Mercury Sable — great companion for 3,000-mile trek

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Some say the Mercury brand is hanging by a thread. There’s talk that parent Ford Motor Company will pull the plug in the near future. 
We agree the product lineup is thin and sales have been in decline, but we discovered over five days and nearly 3,000 miles that there’s still life in Mercury. 

Mercury has some good stuff to offer customers including the 2008 Sable that we lived with in cold and snowy Detroit and through the wintry West Virginia mountains.

Other noteworthy vehicles in the Mercury stable include the mid-sized Milan sedan and the mid-sized Mountaineer sport utility. 
Granted, everything Mercury has in inventory is directly related to a similar product with a Ford nameplate attached. But there’s enough differentiation to give Mercury its own personality. 
The Sable is a case in point. 

You may recognize the new full-sized sedan as the Montego, which entered the market in 2005. The Montego is part of the 2008 name change that turned the Ford Five Hundred into the Taurus and the Montego into the Sable. The original Taurus/Sable mid-sized sedan duo took Ford into black ink in the late ’80s and early ’90s before being shoved into the rental fleet market and eventually into oblivion by 2006. 

Ford felt that the retired names had more relevance with the auto-buying public than Five Hundred and Montego. 
So we have basically the same cars, but with a very important upgrade, the addition of a much bigger engine.

The 2008 models have also received a few other upgrades and some styling tweaks inside and out. 
It was obvious to the automotive writers even before the Five Hundred and Montego were introduced to the public in 2004 that the V-6 engine assigned to the cars was too weak to adequately move the big sedans. The 3.0-liter engine made only 203 horsepower, which, Ford officials said at the time of introduction was adequate. And actually several owners we talked to in the intervening years also found it sufficient. 

But here’s the thing we saw back in 2004. The Five Hundred and Montego were well thought out in almost every other way, but were competing with V-6 editions of the popular Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima that were motivated by 50 or more horses than the Ford products. 
The bottom line — Ford developed a really innovative big sedan, but with insufficient power. 

Ford has finally corrected the initial misstep outfitting the 2008 versions of the two sedans with a 3.5-liter 263-horsepower V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic that generates surprisingly good gas mileage on the open road. 

This pushes the Taurus and Sable advantages — considerably more trunk space and a bigger rear-seat passenger compartment — over the Accord, Camry and Altima into the forefront because the Ford siblings now compete on a level playing field in performance. 

We successfully loaded four adults and their gear — probably more gear than most families of four will ever haul — into the Sable and comfortably headed from Charleston, W.Va., to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show. 
The 21-cubic foot trunk was packed to the lid, but it held our stuff. And there was no danger the trunk hinges, which are of piston design outside the trunk opening, would smash something as in some competing sedans.

With the Camry (15 cubic feet), Accord (14 cubic feet) and Altima (15.3 cubic feet) we would have had to start over, move to another car or SUV to accommodate our crew. 

Rear-seat legroom of 41 inches translates into stretch-out room in back. It’s comfortable room. We know because we spent 250 miles in the back seat. Only the bigger and generally more expensive Chrysler 300 and Toyota Avalon come with comparable rear passenger space. 

The miles eased away in the quiet solitude of an interior well insulated from wind and road noise. When we were in the mood to listen to Sirius satellite radio, it sounded just right on the standard “audiophile” sound system on the Premier trim level. 

The interior, trimmed out in a dark wood against a black dash and black leather upholstery, offered a luxury feel. 
The dashboard area is attractive and well laid out. Materials are above average and the seams neatly fit. There’s nothing so grating on the nerves as to live in a car for 3,000 miles with sloppy fit and finish. That didn’t happen in the Sable.

Another noteworthy achievement of smart-thinking by Ford engineers is the commanding view of the road. This was accomplished with seats positioned to raise the H-point (the position of the driver’s hip joint) and through the use of a big area of glass. 
The higher seating position also allows for easier entry and exit.

So what does the new engine do for the Sable? 
A drive on mountain roads is a good test. We took a 2005 version of the Five Hundred with the smaller V-6 on the same route a few years ago. Driving the 203-HP engine required considerable throttle on the upgrades to keep a constant speed and resulted in more engine racket than acceptable in an upscale sedan. 
This time around we found that the extra 60 horses gave the Sable a quiet confident boost on the upgrades. It was a pleasing experience. 

Our Sable was front-wheel drive and it handled a five-inch snowfall south of Detroit and some wet and slushy interstate roads with no drama. But if you have to live in those northern climates with the prospect of encountering some challenging road surfaces, the Sable comes with all-wheel drive for $1,850 extra. 
The Sable’s gas mileage has actually improved with the new engine inspite of the dramatic increase in horsepower.

The old 3.0-liter engine measured by the more stringent 2008 EPA standards is rated at 17 mpg city and 23 highway with front-wheel drive. The new engine according to the EPA is expected to get 18 city and 28 highway. 
And we were pleasantly surprised when we hit the 28 mpg number coming through the mountains. The Sable mileage compares favorably with the V-6 engines in Accord (19/29), Camry (19/28) and Altima (19/26) despite the fact the Sable is a larger vehicle. 

The Mercury comes in only two trim levels — base and Premier — starting at $24,290. Our Premier carried a base price of $28,080 including destination charge. 
The sedan comes with considerable standard equipment including such safety features as antilock brakes, traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Optional are stability control, power-adjustable pedals and a rear parking sensor. 

The test vehicle was outfitted with the aforementioned optional safety as well as navigation for a bottom line of $31,455. 
You may wonder why we have compared the Sable to the most popular midsized sedans because the Mercury is obviously larger. But its price point, standard features, gas mileage and performance match the V-6 editions of the Japanese best-sellers.

So, with all other things being equal, why not opt for more passenger and cargo space? 

We don’t think Mercury, even with its declining sales numbers, will go the way of Oldsmobile any time soon because of solid, competitive products like the Sable. Living with the Mercury for five days and 3,000 miles was indeed a pleasant experience. 


Base price: $24,290; as driven, $31,455 

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 

Horsepower: 263 @ 6,250 rpm 

Torque: 245 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm 

Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel 

Seating: 2/3 

Wheelbase: 112.9 inches

Length: 202.1 inches 

Curb weight: 3,643 pounds 

Turning circle: 40 feet 

Luggage capacity: 21.2 cubic feet 

Fuel capacity: 20 gallons (regular) 

EPA mileage: 28 highway, 18 city 

0-60: 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver) 

Also consider: Ford Taurus, Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima, Buick Lucerne 

The Good 

• Huge trunk and ample backseat space 

• Considerably improved performance 

• All-wheel drive is available 

The Bad 

• V-6 engine a bit unrefined compared to Japanese counterparts. 

The Ugly 

• Will the Mercury brand survive the life of your new car?