Mercury Milan Hybrid — Looks and drives like a typical family sedan

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

When we get a hybrid or other high-mileage vehicle to test drive we have a different goal than perhaps most automotive reviewers. We try to get the worst mileage possible driving with all our bad habits on display.

Sounds crazy huh? But we already know the EPA mileage numbers — which are fairly accurate since the government revised its criteria in 2008 — and we’ve usually already read that some journalist has achieved super out-of-this-world numbers trying to outdo every other writer.

But that’s not how these vehicles are driven day-in and day-out, month-after-month, year-after-year by an owner. He or she will probably drive the car like they’ve driven cars all their lives — in a hurry to get from point A to point B, in a hurry to merge into traffic on the freeway, in a hurry to beat the next guy at the stoplight, and pushing the outer edges of the speed limit on the open highway.

Let’s face it, unless gas prices climb to record levels people simply are not going change their driving habits. So what we want to report is what drivers can really expect from a high-mileage car in the real world if old habits are not broken.

All that being said, let’s cut right to it. We achieved 35 miles to the gallon over about 225 miles of highway and city driving in the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid. The Milan, and its twin, the Ford Fusion Hybrid, are rated at 41 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.

So if we can wring out 35 mpg — as posted on the Mercury’s gas mileage computer when we handed over the keys — in our best lead-foot driving tradition, most drivers can expect at least as good. Sure, if they set their sights on getting more, it’s possible to eclipse 40 mpg. But, we strive for realism.

Thirty-five miles to the gallon in a well-equipped mid-sized sedan with very adequate performance and excellent road manners is certainly something to cheer about. And we think Ford’s Milan/Fusion hybrid effort is one of the best yet.

The Milan drives like a regular sedan and that’s a biggie in our book. No, the new Toyota Prius — as good as it is and it is good — still drives and looks like, well, a hybrid. At least that’s our take.

Other hybrids built on standard mid-sized platforms — Chevrolet Malibu, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima — aren’t as fuel efficient and for the most part don’t offer the same level of driving dynamics — the same seamless integration between gas and electric — as the Milan/Fusion. And the Altima is only available in a handful of states.
The things that really vault the Fusion/Milan ahead of the Prius (which, granted does get better mileage and costs a bit less) are the driving dynamics. The Milan simply drives like a really good mid-sized gas-engine vehicle. It is as close to what you are used to in a well-equipped sedan as any hybrid on the road. In fact, sans all the driving aids available on the dashboard, you could easily forget in a short time that you are driving a hybrid.

The question with this vehicle as with all hybrids even as good as this one is cost? Will the extra monetary outlay at the time of purchase save enough at the gas pumps to make it a viable option?

No matter how green we are, most of us have to factor economics into our buying decisions. Disposable income is a scarce commodity that has to be used wisely regardless of our environmental views.

So let’s make the case. The EPA says the hybrid’s combined mileage is 39, the Milan’s standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine making 175 horsepower is rated at 22/31 with a combined 25. That’s a whopping 14 mpg difference. That would amount to an annual gas savings of 172 gallons based on 12,000 miles per year. At $3 a gallon, yearly gas expenses would be cut $516.
Base price of the Mercury hybrid including destination is $28,225. Base price of the I4 Premier Milan equipped about the same way is $25,400. There are rebates and price breaks on the 4-cylinder according to making the effective price $22,547.
That’s nearly $5,700 price advantage over the hybrid, which comes with no incentives. But Ford has announced that there’s currently a $3,400 IRS tax credit for the purchase of the Milan hybrid making the effective difference just $2,278.

If all these parameters remain in place and gas stays at about the same price, you would break even in about four years. If gas prices rise, the break even point would come sooner. And we figure come trade-in time the hybrid would fetch a better price than the gas-engine model.

But if the hybrid version was devoid of modern performance, forcing you to give up motorized happiness for the sake of saving gasoline, than it’s not worth it at any price.
Fear not. It’s just the opposite with the Milan. Performance is brisk and there are no sacrifices in driving fuel efficient in this car.

For performance comparison purposes, 0-to-60 can be achieved in 8.5 seconds from Milan’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine and the electric motor, which combined make 191 useable horsepower. The 2010 Prius, by comparison, is rated at 10.1 seconds.

But to stay really green, you must keep your foot out of the accelerator. There are plenty of aids — dial up as many as you can stand — to help the driver gain maximum fuel efficiency. Milan’s hybrid (and Fusion’s) has a special gauge cluster called SmartGauge and features a pair of color display screens flanking the speedometer.

There is much information available through colorful graphic displays. You will probably watch the efficiency gauge most, which depicts your driving performance through a tangle of thickening vines and sprouting leaves. You can watch the plant do nothing or you can drive like there is no gas left on the planet and watch the plant thrive. If you get tired of the video readout, you can simply shut it off.

The Milan is quiet and comfortable for four adults and their luggage. As is the case in most mid-sized sedans, three can live in the rear seat for short treks. Trunk space is measured at an adequate 12 cubic feet.

Our test car carried the aforementioned base price, but came with $6,000 worth of options including navigation, power moonroof, upgraded Sony 12-speaker audio system, rear-view backup camera, and special white platinum paint. Bottom line was $34,230.

Be advised that the base model Milan Hybrid at $28,225 comes very nicely equipped.

If you have decided its time to make the leap into a hybrid vehicle, it would be difficult to find a better alternative than the Milan.

Base price: $28,225; as driven, $34,230
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, electric motor
Horsepower: combined 191 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 136 foot-pounds @ 2,250 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: CVT
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 107.4 inches
Length: 189 inches
Curb weight: 3,729 pounds
Turning circle: 37.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 12 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 36 mpg highway, 41 mpg city
0-60: 8.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion

The Good:
• Excellent fuel economy
• Drives and handles like good mainstream sedan
• Smooth transition between gas and electric

The Bad:
• Engine noisy under moderate to hard acceleration

The Bad:
• High-mileage 4-cylinder may be more sensible especially if gas prices remain low