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Mercury’s new, midsize Milan a solid contender for Gen-Xers

September 16, 2005

Mercury dealers haven't had a competitive midsize car since the Mystique was discontinued after the 1999 model year. The aged and frumpy Sable had been holding the fort since then, but now that's gone, too.

For 2006, help has arrived, in the form of the Mercury Milan, a front-wheel-drive sedan slotting into the lineup in size and price below the Montego, which has rear-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive as an option.

Prices start at about $19,000 before factory or dealer discounts, and it's a handsome sedan, aimed at younger, Gen- X buyers who normally don't visit Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.

As Mercury says, this is not your grandmother's Grand Marquis. I put hundreds of miles on a Milan tester and was pleased almost all of the time behind the wheel. The five-passenger Milan - and presumably the corporate twin Ford Fusion as well - seem like the right cars for these uncertain economic times, offering elegant looks, respectable fuel economy, reasonable purchase prices, and your money's worth in handling and comfort.

A third member of the trio, the Lincoln Zephyr, is due in the fall.

A V-6 option puts the Fusion and Milan up against the similarly sized Chevrolet Malibu, which beats them by an inch in rear-seat legroom and more torque at lower engine revolutions, but probably nowhere else.

Perhaps more important, these new Ford Motor Co. cars are likely to be compared by many buyers to the Toyota Camry, and against that benchmark they measure up well - with the caveat that Toyota's V-6 is smoother, and it's too soon to tell yet whether the Milan and Fusion will match the Camry's reliability.

Another obvious comparison is with the Mazda6, whose basic architecture the Fusion, Milan and Zephyr share, thanks to the long-standing financial ties between Ford and Mazda.

Budget-minded consumers might also want to compare the Fusion and Milan with the just-redesigned Hyundai Sonata.

The starting price for the Milan gets you a version with a four-cylinder engine, displacing 2.3 liters and delivering 160 horsepower. EPA fuel economy ratings for this variant are 23 miles per gallon city and 31 mpg highway.

The available V-6, which I sampled, displaces 3.0 liters and is EPA-estimated at 21 mpg city, 29 highway. Except for some raucousness on hard acceleration, it does its job well.

Happily, both engines require only regular unleaded gas. V-6 Milans start at about $22,000.

You can buy the four-cylinder model with a five-speed stick or a five-speed automatic. The six-cylinder model comes with a six-speed automatic only.

Acceleration with the V-6 is reasonably quick from a standing start; Ford says 0 to 60 mph takes about 8.5 seconds. The engine's highway passing power without a downshift is just adequate.

The rack and pinion power steering offers nice feedback, and the fully independent suspension is compliant enough for hours of driving and firm enough to keep things stable well above legal speeds.

Weighing only about 3,300 pounds, the tester was light on its feet and an agile performer in carving through heavy traffic.

Except for some cheap-looking (and slightly ill-fitting) aluminum-colored plastic trim on the dash, the interior was well executed, with clear, readable gauges and simple and logically located controls.

The split rear seatback folds down to extend trunk space into the cabin, a feature common in family sedans. With the seatback up, trunk space is ample at almost 16 cubic feet.

Although the Milan is 8 inches shorter than the Sable, the new car's wheelbase is only about an inch shorter. The Milan has about an inch less rear seat legroom than the Sable.

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