The Mercury Milan is basically an upscale Ford Fusion whose styling has been tweaked to carry Mercury's signature grille. The interior is slightly different as well.
The Fusion, Milan and Lincoln Zephyr are derived from the Mazda 6 platform. Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda.
Like the Fusion, the base Milan has a 2.3-liter, 160-horsepower four-cylinder with either a manual or automatic transmission. All Milan models feature a six-way power driver's seat, a CD-equipped audio system, an analog clock, remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, and power heated exterior mirrors. Prices start at $18,995.
I drove the upscale Premier model with the 221-horsepower V-6, 17-inch wheels and six-speed automatic transmission. Its base price was $22,845. The two-tone leather seats with contrasting stitching looked sharp and felt great.
Compared to the Fusion I drove recently, the Milan's instrument panel has nicer gauges and the brushed silver trim on the center stack was snazzier than the piano-black trim on the Fusion.
Low-gloss materials have a leatherlike texture that adds a touch of elegance to the instrument panel and door panels. Steering wheel controls for the audio system and cruise control are easy to reach and nicely designed.
Standard features include a dash-top storage bin and a center console with two covered storage compartments. Front doors and seatbacks have map pockets.
In addition to the trademark Mercury grille, the Milan's exterior has different taillights and small touches of brushed aluminum trim. The subtle styling is very pleasant.
The Milan is important for Mercury because of higher gasoline prices and a new interest in fuel economy.
All-wheel drive will be offered at some point in the future, and a full-hybrid gas/electric powertrain will be available for the 2008 model year.
The Milan is somewhat smaller than its chief rivals, although the difference is not vast. The back seat has 37 inches of legroom, and the trunk is pretty spacious. The rear seat folds down and opens to the trunk for those who need to carry long items. The pass-through into the passenger compartment is not very deep, however.
The Milan's V-6 is likely to be the engine of choice for most buyers. To reduce noise and vibration, engineers employed hydraulic engine mounts and a front engine cover made from a sheet metal "sandwich." These work, but this engine still isn't quite as quiet or as muscular as some competitors.
Ford recently unveiled a 250-horse, 3.5-liter V-6 whose physical size is the same as the current 3.0-liter engine. Expect to see this engine as an option in the Milan and Fusion in a couple of years.
Both the four-cylinder and V-6 have all-aluminum construction, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, variable cam timing on the intake valves and electronic throttle control. Each has a 150,000-mile tuneup interval.
The Environmental Protection Agency has given the V-6 a highway fuel economy rating of 29 miles per gallon.
The Milan's chassis has class-leading torsional rigidity, and the suspension was designed to deliver responsive handling and a firm ride. The brakes have large rotors and new calipers. The rack-and-pinion steering is mounted to a separate subframe for reduced noise and vibration.
A multi-link, double-wishbone rear suspension helps keep the rear wheels in contact with the road, while up front the short-arm, long-arm design provides better handling than MacPherson struts. Aside from improving handling, the independent rear suspension eliminates the need for large shock absorber towers in the trunk, and that results in more cargo space.
- - -
The test car's base price was $22,845. Options included side-curtain airbags, heated front seats, upgraded stereo and automatic climate control. The sticker price was $25,495.
Three years or 36,000 miles.
- - -
Engine: 3.0-liter, 221-hp V-6
Trans: Six-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 107.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,303
Base price: $22,845
As driven: $25,495
Mpg: 21 city, 29 hwy.
- - -
At A Glance
Point: The Milan acquits itself very well when compared to its Japanese rivals. It feels agile, confident and tightly built. It can seat four adults comfortably and has a good-sized trunk. The styling is understated but handsome.
Counterpoint: I would like to see side-curtain airbags as standard equipment on the Premier package. A bit more power or lower gearing would liven up performance.
- - -
Tom Strongman's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.