Let's get to the good news first: The 2006 Mercury Milan sedan is a solid, attractive, good performer that fills a gaping hole in the Mercury lineup. Dealers have been waiting years for a car such as this.
Bad news: So have Ford and Lincoln dealers, who get their own version of the Milan -- at Ford, it's Fusion, and at Lincoln, the slightly upscale Zephyr, due later this year. And we shouldn't forget that these three models are based loosely on the same platform as the Mazda6, which beat this trio to market by several years. So although Mercury dealers have a very good new car to sell, so do their corporate cousins.
Of course, that isn't all the competition the Mercury Milan must face. This midsize-sedan segment is one of the toughest there is: Rivals include the Chevrolet Malibu, Dodge Stratus, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Pontiac G6, Toyota Camry, Kia Optima and Volkswagen Jetta -- some decent cars at worst, excellent cars at best.
So why choose a Milan? One reason, I suspect, is because your local Mercury dealers will be what we call "motivated." After all, they've been soldiering along with the aging Sable as the entry-level model since the Mystique, the Ford Contour twin, died six years ago. Just as the Ford Fusion and Five Hundred replaced the Taurus, Mercury loses the Sable and gains the Milan and the Montego, which debuted last year. Suddenly, and finally, things are looking up at Mercury, after an unforgivable stretch of corporate neglect on Ford's part.
The Milan comes in two basic flavors: the base version, which has a standard 2.3-liter, 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission; and the up- level Premier, which has Ford's ubiquitous 3.0-liter, 221-horsepower Duratec V-6, mated to a six-speed transmission. I'm surprised Mercury is even bothering with the manual transmission -- I would assume its presence is to allow for its low base price of $18,563. The Premier starts at $22,845, and it's very well-equipped.
The Milan measures 191.4 inches in length, 72.2 inches in width, making it just a little longer and a little wider than an Accord or a Camry. Room inside is generous up front and not bad at all in the rear. The leather-trimmed seats are comfortable. There's plenty of trunk space.
Outside, the styling is what Mercury says is an extension of the brand's "new metropolitan identity, first established by the 2002 Mountaineer." I have no idea what this means. Possibly it refers to the big chrome grille.
As for the name: " 'Milan' connotes visions of a modern, fashionable European city, fitting the car's design theme and young customers like a finely tailored suit," says chief designer Darrell Behmer. I have no idea what Darrell is talking about, either. The Milan is attractive but pretty anonymous, judging from the public's nonreaction to the test car. You get the feeling that Mercury took a page from the Honda and Toyota playbook: Although moderately generic styling might not wow anyone, it doesn't offend anyone, either.
Mechanically, the Milan works well, as this V-6 engine is very smooth and has plenty of power. The six-speed automatic is a nice match. Fuel mileage is 21 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on the highway on regular gas.
On the highway, the Milan is large enough for a stable, supple ride but still small enough to be maneuverable around town. Performance, like the styling, is moderately generic, which is not a criticism -- everything works as it should, no surprises.
The test car had several option packages, including side and side-curtain air bags, an upgraded stereo and a power sunroof. At a list price of $25,480, the Milan doesn't have a big price advantage over the competition, but dealers might help that process along. They've been waiting for you, and this car, a long time.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith's TV reports air today on Central Florida News 13.
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