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New Car Review


by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSOL Mercury Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 24,975
Price As Tested                                    $ 29,750
Engine Type                             3.0 Liter V6 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 182 cid/2960 cc
Horsepower                                   151 @ 4800 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               174 @ 4400 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  112.2"/73.8"/189.9"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3955 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                    20 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P205/75R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                      Seven-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                 60 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            17/23/21
0-60 MPH                                         11 seconds
Payload                                         1200 pounds
Top speed                                           105 mph
   * Sequential fuel injection

Back in 1994, Mercury needed a minivan quickly to compete in the already-burgeoning minivan market. It wisely chose one based on the popular Nissan Quest. Almost four years later, with Villager close to a total makeover, its changes for 1998 are very minimal.

There are three Villager models: GS, LS and the upscale Nautica, which recently became unavailable in California. Our test vehicle was an LS model that carried over $6,000 in optional equipment.

OUTSIDE - Villager is one of the better-looking minivans on the market today. It looks smaller in stature than some of the others on the market, which gives it an advantage at the mall parking lot. The wedged shape and long nose is reminiscent of a shape used by another builder, though that maker has since revamped its minivan lineup. Villager's chrome grille was added last year, replacing the light bar that swept across its front. Our test LS model wore special monotone paint with a body-color grille and mirrors, along with a Gold Sport package, which adds gold-colored alloy wheels and insignias on the rear lift gate and grille. A gold accent stripe also runs the length of the bodyside molding. Our test car was also equipped with an optional power sunroof and a flip-open rear window. A very functional roof rack is standard.

INSIDE - Excellent visibility is a trademark with minivans, but with Villager's low cowl and huge windows, it's visibility from inside is better than most. Villager is quite comfortable as well, with enough seats for seven passengers and a bit of room left over for cargo between the rear seat and the tailgate. Seating combinations are a focus with Villager, and our LS test model featured four bucket seats up front and middle and a three-across bench in the rear. This seat slides easily on rails that are hidden in the floor, and after removing the second-row seats, can slide all the way up to the backs of the front seats, or removed entirely. With all seats removed except for the front two, there is 126 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Add the two-passenger second-row seat and a pair of optional integrated child seats are available.

ON THE ROAD - Powered by a 151 horsepower version of Nissan's 3.0 liter single-cam V6 engine, Villager pulls well to highway speeds with ample output for passing and climbing mountain grades. High rpms, however, cause it to quickly run out of steam. Admittedly, horsepower is not the strong point of the utilitarian minivan class, but others of the genre are now topping the 200 horsepower mark, which gives them surprising speed and acceleration. An electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission is the sole, logical gearbox choice, and gives velvety, almost imperceptible gear changes, but sometimes has difficulty deciding when to shift on uphill grades. Despite this, Villager's powertrain is smooth and quiet, and doesn't provide much cause for concern. Hopefully an upgrade in power will arrive for 1999.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Driveability is where Villager really shines, as it drives very much like a sedan. Front MacPherson strut and rear beam axle suspension is quite ordinary in design, but they provide handling that is very impressive for a minivan. It offers a decent payload at 1200 pounds, but adding heavy cargo forces the suspension to bottom-out on larger bumps. Minimal pitching and diving, along with excellent grip in corners doesn't adhere to the minivan preconception, while precise steering from its power rack-and-pinion system seems to sweeten the whole picture. Like many vans of this size, it is somewhat sensitive to excessive crosswinds, but it mostly tracks very straight and true on the highway. Noise levels inside are very low, thanks to lots of insulation and a quiet engine, while its front disc/rear drum with ABS braking system provided good stopping power with minimal fade.

SAFETY - Dual front "depowered" airbags, side impact beams and ABS are all standard.

OPTIONS - The preferred package 696A ($3,935) adds power seats, keyless remote, quad captain's chairs, heated outside mirrors, tilt steering, cruise control, lighted vanity mirrors and auto/off headlamps. A high-power CD system adds $865, while the power sunroof is $775.