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New Car Review - 2004 Mercury Monterey Premier

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There has been a minivan in the Mercury lineup since the early 1990s, but don't confuse the new Monterey with the old Villager. They share nothing except the Mercury name. Following the evolution of the minivan, the Monterey is larger, more powerful, and considerably more modern than the Villager. In keeping with Mercury's upscale position, the Monterey is equipped with all of the amenities expected in a contemporary luxury minivan. Three trim levels, named ``Convenience,'' ``Luxury,'' and ``Premier,'' are offered. All have the latest Mercury styling, premium interior features and materials, and a torquey 4.2-liter V6 engine. I've just spent a week with a Premier-model Monterey. With its upscale features and conservative but stylish looks, the Monterey is meant not only for the best-known group of minivan buyers, families with children, but also for the other large group of minivan buyers - older ``empty-nesters'' who appreciate space, safety, and versatility. And the Monterey is pleasant, comfortable, and versatile. Plenty of interior space from its long-wheelbase design and fold-flat third-row and fold-and-tumble second-row seats give simple solutions to multiple of passenger and cargo combinations.

APPEARANCE: Mercury has recently developed a style of its own. It started with the 2002 Mountaineer SUV and is further developed in the lines of the Monterey. Conservative yet expressive ``clean and lean'' looks are highlighted by a distinctive satin-finished aluminum-look waterfall grille and trim on the door and liftgate handles and around the lights. The Mountaineer follows the standard, functional rounded one-and-a-half box minivan shape. Tasteful adornments add stylistic interest - angular character lines are cut into the hood, suggesting a fender line, and small fender blisters and a strong shoulder line give definition to the sides. Lower side cladding is there, but it's body-colored and hard to tell from the sheetmetal. Except for neat, brushed-aluminum-trimmed taillights, the rear styling is standard conservative minivan fare.

COMFORT: What is most important part of a minivan? The interior, of course. Minivans are bought because they can carry people and cargo comfortably and efficiently. And the Monterey will not disappoint. With comfy captain's chairs for the first and second rows and a standard third-row bench that folds flat into the floor, it holds up to seven people, although the three in the rear had best be small. The well behind the third row, into which the third row folds, keeps grocery bag contents and other items from rolling into hard-to-find places in the interior. Easily fold the counterweighted third-row bench into its hiding place, and there is a useful cargo area plus ample room for four people. If more cargo space is needed, the second-row captain's chairs fold, tumble, or can be removed. For passenger comfort in the upscale models, they are adjustable fore-and-aft as well as for setback angle. Access in the Premier model is helped by standard dual power sliding doors with pinch protection, controllable from the key fob, front overhead console, inside switches by the second-row seats, or by gently pulling on the inside or outside door handles. A power liftgate will be offered later in the model year, but the current manual version is counterbalanced for easy use. The Monterey's interior design is consistent with other new Mercury models, with an inside interpretation of the uncluttered ``clean and lean'' look. In the Premier model, standard adjustable pedals improve comfort and safety by allowing shorter drivers to move back from the steering wheel. Perforated leather seating surfaces for the first two rows add a luxury touch; heated and cooled front seats make excessively cold or hot and sticky days more tolerable. A tri-zone climate control system should keep both front and the rear passengers at their preferred temperatures. A special convex interior mirror allows the driver to keep an eye on all passengers - good news for Mom and Dad, not such good news for the kids.

SAFETY: Safety is important to car buyers today, especially minivan buyers. The Mercury Monterey has received the highest possible ratings in crash tests by the U.S. government (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Its chassis structure is designed to protect occupants, especially in offset frontal crashes. The ``Personal Safety System''(tm) electronically tailors the response of the front air bags and safety belt pretensioners and retractors to the severity of impact and occupant weight. The ``Safety Canopy'' (tm) system, standard on Luxury and Premier models, includes side curtain air bags and rollover protection sensors. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are standard, and the ``AdvanceTrac''(tm) stability-enhancement system is available.

ROADABILITY: On the road the Monterey feels like an American luxury car, with a soft, comfortable ride quality thanks to its long wheelbase and rigid structure. My test van had the optional self-sealing tires, which are a touch stiffer than the standard tires. This is noticeable but not overly objectionable over small bumps and freeway expansion joints, and is an acceptable tradeoff for flat-tire protection. Good soundproofing makes the highway experience quiet and untiring. Size matters - since this minivan weighs over two tons and has a relatively high center of gravity, it doesn't have the same response to steering inputs as a car, but, then, a car doesn't hold as much. For convenience and safety in parking, front and rear sensing systems are standard on all models. They give ample warning of objects around the vehicle.

PERFORMANCE: The Monterey's V6 engine is one of the largest in minivandom at 4.2 liters, and takes advantage of its displacement with a class-leading 263 lb-ft of torque at 3650 rpm. Horsepower is 201 at 4250 rpm. Unsurprisingly, given the strong torque, acceleration is good, and cruising is effortless. The four-speed automatic transmission is smooth in operation.

CONCLUSIONS: With its larger size and clean looks, the Mercury Monterey is at the heart of the luxury minivan class.

SPECIFICATIONS 2004 Mercury Monterey Premier

Base Price $ 34,840
Price As Tested $ 35,795
Engine Type pushrod overhead valve 12-valve V6
Engine Size 4.2 liters / 256 cu. in.
Horsepower 201 @ 4250 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 263 @ 3650 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 120.8 in. /201.5 in.
Curb Weight 4574 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 22.8 FuelCapacity 26.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P235/60 R16 Uniroyal Tiger Paw Nail-gard (opt)
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / semi-independent twist beam
Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 16 / 22 / 17 0 to 60 mph est. 11 sec
Towing capacity 3500 lbs. with towing package

Deluxe roof rack crossbars $ 75
Self-sealing tires $ 195
Destination and delivery $ 685