Many years ago, I would accompany my (first) wife to her pottery studio, where she not only threw new pots but also worked on earlier ones that had partially dried. It was this crucial trimming procedure that made them into finished art.
Such is the case of Mercury's popular Milan midsize sedan, which has been significantly upgraded for the 2010 model year. Everything from styling to road noise to driving performance has been carefully and systematically improved, to where it now belongs high on the list for anyone seeking an enjoyable and efficient midsized car.
Giving the Milan a hybrid powertrain places it in its own niche. The sedan looks more traditional than the hybrid poster child Prius (also new for 2010) but is significantly more fuel efficient than Toyota's midsized Camry sedan-the Milan's direct competition. The Milan Hybrid rates 41 City and 36 Highway fuel economy from the EPA's standard tests-and offers a range of up to 700 miles.
Yes, the Prius boasts 51/48 EPA numbers - top of the chart - but both it and the Milan receive the same super high EPA Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas scores of 9.5 and 10 respectively.
The Milan does not proclaim its greenness as you drive down the road. It wears subtle emblems and unique wheels, but that's about it. What it does boast is a very comfortable ride and attractive interior layout. The Mercury folks went through the car and added sound insulation, nicely fitted soft dash panels, art quality gauges, and more comfortable seats to the already well sorted package. They even improved the steering feel.
I think that Ford Motor Company is well aware that these midsized sedans are their mainstream cars of the next decade - not the lumbering Explorers and Expeditions that flourished in the 1990s - and they want them to be as competitive as possible.
Milans are sold as sedans only. The entry point is the well equipped Milan with a Duratec 175-horsepower 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. You can step up to the Premier level with added content. You also can order the Premier with a 240-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 and all-wheel drive. The Hybrid, at the top of the menu, mates a 156-horsepower version of the 2.5-liter four with a 106-horsepower electric motor.
Prices range from $21,180 for the base car up to $27,800 for the V6 Premier AWD, with the Hybrid just below at $27,500. Add $725 for delivery charges, and of course, numerous options are available, including Ford's highly acclaimed SYNC system, which gives you voice control over your entertainment system.
As I piloted my Brilliant Silver Milan Hybrid around, I tried to get the maximum efficiency out of it. It's normal for hybrids to offer some kind of monitor that not only informs you of your efficiency but rewards you for driving that way consistently. The Milan's SmartGauge™ with EcoGuide provides two, high-resolution, full-color liquid crystal display (LCD) screens on either side of the analog speedometer that you can configure to show different levels of information, including fuel and battery power levels and average and instant miles-per-gallon. My favorite display shows growing leaves and vines as you drive efficiently down the road.
A tutorial mode built into the display helps you learn about the instrument cluster in a friendly, nontechnical way. You can select one of four data screens to choose the information level displayed.
All levels can show instant fuel economy, fuel economy history, odometer, engine coolant temperature, what gear the car is in and trip data (trip fuel economy, time-elapsed fuel economy and miles to empty).
What's amazing is not only how smoothly and easily this all works, but that the Milan will go up to 47 miles per hour in pure electric mode for short trips.
"Because our hybrid can run at a much higher speed in electric mode, you can do so much more in city-driving situations," said Gil Portalatin, Hybrid Applications Manager. "Under the right conditions, you can drive in your neighborhood or mall parking lots without using a drop of gasoline."
Like all hybrids, the Milan recharges itself from regenerative braking, and it's not particularly intrusive here.
I averaged 34.6 miles per gallon during a week that included significant stretches on the freeway. I earned many leaves and vines. I also tested short runs. For example, my 1.5-mile mostly downhill run to Togo's gave me an astounding 52 miles per gallon one way. However, proving how averaging works, my return trip, which is mostly uphill, delivered "only" 26.5 mpg.
Built in Hermosillo, Mexico, the Mercury Milan proves that there are good options today for buying (North) American.