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2005 Mercury Montego Review

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A Fine Empty Nester Sedan
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau Chief

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mercedes-Benz

If you saw our review of the new Ford Five Hundred sedan a few weeks ago you’ll recognize the Mercury Montego. Most of the performance, handling and comfort comments will be familiar since they are virtually the same. In fact, the Montego, as you may know, is just a Five Hundred a bit dressed up. And that means it’s a fine car for its purpose.

Our test car is the Montego Premier (top-of-the-line) AWD in a rich maroon color called Merlot Metallic. Base price is $28,245 including standard 18-inch, 15-spoke, machined aluminum wheels with Pirelli P225/55 R18 tires, universal garage door opener, passenger power seat recliner, traction control, AM/FM/CDX6 audio system, adjustable pedal with memory, fog lamps, leather seating and a long list of other standard features. Options on our test car are power moon roof at $895, safety package (side air bags and side air curtain with rollover sensor) at $595 and reverse sensing system at $250. With the $650 destination charge our Montego stickers out at $30,635. The lesser Montego Luxury model starts out at $24,345 and has 17-inch, 7-spoke painted aluminum wheels, front-wheel-drive, 6-speed automatic transmission, cloth interior, and AM/FM/Singe CD stereo system as standard equipment.

Bigger than the Taurus, which it is slated to replace, and smaller than the full-size, rear-drive Crown Victoria, the Montego comes standard with front-wheel-drive mated to a Japanese-made 6-speed automatic transmission, or optional All-Wheel-Drive with continuously variable transmission. The AWD system automatically engages when it senses differences in wheel speed and is capable of sending all the power to the rear wheels if necessary. With available traction control it can also distribute power side to side at each axle.

The Montego is adequately powered by the 3.0-litre, 4-valve-per-cylinder, dual overhead cam, Duratec V-6. This high-tech, dependable power unit generates 203 horsepower and 207 lb.ft. of torque and is the only unit available on the Montego and it’s siblings, the Ford Five Hundred and Ford Freestyle.

Slide through the large but lightweight driver’s door and into the wide perforated leather-trimmed bucket seats. Notice the snazzy chrome rings around the simple gages. The wood trim on the dash and center control module is darker and more subtle than the brighter wood trim of the Five Hundred. Fit and finish are very good and materials, while nothing special, are just fine. The leather and brushed aluminum shifter feel solid and smooth. Scanning the gages and controls we find only a few that are not immediately recognizable. In the center of the dash is a small analog clock, above which is a wide, shallow storage compartment. All very nicely designed.

As with the Five Hundred we are impressed with the Montego’s openness and roominess inside, the most spacious sedan in its class, they claim. The high seating position (Ford has trademarked the term Command Seating), both front and rear, gives a good feeling of control and excellent visibility. Visibility is good all around as the glass area is certainly more generous than the bold Chrysler 300 with which the Montego competes . . . sort of. Rear seating is generous even with the front seats adjusted to accommodate a tall driver or passenger. And the seats are firm enough to be comfortable for long stints without being harsh as are some European seats.

Speaking of being roomy, take a look at the trunk - 21.2 cubic feet of volume, the most of any sedan, say the Mercury folks. With the 60/40 rear seat folded nearly 50 inches of floor length becomes available. To add more cargo space fold the front passenger seat forward for 9 feet of cargo area length.

Fuel mileage is listed at 21 city/29 highway for the FWD with 6-speed automatic and 19 city/26 highway for the AWD/CVT. Our observed mileage, with a good mixture of conditions (though not a lot of miles total) was 21.5 for our AWD/CVT test car. With regular unleaded fuel and a 19-gallon tank expect about a 350 mile comfortable cruising range.

Warrantee is at the low end of its competitors at 3-year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper. Safety systems are covered for 5 years and 50,000 miles and corrosion (defined as perforation) is covered for 5 years with unlimited mileage. There is no reason to think the Montego will be prone to any problems even though it is a mostly new vehicle. Since it shares a successful platform with its cousin the Volvo XC90, and since modern design and engineering are thoroughly tested by computers as well as in the real world, we shouldn’t obsess about potential first year troubles.

The Mercury Montego is one of many very competent, competitive sedans, both mid size and full size. With a dressier grille, flashier taillights and crisper trim its a tad prettier than its Ford sibling, but still rather conservative. While touted as a family sedan few typical Mom-and-Dad-with-2 -kids families would choose this over a minivan or sport-utility, in my view, but I can see lots of conservative empty nesters with a bias for American-made sedans going for this one.

In terms of driving impressions, I found it to be quite pleasant. Tight and quiet the ride is stable and modern. The Montego danced gracefully across our nearby, notoriously rough, railroad tracks without excessive thumpity-bump or jitter. Acceleration to pass on our nicely paved county two-lane was adequate but some planning ahead is recommended. Seat, steering wheel and pedal adjustments ought to accommodate most any size driver. My pretty blonde in the passenger’s seat was impressed with the look and feel of her spot and she particularly likes that cute little cubby in the dash and the classy looking analog clock.

We were fortunate to have the Montego during our last (we hope) heavy show of the season and can attest to the “seemlessness” claimed by the Ford folks when bragging on the automatic All-Wheel-Drive system. I did not feel it working but was impressed by the straight-line acceleration in about six inches of wet snow with frozen surface below. I thrashed it gently side-to-side without disturbing it in the least – an excellent job, indeed, by the HALDEX coupling, just forward of the rear axle, that is responsible for distributing the torque to the wheel where it is needed.

Rumor has it that Ford and Mercury are planning a mid cycle styling update for these unnecessarily conservative, but well designed, sedans. A wise move, I say. They are pleasant enough but to compete in the world automotive market today a product must be more than good, more than competent, it must be exciting. Another 50 horsepower and a touch of pizzazz is all it needs.