BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The sleek sedan, stretching long and drawn with taut lines across the bowed-roof profile, zips along pothole-splotched Jefferson Road as it treks through Michigan farmlands west of Detroit.
Riding on an elongated platform from Ford via Volvo of Sweden and employing independent suspension elements tuned to produce rather sporty maneuvers on big tires, our tester car glides smoothly over the turbulent pavement.
Of course, we're pushing this vehicle to the limit of all laws of physics in order to sample the promised agile handling traits of a European touring car.
And we find a lot of firepower at our disposal, thanks to a beefy new V6 engine aboard which ties to a six-speed electronic automatic transaxle with standard front-wheel-drive (FWD) or optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
Within spacious boundaries of a deluxe five-seat passenger compartment, only muted sounds from the road and engine or wind seem to penetrate.
One driver, strapped securely in a firm bucket clad in soft leather hides with contoured bolsters supporting hips and spine, faces an instrument panel of clean and simple design with black-faced analog gauges highlighted with vivid green lettering and blue needles.
A leather-wrapped steering wheel stands directly ahead and on the right the leather-capped stalk of the automatic transmission's shifter lever thrusts up from the flat deck of a multi-function console.
Behind the driver is a broad bench with room for three adults to stretch their legs, although the seat has two positions molded to fit like buckets and the seatback splits 60/40 in sections. With seatbacks folded down, the backseat converts into a cargo compartment.
The stylish body of this sedan presents a bold face and high arching silhouette with a tall beltline and taut character lines honed from the blunted prow to a stubby tail.
Up front, the face features vertical grille bars in satin chrome tucked between huge corner headlights containing projector-beam lamps.
On the tail, there are equally large light-emitting diode (LED) lamps.
Insignia in satin chrome on flanks and tail reveal the familiar nameplate of a popular Mercury model from the past.
It's a Sable, new 2008 flagship sedan from Mercury.
The name of Sable traces to 1986 in Mercury's line although it was replaced in 2005 by Montego, a sedan measuring much larger than Sable and bringing traits of a precise European touring car due to a rigid platform borrowed from Volvo, Sweden's automaker under the corporate umbrella of Ford.
New Sable of 2008 captures the Sable badge on a new and improved version of Montego -- Mercury claims it worked over 500 changes into the new issues.
Perhaps the most important improvement concerns the powertrain: There's a larger V6 pumping more horsepower.
The fuel-efficient dual-cam 3.5-liter V6 produces 263 hp at 6250 rpm and torque of 249 lb-ft at 4500 rpm.
By comparison, Ford's Duratec 3.0-liter aluminum V6 in the 2005 Montego delivered 203 hp at 5750 rpm plus torque of 207 lb-ft at 4550 rpm.
The horsepower bump represents about 30 percent more muscle for Sable yet -- since the new V6 operates more efficiently -- fuel economy numbers actually improve by a couple of miles per gallon.
EPA estimates for the new engine amount to 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for Sable FWD and 18/28 mpg city/highway for Sable AWD.
The optional AWD device on Sable is an electronically controlled system developed by Haldex, a Swedish pioneer in AWD mechanisms.
It's always engaged and automatically splits the engine's torque between front and rear wheels to keep tires sticking securely to pavement, wet or dry.
The point of the AWD hardware is to maintain forward momentum and keep the vehicle operating in a safe mode.
Consider the new Sable as a premium mid-size sedan which has the body of a mid-size model but the cabin of a big car with seats for five plus luxury gear and an enormous trunk with a capacity greater than most large sedans.
Sable has a long wheelbase of 112.9 inches. The body when measured from tip to tail stretches for 202.1 inches, and it's 74.5 inches wide with a bowed roof rising to 61.5 inches tall -- and the trunk has 21.2 cubic feet of space.
Doors run deep to make cabin entry easy and seats are elevated so passengers sit about four inches higher than in other sedans of comparable size. Mercury labels the design as 'Command Seating' and compares the upright seat position to that of a crossover utility vehicle (CUV).
And while the beltline is high, so too is the wrap of windows around the cabin so a driver has good sight lines with virtually no blind spots -- note triangular glass in rear roof pillars to diminish corner vision blockage.
Issues of personal safety in Sable are addressed with strong structural elements and energy-absorbing crush zones front and rear plus a variety of active and passive safety systems aboard. Both trim versions contain smart dual-stage frontal air bags for front riders, plus seat-mounted side air bags up front and Ford's Safety Canopy curtain-style side air bags.
Equipment promoting active safety includes a fast rack and pinion steering mechanism and four-wheel disc brakes tied to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and traction control system (TCS), with Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic anti-skid device on the option sheet.
Sable trims to a well-equipped base model and the luxurious Premier.
Base issue Sable stocks air conditioning, a key fob and a fold-flat front passenger seat with power controls, plus an audio kit with AM-FM, a CD player and an audio input jack for MP3 players, and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
Sable Premier supplies supple two-tone leather seats highlighed by contrast stitching and a perforated pattern.
For trim, choose a technical appearance package with Cyber Carbon, high-gloss material resembling carbon fiber, or wood grain accents -- Guitar Maple and San Macassar.
Optional gear includes dual-zone climate controls, a backseat DVD video kit, voice-activated navigation system, Sirius satellite radio service and Mercury Sync, a voice-activated communications and entertainment tool.