2006 Mercury Montego Review

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John Pearley Huffman John Pearley Huffman Editor
March 10, 2006




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The Mercury Montego is an easy car to hate. It’s blandly styled, plumply proportioned, and mundane in its details. It’s a pretty big car with a pretty small powerplant, the suspension is tuned as if it signed a non-aggression pact with America’s roads, and the interior’s décor is all Broyhill and Barcalounger rather than Momo and Recaro. Plus, beyond all that, it’s a Mercury. To sum up: yawn.


That doesn’t mean, however, that it's a car without virtues or attractions. Like the Ford Five Hundred with which it shares virtually everything, the Montego is a car built for people who don’t necessarily care about cars. Instead of offering the mechanical pleasures enthusiasts crave, it’s a vessel into which practically anyone’s life can be poured. It’s roomy, relatively economical, and it can be optioned to handle any weather and entertain any passengers. And it’s modestly priced with a starting base MSRP of just $24,430. In sum, it has nearly all the abilities, manners, and composure of a minivan without (at least some) of the family hauler stigma.


A barely remembered name


Back in 1968 Mercury introduced the Montego name on its mid-size line of cars — brothers to Ford’s Torino. The name would stick around through the 1976 model year, but it never seemed to make much of an impression on the public during its undistinguished career. So it was at least somewhat surprising to see it reappear during 2005 on this latest Mercury sedan. This isn’t like Pontiac reviving the storied GTO name. It’s more like Pontiac bringing back the Ventura or Phoenix.


The Montego is, like the Five Hundred, based on the same front- or all-wheel-drive platform Ford-owned Volvo designed to underpin its S60, S80, V70, V80, and XC90 sedans, wagons, and SUV. The distinguishing feature of the Five Hundred/Montego design is its relatively high seating positions and tall roof. Ford would probably like customers to think of this high driving perch as commanding and SUV-like… but it’s also an awful lot like a minivan’s driving position.


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At 200.9 inches long overall on a 112.9-inch wheelbase, the Montego is anything but small. It’s 4.1 inches longer than a Chrysler 300 (though the Chrysler rides on a 120.9-inch wheelbase) and at 74.5 inches, it’s four-tenths of an inch wider. It’s also, just coincidentally, a mere two-tenths of an inch shorter than its minivan brother, the Mercury Monterey. The Montego’s tall proportions also result in a massive 21.2-cubic foot trunk which is just 6.4 cubes behind the Monterey’s capacity when all the seats are up. And if that’s not enough, the rear seat folds flat in a 60/40 split and the front passenger seat can also fold flat too (great for hauling lumber home from Lowe’s).


Chrysler’s 300 is available with either rear- or all-wheel drive and with powerplants ranging up to the 6.1-liter, 425-horsepower HEMI V-8 in the SRT-8 version. In contrast every Montego, front- or all-wheel drive, is powered by a 3.0-liter, all-aluminum, DOHC, 24-valve Duratec V-6 generating a modest 203 horsepower. That’s 15 horsepower up over the 2.7-liter V-6 that’s the base engine in the fleet-ready 300, but 47 horsepower down from the 3.5-liter V-6 that’s the de facto base engine in 300s that wind up with retail customers.


With a curb weight of 3656 pounds in its lightest front-drive form, the Montego is no lightweight. So even with a six-speed automatic transaxle around to deliver that power to the wheels, this is not a very quick car (AWD models use a continuously variable automatic transmission). It’s not scary, Oldsmobile-diesel/Greenland glacier slow, but it takes some forethought before merging onto a freeway. Around town the part-throttle responsiveness of the V-6 is good and the six-speed makes good use of the 205 pound-feet of peak torque so it’s nowhere near bad. But Ford needs a modern, larger-displacement V-6 that includes variable valve timing and other technologies to be fully competitive.


Inner space, inner peace


This is a car clearly aimed at empty nesters determined to keep their nests drama-free. So the interior is feng shui placid with large button on the dash, a lot of storage cubbies strewn about and easily read and straightforward instrumentation. There’s nothing startling or disturbing in the interior design and there’s a lots of room. And buyers can opt for a roof-mounted DVD player if entertaining the rear passengers with something other the driver’s sparkling wit and sophisticated charm is necessary. Also if Mercury is going to put auto-up and auto-down on the driver’s side window, why can’t it put that feature on all four windows?


Of course there are all sorts of airbags strewn about as well. There’s something to be said, after all, for a vehicle that’s as easy to get in and out of as the Montego which doesn’t ask drivers of passenger to lower down into a seat getting in or climb up to get out.


But the quality of some interior panels and pieces is suspect; it just feels as some panels want to come off in your hand even if they actually didn’t. The fake gray wood is obviously fake and too gray, the fake metallic trim is only slightly more plausible and some of the gaps between panels are large and/or uneven. Nothing went wrong while I had the car, but this interior just seemed primed to age badly.


Drives like a minivan, too


With MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link independent system in the rear, it’s no surprise that the Montego Premier rides nicely atop its P225/55R-18 tires around 18-inch diameter, 15-spoke alloy wheels. The power rack-and-pinion steering even delivers decent feedback even if it isn’t particularly quick.


Push the Montego — and virtually no Montego owners will — and the chassis retains its dignity thanks to a well-tuned traction control system and four-wheel disc brakes with standard anti-lock control. Of course this car will push its nose through any corner, but this is a car built for comfort, not heroism. No driver will ever do anything exciting with this car, and it will take some effort to do something really stupid too.


This isn’t a car that drives like a Volvo, despite its engineering heritage. It drives like a Toyota Sienna — only not as quick.


Go to any press introduction of a new minivan and during the marketing presentation the executive-on-hand will explain that while families with children are the vehicle’s largest prospective block of customers, older empty nesters are right behind them. It was at the press preview for the Kia Sedona minivan that I realized that the Mercury Montego is really a play for those wandering oldsters — it’s as many minivan virtues as possible shoved under the sheetmetal of a conservative sedan.


Maybe it’s a smart play too. After all the best-selling Mercury is still the Grand Marquis and that car is about as old-guy as an old-guy car can get. Hell, elements of its engineering date back to the 1965 model year. Sooner or later even the Grand Marquis will die, and when it does Mercury will have the Montego to pick up its market share.


Even though enthusiasts will continue to hate it.

2006 Mercury Montego Premier

Base price: $26,880


Engine: 3.0-liter V-6, 203 hp/205 lb-ft

Drivetrain: Six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive

Length x width x height: 200.9 x 74.5 x 61.5 in

Wheelbase: 112.9 in

Curb weight: 3656 lb

EPA city/hwy: 21/29 mpg

Safety equipment: Dual front, side, and curtain airbags; four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and traction control

Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors; cruise control; CD player; keyless entry

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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