2004 Mercury Monterey Review

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Marc K. Stengel Marc K. Stengel Editor
November 3, 2003

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I remember how I initially discovered that The Wife was going to deliver our first child within the next 24 hours: She started scrubbing baseboards in our home with Spic‘n’Span and a toothbrush. The nesting instinct, as it was later explained to me, consists of a reflexive preoccupation with domestic detail surging up from some deep Darwinian wellspring.

I was reminded of this frenetic episode of pre-natal nest-building by the presenters who recently introduced the 2004 Mercury Monterey to an automotive press corps assembled on the shores of Lake Michigan. “It’s as much a minivan for the growing family,” said John Fitzpatrick, Mercury’s marketing boss, “as it is for the empty-nesters whose children may have gone but whose lifestyles remain active and diverse.”

For the record, I’m a “’tween” according to Mercury’s particular interpretation of nesting chronology; but there is much in this first full-size minivan from Mercury to suggest that its designers have been especially preoccupied with delivering a vehicle that is as domestically comprehensive as possible.

Nascence and essence

A bit of “birds-and-bees,” to start, will identify where the Monterey comes from. In short, it’s Mercury’s version of the new Ford Freestar minivan, which replaces the venerable Ford Windstar, now retired. Many will, of course, remember Mercury’s compact Villager minivan, which quietly departed the scene not long ago. The Monterey is not, strictly speaking, the Villager’s replacement, for the simple reason that its long wheelbase, three rows of seating, and huge cargo bay dwarf those of its predecessor.

2004 Mercury Monterey

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Although a nearly identical clone of the Freestar, the Monterey boasts certain styling and equipment differences that do impart an exclusive identity. In a nutshell, Mercury’s Monterey is plusher and pricier (estimated, for now, at the low- to mid-$30,000 range). And it incorporates some special options — namely, front and rear parking sensors; heated and cooled front seats; self-sealing tires — that are off limits to the Freestar.

2004 Mercury Monterey

2004 Mercury Monterey

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Three elements common to both models, however, are particularly noteworthy: The safety technology — incorporating front, front-side, and front-to-rear head-curtain airbags — is among the most ambitious in the minivan category. The third-row bench seat is superior in comfort and versatility to most rivals’. And the sumptuous quiet of the interior, while driving, is startling.

The safety credentials of this new minivan benefit from Ford’s recent acquisition of Volvo. Together, Ford and Volvo engineers have developed a six-airbag arrangement that not only provides impact protection for all three rows of seating, but also incorporates rollover sensors that maintain full inflation of the side curtains for up to four full revolutions of the vehicle. Perish the thought, of course; but in the event of the unimaginable, the Monterey/Freestar side curtains serve as both bolster cushions and safety nets for retaining occupants as securely as possible inside the cabin.

As regards the third-row bench, it is a marvel of functional simplicity. With virtually a wave of the hand, the seat disappears into the floor and reappears again. No removal of headrests; no complicated sequence of latches; just click, fold, pull — with one hand tied behind your back. What’s more, the seat pivots 90 degrees to create a delightful “tailgate sofa” for watching Jack and Jill at field day. The open rear hatch, in this instance, performs double-duty as an awning.

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2004 Mercury Monterey

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I was comfortable on this “way back” seat during an hour-and-a-half drive; and I attribute this, odd as it may seem, to the second-row captain’s chairs. These fold and roll forward, clearing a vast open space for cargo or stretched out legs. Thanks to a clever hydraulic feature, these seats cannot tumble suddenly backwards during an abrupt stop, although with gentle hand pressure, they’re easily locked back into place.

Quietly powerful

The interior quiet of this minivan is all enveloping — particularly in the first and second rows. Over all types of road surfaces in the rolling hills of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northwest Lower Michigan, it was possible to hold perfectly comfortable conversations without interference of wind noise, road rumble, or chassis squeaks. Only in the third row, where the floor behind is depressed closer to the road surface, did “white noise” levels increase ever so slightly. Otherwise, the Monterey was as quiet as a living room, whether standing still or barreling along.

The powertrain is ideally suited for the Monterey. Underhood is Ford’s 4.2-liter pushrod V-6. Its 201 horsepower is middle-of-the-pack among minivans, but its 263 lb-ft are the reigning champs of torque. It is torque that gives Monterey its crisp throttle response and its tow rating of 3500 pounds with an optional suspension and hitch package. Handling is pleasantly athletic, thanks to tuned coil-over struts up front and a semi-independent torsion beam at rear.

Advance Trac stability control is standard and operates seamlessly to correct skids and wheel lock-up. A four-speed automatic transmission upshifts smoothly upon acceleration, downshifts intelligently on descending grades. I personally missed the Windstar’s shifter-mounted pushbutton for downshifting electronically out of overdrive. Presumably, prospective Monterey buyers will turn out to be less quirky than I.

They will not, on the other hand, be any less enamored of the hot-‘n’-cold front seats. Let’s put it this way: with the “Cold” selector activated, the sensation compares with sitting in a crop of freshly plucked mint.

Everything about the Monterey invites folks to pull up a chair and stay a while, surrounded by up to 134 cubic feet of favorite worldly possessions. Come to think of it, this is as compelling an image of a comfy nest as any vehicle can aspire to — whether empty or full of fledglings. With Mercury’s new minivan, there’s even an unintended bonus: no baseboards to scour clean.

2004 Mercury Monterey
Base price
: $29,995-$35,525
Engine: 4.2-liter V-6, 201 hp
Drivetrain: Four-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 201.0 x 76.6 x 68.8 in
Wheelbase: 120.8 in
Curb weight: 4275 lb (base)
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 16/22 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, front-seat side airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, anti-lock braking system, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, front and rear Park Assist
Major standard equipment: Electronic tri-zone climate control, power-sliding side doors, power driver’s seat, power windows, locks, and mirrors, power adjustable pedals, keyless entry with keypad, leather upholstery, heated signal mirrors, CD/cassette sound system with rear-seat controls
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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