plush and supportive. The rear seats are set up higher still so that rear-seat passengers can see out without craning.
Rated just 203 horsepower, the Montego looks weak compared to the Japanese and Korean competition, which reach up as high as 270 horsepower, but it tops the 190-hp V6 that's standard in the comparably priced Chrysler 300. (The highly publicized Hemi-powered 300C costs nearly $10,000 more.) Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 21/29 mpg City/Highway for front-drive models, while AWD models are rated at 19/26 mpg.
The Montego handles well on smooth roads at a moderate pace. It's a big car, however, and doesn't do as well when driven hard on bumpy, winding roads where it starts to protest by bobbing around a bit. The suspension, a modified version of the Volvo XC90 setup, performed just fine on smooth and medium-bumpy road surfaces, working with the stiff body and chassis to keep noise to a minimum. The rear suspension, located far outboard, kept the Montego hunkered down.
The all-wheel-drive system uses electronic controls to achieve optimum performance whether on dry, wet or snow-covered roads. Normally, only the front wheels are driven. But when an electro-hydraulic limited-slip coupling senses a difference in speed between the front wheels and rear wheels, it can distribute up to 100 percent of the driving torque to the rear.
The brakes are excellent for a car of this size and weight. The react quickly to pedal input, the pedal travel is short, and quick deceleration follows. The aluminum disc brakes on Montego are large, designed to offer more stopping power than previous designs, and give off less brake dust on the front wheels due to a change in friction material. Antilock brakes are standard, as is Electronic Brake-force Distribution. ABS helps the driver maintain steering control while using the brakes full force, especially on uncertain surfaces. EBD continuously and instantly shifts maximum braking force between front and rear wheels as needed to improve braking stability and reduce stopping distances.
The Mercury Montego is a five-passenger family sedan that's roomy and luxurious. It benefits from safety features and engineering developed by Volvo and all-wheel drive is available for bad weather and low-traction conditions. Both transmissions work well. The CVT that comes with AWD models is a vast improvement over earlier designs because of its electronic controls.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Dearborn, Michigan.