FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- On Florida's Gold Coast in Fort Lauderdale, we're trolling the beach-bordered route A1A, South Atlantic Boulevard, driving a luxurious new hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) badged as a Mercury model from the Lincoln-Mercury Division of Ford Motor Company.
It's labeled as the 2010 Milan Hybrid and amounts to a fuel-efficient gas-electric execution on the mid-size Milan four-door sedan, a gasoline-powered vehicle which fits size-wise in Mercury's lineup just below the flagship Sable.
Milan shares DNA with Ford's Fusion sedan, as the architecture for both vehicles stems from a front-wheel-drive (FWD) platform which traces in root form back to Mazda's mid-size Mazda6 sedan.
New bodywork on Milan Hybrid forges a fresh style on 2010 issues.
At the prow the car's chin extends forward as the fascia moves lower toward the pavement to form a broader and sportier stance. Huge corner headlamp clusters gain multi-element projector-beam lamps, as the vertical-bar grille shines in satin aluminum finish.
Also present are new aerodynamic elements around the base of the body plus underbody shields designed to enhance Milan's fuel economy numbers.
Flanks show slight bulges for fenders around large wheels with a chiseled character line etched into the leading edge of each front fender and drawn rearward in a gradual rise to the tail deck. And a high beltline pitched parallel to the character line has a satin aluminum trim strip along the bottom edge of cabin windows.
On the tail, there are large red light-emitting diode (LED) lamps streaked by metal crossbars studding upper corners of the trunk deck.
This is a tall structure. Doors run deep to make cabin entry and exit easy and seats are elevated so passengers sit in a higher position than in other sedans of similar size.
Inside the four-door passenger compartment, Milan Hybrid seems generous in scale with notable room for riders.
The cabin layout is familiar -- two bucket seats in front flanking a multi-level console and a sculptured bench for three in back with seatbacks divided and foldable.
Style of the cabin is uncluttered and clean, and the materials and craftsmanship seem to be a cut above other cars in this price and size class.
However, the aspect which makes Mercury's Milan Hybrid differ from a conventional Milan concerns the fact that it contains not one but two motors in the engine compartment.
There's a fuel-efficient 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that drinks 87-octane unleaded gasoline plus a battery-powered electric traction motor of permanent-magnet design.
The AC (alternating current) synchronous electric motor is capable of propelling the car by itself, or it can work in concert with the gasoline engine to deliver a power boost that's comparable to the kick of a V6.
An electronic control module manages all energy produced by the two plants and applies it directly to the front wheels in infinitely variable measures through the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT).
Virtually silent at start-up with only the electric motor switching on, Milan Hybrid leaps forward on command with help from the electric motor, which can propel the car up to 47 mph.
When more power is needed, a generator cranks up the gasoline engine in only a fraction of a second.
At highway speeds the gas-fired engine does most of the motivating, while in reverse gear it's the electric motor that handles all of the work, and the electric motor also serves as the primary plant in stop-and-go traffic on city streets where a gas engine is inefficient.
Power from the gasoline engine is utilized in two different ways. One portion of this energy is used to turn the car's front wheels, while another portion powers an electric generator that runs the electric motor, which in turn sends the supplemental power to the wheels.
Stomp the accelerator to leap into a passing lane and the electric motor adds an extra boost, yet for such a heavy demand of power the operating energy for the motor comes directly from a bank of on-board batteries.
Internal recharging occurs either during braking, when the gas engine operates as a generator, or when the electric generator does the recharging job. Thus, Milan Hybrid never needs to be plugged in for recharging as would a purely electric vehicle.
The four-cylinder gasoline plant has dual overhead cams and intake variable cam timing (i-VCT), which allows the switch between gas and electric mode, plus modifications for fuel-efficient combustion under the Atkinson-cycle concept.
It develops 156 hp at 6000 rpm plus torque of 136 lb-ft at 2250 rpm.
The 275-volt electric motor, tied to a smaller and lighter-weight nickel-metal hydride battery, kindles power measured in kilowatts, but it's the approximate equivalent of 106 hp at 6500 rpm.
Combined output for Milan Hybrid's gas and electric motors is estimated at about 191 hp.
Fuel economy figures rise to 41 mpg for running on city streets and 36 mpg for highway driving.
Note that Milan Hybrid achieves better fuel efficiency when plowing city streets in start-and-stop traffic rather than when cruising at a swifter pace on a highway. That's because in city traffic with frequent stops the electric motor takes over.
Passive safety equipment aboard Milan Hybrid include smart dual-stage frontal air bags for front riders, seat-mounted side air bags up front and curtain-style side air bags for outboard seats in front and back.
Gear promoting active safety ranges from a rack and pinion steering mechanism to four-wheel disc brakes which link to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control (ESC) system.
The list of standard equipment on Milan Hybrid ranges from 17-inch aluminum wheels and 225/50R17 all-season tires to power controls for windows and door locks, electronic automatic climate controls, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 110-volt power point, six-disc CD/MP3 stereo, and a reverse sensing system (RSS).
Options include leather upholstery, a navigation package, driver vision package and Mercury Sync for voice-activated control over in-car phones, media players and USB storage devices.
Mercury sets MSRP figures for Milan Hybrid at a low level beginning at $27,500.