2006 Mercury Milan Premier Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
Mercury, like all automakers, would like to attract new and younger customers. And that's a challenge. Many of the young, upscale potential Mercury customers are people who have grown up with imports, and have never considered an American-brand car. And many of those potential customers, if they think of Mercury at all, most likely think of an older relative's Grand Marquis. Not surprising - the Grand Marquis has been the best-selling Mercury for the past quarter-century or so. But a Grand Marquis is by no stretch of the imagination a youth-market vehicle.
In order to sell Mercurys to a new and younger group, a completely new and very different Mercury is required. Such as the new 2006 Milan. It's the first small Mercury sedan in several years, and the latest addition to the growing Mercury lineup. Market research convinced Mercury that a large proportion of potential customers in their 20s and 30s ``shop outside mainstream brands'' for clothing, furniture, and home accessories. Mercury, at this point in time, is definitely outside of the mainstream for many potential Milan buyers. Said Lincoln Mercury president Darryl Hazel, ``We are re-introducing Mercury to young adults - we think they'll enjoy driving the Milan much more than they enjoyed riding in the back seat of grandma's Grand Marquis as kids.''
Market research and marketing ultimately matter much less than product. In order to reach its intended customers, Mercury needs product, and the product needs to be competitive with some very good cars. After driving a Milan Premier for the past week, I think Mercury is on the right track. The Milan, like its fraternal twin, the Ford Fusion, is a front-wheel drive car offered with both four-cylinder and V6 engines. The 2.3-liter, 160-hp four comes with a choice of five-speed manual or automatic transmissions; the 221-hp 3.0-liter V6 is matched to a six-speed automatic. There are two trim levels with each powertrain, base and Premier.
In Premier V6 trim, the Milan fits in an interesting niche. It's smaller than what's considered ``mid-size'' today, but just barely, and much larger than compact. It's better-appointed than middle-class, if not quite as refined as near-luxury, with leather, a good audio system, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes standard. The price, however, at $23,495 base including destination, is much more middle-class than near-luxury. The Milan is comfortable on the road, with an excellent suspension tuning. Performance is good, fuel economy at around 20mpg in town and 28 on the highway according to the trip computer, is very good. It looks like Mercury is finding its groove.
APPEARANCE: A little sheetmetal makes a world of difference. Although the Milan and Fusion share roof and door panels, unique front and rear styling differentiates them and effectively hides any similarity. The two cars have very different visual characters. Mercury has developed its own distinctive design language, first introduced with the 2002 Mountaineer SUV. In front, the signature Mercury waterfall grille in satin chrome is prominently displayed amid rounded and sculpted forms that have a European look. Bodywork that rises toward the rear, and a high rear deck, give a suggestion of performance, with European-style elegance from just the right touch of chrome trim. The wheels fully fill the slightly-flared wheel arches. Interesting wraparound trapezoidal taillights with clear sections over red LED highlight the rear.
COMFORT: Neat trick - the Milan seems larger inside than out. The fresh, international styling, with a variety of soft-touch materials and upscale textures, and bright faux-aluminum trim across the instrument panel and on the center stack, contributes, but the feeling of space is no illusion. Seating is leather in the Premier. Front passengers get good sports-type seat; the driver' seat is power-adjustable for all cushion parameters, with the passenger's manual. The rear seat offers good head and leg room, and a useful spring-loaded split folding feature, with the releases in the trunk. Back up front, automatic climate control is part of the ``Comfort Package,'' as are a leather rim and cruise and auxiliary audio controls on the standard manually tilt- and reach-adjustable steering wheel. All Milan audio systems are MP3CD-compatible, with Premier models having a 6-CD in-dash changer. Around the cabin, there are a variety of useful storage spaces, including a covered box atop the dash, and cupholders and power outlets.
SAFETY: The Milan's structure is designed to meet or exceed all safety standards for the foreseeable future. Ford's ``Personal Safety System''(tm), with dual-deployment front airbags, and load-limiting safety belt retractors and pretensioners. Front side and full-length side-curtain airbags are standard in Premier models, as are antilock brakes and traction control.
RIDE AND HANDLING: A rigid structure and good use of soundproofing materials make the Milan smooth and quiet on the road. A fully-independent suspension, with short-and-long-arm unequal-length double wishbones in front and a multilink setup in the rear, is tuned for a very good balance between comfort and handling. It's firmer than the norm for an American-style semi-luxury sedan, and so more European, with good shock damping. Handling is very good, on country roads as well as highways, and it's a fine car in which to cover distance. The only minor drawback is a large turning circle.
PERFORMANCE: Where the Milan stands out is its six-speed automatic transmission, which allows a wider spread of gear ratios for both quicker acceleration and improved fuel economy. The venerable 3.0-liter Duratec V6 now has variable valve timing on its intake cams for lower emissions and improved torque. With 221 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 205 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm, it can accelerate the 3300-lb car quickly - 60 mph comes up in just over 7.5 seconds flat out. Yet I averaged 20 mpg around town and 28 on the highway, very close to the EPA 21/29 figures. It meets Federal LEV II and California ULEV II emissions standards. Although the transmission lacks a manual shift mode, the six speeds and good shift logic keep that from being a problem, even in moderately enthusiastic driving.
CONCLUSIONS: Mercury is going in the right direction wit its 2006 Milan.
SPECIFICATIONS 2006 Mercury Milan Premier Base Price $ 22,845 Price As Tested $ 24,495 Engine Type aluminum alloy dual overhead cam 24-valve V6 with variable valve timing on the intake camshafts Engine Size 3.0 liters / 182 cu. in. Horsepower 221 @ 6250 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 205 @ 4800 rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 107.4 in. / 191.4 in. Curb Weight 3303 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.2 Fuel Capacity 18 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P225/50 VR17 Michelin Pilot HX mxm4 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard on Premier Suspension, front/rear independent short-and-long arm / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / (observed) 21(20) / 29 (28) 0 to 60 mph est. 7.5 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Comfort Package - includes: automatic air conditioning, automatic headlights, leather steering wheel with cruise controls, electrochromic mirror, foglamps, compass, heated power outside mirrors with puddle lamps $595 Safety/Security Package - includes: Front side and side curtain airbags, anti-theft perimeter alarm $595 Heated front seats $295 Traction control $ 95 Audophile sound system $420 Destination and delivery $650