Family Car, American Style
Steve Schaefer, Thu, 7 Aug 2008 08:00:00 PDT
Mercury is a hallowed name in the American automotive universe. The brand still occupies its original role between everyday Ford and a luxury Lincoln. However, that space has narrowed as lesser Lincolns and fancier Fords crowd the brand out. Sales have been less than spectacular in recent years, too.
The first Sable, when it arrived in 1985 as an upscale partner to the original Ford Taurus, was a great success. Ford hit the bull's eye with this new size and type of family sedan. But, like everything else, time moved along and after the controversially styled 1996 products debuted, sales began to slide.
Ford Motor Company experimented in 2005 by replacing the Sable with the Montego, a name taken from a popular midsized model from the 1970s, but in a stunning reversal, killed the name and restored Sable for 2008. So, is the Sable just a slightly revised Montego? Not really.Sure, the '08 does have the same body panels, but the lights at both ends are much more elaborate, with jewelry galore. The crystal taillamps have multiple sections beneath the cover, and look mostly white. The now signature Mercury satin-finish waterfall grille borrows from the other Mercurys such as the smaller Milan and Mariner SUV. But it doesn't look that different from the Montego.
Under the hood, it's a different matter. The Sable's Duratec 3.5-liter V6 boasts nearly 30 percent more horsepower 263 than the Montego's 3.0-liter engine. Mercury's engineers tweaked the suspension and power steering systems for a sportier ride and sharper turning, and mated a six-speed automatic to the new engine. You can order all-wheel drive in the Sable for $1,850 if you've a mind to. My tester had front-wheel drive, which delivered slightly better fuel economy but lacked the benefit of extra traction in rain, snow and other less-than-ideal conditions.
Despite the power and handling improvement, fuel mileage actually improved by about 10 percent. The ratings are 18 City, 28 Highway. I averaged 17.0 mpg in my Merlot Clearcoat Metallic tester. The EPA Green Vehicle Guide awards the Sable an excellent Air Pollution score of 9.5 out of 10. The Greenhouse Gas scores are 6 for the front-wheel-drive version and 5 for the all-wheel-drive model.
Sable interiors wear fake wood in the Guitar Maple or San Macassar patterns or a pseudo carbon fiber called Cyber Carbon. The leather seats, standard in the upper level Premier model, feature attractive two-tone hides with cross stitching. Base cars settle for a new graphic pattern cloth. The instrument panel is carefully detailed to differentiate it from Fords. The steering wheel wears metallic spokes that share the brand's satin look.The Sable received a new sound package that gives it a hushed, luxury car ambiance. Material was added to the windshield pillars, doors, and headliner as part of the upgrade. It's definitely quiet in there.
That's a good thing when you want to listen to music or have a phone conversation. With the Mercury Sync system, you can connect your iPod and your Bluetooth-enabled phone directly to the car and issue commands to them with your voice. How Star Trek!
My phone isn't Bluetooth enabled, but I played around with my iPod a bit. I plugged it in to the USB port in the car, just like a computer at home, and SYNC accessed most (but not all) of the songs from its 8 MB of memory. Then, I tried using voice commands to play them.
I was not always successful. I asked for Beatles and got Eagles. It sometimes took two tries to get the correct song. When I requested an artist, the system played a nice shuffle of all the songs on the iPod from various albums by that artist. However, when I turned off the car and came back later, it played only from the CD from which the song originated a flaw. Overall, SYNC took a lot or careful attention and was frustrating at times, but it is the wave of the future. Version 2.0 should be better.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Sable it's Top Safety Pick for large family cars. The Sable received five stars, the highest rating, in government crash tests. Plenty of airbags and a dished steering wheel protect occupants if a crash occurs. My Sable Premier started at $27,330, but with several options and shipping came to $31,455. The base car starts at $23,935 plus shipping ($750 at the moment).
The Chicago built Sable has what it needs to do well in the car market. If you really need a roomy family-size car, it offers competition for the omnipresent Toyota Camry and Honda Accord with a uniquely American flair.