In a few weeks time, the very last Mercury ever will be built. Chances are that it will be a Milan, as this is one of only three models left in the Mercury range, and it is by far the biggest seller of the three. Hertz’ US fleet is largely devoid of Ford Group products at present, so in securing a Milan as the final rental car of this trip, this may very well be the last time I get to drive a Mercury, too.
The Milan is one of a trio of cars which debuted in 2005, and went on sale for the 2006 model year, to fill a massive gap in the product range between the compact sized Escort and what were then branded Five Hundred and Montego in the full-size category. The trio occupied a market segment vacated by Ford when the Mondeo-based Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique had been deleted several years earlier, cars which never hit the spot for the US market, as they were always decried for being too small. Based on the acclaimed CD3 platform which also underpinned the original Mazda 6, the trio of Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr won instant praise from the motoring press and sales have been strong ever since. After three full years of sale, facelifted versions of each were launched at the 2008 Los Angeles show, going on sale in early 2009, at which time Hybrid powered versions of the Ford and Mercury were added to the range. If I was feeling kind, I would say that the styling changes in all three cases were to make the cars more distinctive. Were I in less charitable, or perhaps more honest mood, I would say that all three were hit to varying degrees with the Ugly Stick. From launch, the Milan always looked the most attractive to my eyes, and as it had the lightest facelift, that is still true. Only a rather deeper, and now rather oversized, front grille readily identifies the facelifted model. The Fusion and MKZ, as the Zephyr had been rechristened, were less fortunate.
With Lincoln occupying the clear luxury role in the Ford triumvirate of badges, and Ford being the volume-selling brand, Mercury was difficult to position, and this must be one of the reasons why the marque is being phased out. It was always supposed to be that bit more exclusive than Ford, and therefore offered at a slightly premium price, and this is evident in the Milan. The test car was the higher spec model of the two offered, the Premier. For 2010, all the engines were upgraded, with the 2.5 litre 4 cylinder cars now delivering 175bhp, in lieu of the 160 bhp 2.3 litre engine that preceded it. There is an optional 3.0 litre V6, as fitted to the test car, and that also has a more powerful motor for 2010, now developing 240 bhp. Completely new for the facelifted car was the option of a 4 cylinder Hybrid engine. All models are available with optional all wheel drive, take up for which surprised Ford at launch, as it was more popular than they had predicted. My test car was a 3.0 litre V6 front wheel drive model, in Premier spec.
Open the doors of the Milan, and you are greeted by a nicely finished cabin. This is of a standard simply inconceivable in a US domestic produced car of only a few years ago, although with ever improving quality levels in all cars, it still is not quite in the Audi and BMW league. Much of the interior is finished in a beige leather, with a slightly perforated design on the seats, and the dash has some tasteful inlays of brushed aluminium effect and some rather nice dark grey piano-style wood around the centre of the dash. It all looks good, and is pleasant to operate, making the cabin a nice place to be. On the Premier model, you get a glass sunroof, which makes the interior bright, too. Just as on the Mustang, you can select the colour of the ambient lighting which glows around the central cup holders, and there are a number of small royal blue light sources for night time, which are not too unsubtle. The main instruments are clearly marked and easy to read, and – somewhat unusually – have turquoise coloured graphics on them. My photo does not really do justice to the effect when driving at night, though I did try to depict it, so others can see the effect. There is but one column stalk, to the left of the wheel, which means that the wipers are operated by rotating the end of the stalk. Surprisingly, a short burst of rain occurred, so I had occasion to use them, and can report that you have to go through all the intermittent setting to get to constant wipe. The centre of the dash contains the audio controls and the numerous buttons for the climate control system. There are a lot of buttons, and some of them are set quite low down in the dash, but it was quite easy to set the system to generate the necessary cooling down, and then leave it to its own devices.
It’s more than 4 years since I drove the Milan’s twin brothers of Fusion and Zephyr, so my memory is a little rusty, and this was before the days of writing these tests. My records tell me that I sampled both in V6 form, so this was a chance to renew my acquaintance with this engine, and sample it in recently upgraded form. To be honest, the distinctive noise of a 6 cylinder car was notably absent and in the absence of an aural clue, I had to look under the bonnet to determine which engine I had in the car. This is an impressively smooth and refined powerplant. Coupled with the six speed automatic gearbox, smooth and brisk acceleration is the order of the day, and the Milan cruises in a nice relaxed manner on the freeway, with more power available for a sudden burst of acceleration when required. I took it up into the canyons, and there were no issues with lack of power. These were also good roads on which to test out the steering and handling, and while the Mercury is not quite at Ford Europe standards, it is pretty good, and was fun to hussle along some very windy roads. No issues with the brakes, either. The Milan rides well, and it is quiet. It is easy to see out of, though the door mirrors are not as large as on some cars, limiting the view a little.
The Milan is quite a bit bigger than its Mystique antecedent, and there should be no complaints about lack of space inside. There is ample room in the rear seats for three adults, and there is a generously sized boot. It should be noted that on the Hybrid model, quite a bit of the capacity is given over to the battery pack, but on regular models, you get a large luggage space which can be extended by folding down the rear seat backrests for extra length. The cabin boasts plenty of odds and ends storage spaces, with door bins, a good glove box, a deep bi-level cubby between the seats and a shallow lidded tray on the top of the centre of the dashboard, along with a lipped area in front of the gear lever and a coin tray to the left of the steering wheel.
Base level models of the Milan are well equipped, with several features fitted for which you might expect to have to pay extra on some competitive cars: 6 way electrically adjustable front seats, an AM/FM/CD and satellite radio system, cruise control, leather trimmed telescopic steering wheel, split folding rear seat, power-operated heated door mirrors and alloy wheels being just some of them. The Premier adds the automatic gearbox, leather seats, heated front seats, front fog lights, automatic lights, fog lights and 17″ wheels. Like all other Mercurys, the Milan features the rather odd numeric key pad on the door for those who find plipping a remote just too fiddly. For $25,000, this seems like a reasonable deal.
Ever since the facelifted cars appeared last year, Fusion has been doing extremely well in comparisons tests of mid-sized cars, frequently topping the class, and it is not hard to see why. I found no significant weakness with the Milan, and were I in the market for a family car of this size in the US, it would be pretty much at the top of my shopping list, too. Mercury will not live beyond the end of 2010, but the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ will do, for another couple of years at least, before they are replaced by the next global Mondeo. That car is allegedly being developed by Ford’s US team, and if it improves on the standards of the Fusion, Milan and MKZ will surely be a truly excellent car. But there is no need to wait for excellence, as it is available right now. What a shame that it will no longer have the distinctive Mercury badge and waterfall grille on it for much longer.