EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit Newspapers's view


The problem with Mercury isn’t the brand.

Its collective group of vehicles is sedate, understated and pretty nice. The newest member of the lineup, the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid, has high mileage and a quiet ride. It’s a fine machine that mixes premium features, quality craftsmanship and user-friendly technology.

The problem is when you talk about new vehicles in the Ford, Lincoln, Mercury family, the “Mercury” is silent. There’s nothing original, inspiring or even remarkable about Mercury. It’s automotive plagiarism.

The Milan hybrid, as good as it is, remains basically a Ford Fusion Hybrid. The two vehicles have more in common than fraternal twins: the same powertrain, the same ride and the same features. Drive both back-to-back blindfolded, something I don’t recommend, and you won’t know the difference. It’s more of a trim package than a nameplate.

They do, however, have different names; any right-minded marketing department would frown upon Mercury Fusion+.

Of course, one could argue the Milan hybrid offers more creature comforts and amenities for the price (it does), and the front and rear fascias look slightly different (they do), and a different set of customers, mostly women, will buy Mercury vehicles but not Fords, so why alienate them (also true).

To someone, somewhere, it makes sense to have Mercury around. And if the brand sells Fords to customers who would never buy them, then there’s a legitimate business case for Mercury. Hey, it’s a business these guys are running.

But consumers should know what they’re buying.

Truth be told, there’s nothing this Mercury has that the Fusion doesn’t — though it’s packaged differently and the $31,655 starting price of the Mercury is $3,000 more than the Fusion.

Here was my dilemma, though. The Ford Fusion Hybrid remains one of the best hybrids available. So, would the Milan hybrid have the same stuff? Would it be as good? It is.

High mileage, quiet ride

Over the course of a week of test driving the Milan hybrid, I averaged 39 miles per gallon in city and highway driving.

In one case, I drove to a nearby store to pick up the key ingredient for a vodka gimlet without using a single drop of an internal combustion engine’s key ingredient: gasoline.

Every time you stop the Milan hybrid, its ultra cool SmartGauge will provide you with an easy readout of your most recent trip. It will display the miles you traveled, how long it took you, your fuel economy and how much gas it requires to get you from one key turn to the next. My drive to The News: .6 gallons of gas; to the local Meijer, .2; the Gibraltar party store, 0.

Its performance is excellent. The car feels luxury heavy on the road as the 2.5-liter four cylinder engine and electric motors perform their tango of seamlessly leading each other through the daily dance of driving.

The Milan hybrid can go all the way to 47 mph on electric-only power. But if the gas engine needs to kick on, it quietly rumbles to life without you ever noticing. The engine and motor provide a combined 191 horsepower, and the instant torque of the electric motor makes the Milan feel very quick.

A few minutes behind the wheel and you have to listen closely to know whether the engine is running. Or you have to look at the digital screens on the SmartGauge to see what’s running.

The gauge also makes it easier to attempt to hypermile by marking how much power you need to stay within the electric motor’s ability. Cross that line and the efficient little four-banger kicks on, and, somewhere, a polar bear weeps.

The electric power steering provides excellent feedback, as engineers have ironed out that numb feeling some electric steering systems still possess.

Most of all, the ride is remarkably quiet. Much of this is attributed to the electric drive. But even at highway speeds, the hybrid, with its very slippery aerodynamics, low-rolling resistant tires, smooth suspension and electronic continuously variable transmission, is very quiet.

Silence is golden in the car world, and the Milan is on par with best in the midsize car segment.

Luxury to appreciate

The interior is just as luxurious, with leather seats and a nicely flowing dash.

The redesign for the 2010 model year raised the quality and craftsmanship of the Milan. Much of the interior has been improved and the touch points are softer and more appealing.

For those who want to save the world, there are eco-friendly cloth seats, or if you want to cut methane releases to the environment, nicely stitched leather is available.

There is a lot of technology available in the Milan hybrid, such as Ford’s Sync infotainment system and the Sirius Travel Link, which continues to advance much faster than cars do.

It can help you find directions home, movie listings or the cheapest gas in the area — though when you have the range of 700 miles, you may want to look at gas a few states away.

There are also some luxury features that any driver will appreciate. The adaptive cruise control uses radar to pace the Milan with the traffic in front of it.

The car can also parallel park in tight spaces flawlessly. This feature debuted on the high-tech Lexus 460, but Ford’s version is much better.

For people on a long haul, Ford’s Pull-Drift Control will take the hassle out of roads with noticeable crowns. This system adjusts the electric power steering and is unnoticeable — unless you don’t have it.

From its performance to its comfort, there is very little to find flaw with in the Milan hybrid.

If some people want to think it’s different than other vehicles sold by the same carmaker, all the better for Ford Motor Co.

Inside and out, the Milan hybrid is an excellent vehicle — just like the Fusion.

Sburgess@detnews.com (313) 223-3217

2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid

Type: Five-passenger, front-wheel drive gas-electric hybrid

Price: $31,655

Engine: 2.5-liter I-4 with electric motor

Power: Combined 191 horsepower

Transmission: Electronically controlled continuously variable transmission

EPA gas mileage: 41 mpg city / 36 mpg highway

Source: Kelley Blue Book

Report Card

Overall: *** 1/2

Exterior: Good. Shares too much with the Ford Fusion but has good stance and strong lines.

Interior: Excellent. Well appointed and luxurious. Very comfortable and lots of driver-friendly features.

Performance: Excellent. The high mileage and good handling make this car a keeper.

Pros: Quiet ride and high mileage is the future.

Cons: The Ford Fusion Hybrid offers the same performance for less money.

Grading Scale

**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor

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