The art of badge engineering is alive and well, folks, and never was the line between upmarket and mainstream more blurred than it is between Ford and Mercury products these days. What we have here is a Ford Fusion with a different front bumper, a new grille and hood as well as a reworked rump. Thankfully, though, the detailing of both the Fusion and the Milan are so distinctive that the two cars don’t appear quite as closely related as they actually are. The bold horizontal bar arrangement of the Fusion’s grilles couldn’t be any more distinct from the Milan’s more restrained and classier vertical “waterfall” bars. The rear, too, is very different at first glance, with LED tail lamps that spill onto the trunk-lid and a lot more chrome than the Ford’s minimalist but stylish posterior.
Stand back, though, or park two side-by-side and the similarities are obvious. The two cars are essentially identical, sharing all the same glasswork and most of the same sheetmetal, not to mention all the hidden hardware like engines, suspensions, transmissions, and electronics. Even the interior is carried over, save for some new dials, a new steering wheel boss and some Mercury badges where applicable. It is the scantest veneer of… what’s that word carmakers like to use so much? Ah, yes… “premium” quality that I’ve ever encountered. It’s as if the Fusion’s putting on a fake Italian accent and wearing a knock-off Armani suit.
2006 Mercury Milan
And yet I found myself utterly taken in by this transparent rouse. It’s so much nicer to say “Milan” than “Fusion,” “Mercury” than “Ford.” Heck, I ended up calling it “Meelawn” by the end of my week with the car. Badge engineering is alive and well for a reason, folks. The customer demands it. We’ll take anything that lifts us a half rung above the Joneses and nobody, not even a hardened purist like myself, is exempt.
Speaking in tongues
The price of this premium label is about $1200 and yet you get the same 160-hp, 2.3-liter Mazda-sourced engine in the entry-level Meelawn as you do in the entry-level Fusion. The equipment levels are on a par also, with 16-inch steel wheels, a CD player, power windows, mirrors and locks and cruise control. At the upper end of the scale, the Milan V-6 Premier (Mercury’s mixing up its European languages there) is some $2100 more than the Fusion V-6 SEL but the way the specification is arranged so it makes it more difficult to compare the two directly. The range-topping Milan gets (supposedly softer) leather trim and standard ABS but the Fusion SEL’s standard climate control, multi-function leather steering wheel, and fog lamps are relegated to a $600 comfort package in the Milan.
If you pull out your microscope you will notice the Milan’s slightly nicer door trims, classier center console finish, more attractive dials, proper map-reading lights, and cute cupholder flap, but it also shares many of the Fusions flaws like the incredibly annoying single wiper/turn signal/high beam stalk that’s straight out of an F-150, as well as the crudely executed center console cover. That said, the cabin does seem to be pretty well made and there are actually a lot more soft-touch plastics in there than their cheapy elephant-skin finish would have you believe.
2006 Mercury Milan
At least Ford left the chassis alone. Both the Meelawn and Fusion boast a rather weighty and meaty steering and a flat cornering stance, as well as decent brakes (at least when fitted with ABS) and a smooth six-speed automatic transmission. There’s an enjoyable fluidity to the way the Fusion moves through corners that you might take advantage of more often if the V-6 models weren’t saddled with a transmission that doesn’t have a manual flick-shift function. Just an ambiguous “L” that can never be trusted to do anything vaguely predictable. Unwanted mid-corner changes and an eagerness to opt for the tallest gear possible means you rarely get to enjoy all the 3.0-liter V-6’s 221 horses, though given the harsh noise they make when you dig your spurs in, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Manual lovers will have to opt for the four-cylinder, five-speed Milan instead, but they can still get it in the ritzy Premier trim level with all the fixings. I haven’t sampled the four-cylinder Milan yet but I have driven it in the Mazda6 (which also shares its underpinning with the Milan and Fusion, albeit slightly narrower and shorter) and while it’s not going to blow your socks off for performance, the shift action is light and the engine is reasonably refined.
Despite the Milan’s middle-management appeal, it has a surprisingly firm ride though I rather liked its sporty attitude. It feels planted on the highway and it doesn’t try to lie down on its side when you take an exit ramp or round a corner at pace. It’s much better in terms of refinement than the Fusion, though, with less engine and tire noise on the highway, indicating that a more soundproofing has been added to create a more upscale driving experience. Rear space is extremely generous and the trunk is also enormous so its appeal to suburban families is undeniable, while the Milan V-6’s EPA gas mileage rating of 21 (city) and 29 (highway) isn’t to be sniffed at either. The four-cylinder Milan can manage an impressive 23 and 31 (city/highway), incidentally.
2006 Mercury Milan
Of course there’s no getting away from the fact that this car is basically a Ford Fusion, which is a very good car — the best domestic Ford sedan in years. The Milan has a slightly nicer finish to the interior, welcome improvements in refinement and a more upmarket exterior appearance, so the question you have to ask yourself is: Is it worth an extra $70 a month for the next three years, just so you can have a bit more chrome and tell people you drive a “Meelawn?” It’s a no-brainer, right? Or course it is. Just try telling that to my inner snob, though.
Base price: $18,345 plus destination
Engine: 2.3-liter in-line four, 160 hp/150 lb-ft; 3.0-liter V-6, 221 hp/205 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual; five-speed automatic (optional, four-cylinder), six-speed automatic (optional, V-6); front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 191.4 in X 72.2 in x 57.2 in
Wheelbase: 107.4 in
Curb weight: 3303 lb (V-6)
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 23/31 mpg (four-cylinder), 21/29 mpg (V-6)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning; AM/FM/CD/MP3 player; cruise control; power locks, windows and mirrors
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles
The Car Connection Consumer Review
car runs great. still going at 150 k + miles
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