A year after the clean-slate remake of the 1999 Villager, room for improvement was limited, indeed. Nonetheless, the Y2K model comes to the market with some feature-list additions and upgrades - all at no additional cost. And now, playing in this minivan near you: the Personal Entertainment System, a multimedia shrine for rear-seat passengers.
Villager was built by PLUs, or people like us - albeit, with engineering degrees - who understand that minivans are intrinsically a bit, well, ho-hum. Mercury knows that the minivan market is essentially flat because most people buy them to carry groceries and ferry kids, not because they're particularly exciting rides. But Mercury's design team penned the new Villager with sharp looks, compact size, and good road manners in the hopes of attracting attention from a typically un-minivan crowd, including young professionals with one child and sophisticated empty-nesters, who sometimes travel with grandchildren. Recently relocated to trendy southern California, Ford's Mercury division sought to turn their updated minivan into more of a "lifestyle vehicle" which will appeal to a wider market still in need of a comfortable people-mover.
Mercury's van has three distinctive styles; the base Villager, the Villager Sport (with a more athletic look) and the upscale Villager Estate. Each model has a slightly different personality, with unique content, color and trim treatment. The only engine offered is Nissan's 3.3-liter V-6, which produces 170 horsepower and 200 ft-lb of torque, up by 19 and 26 respectively, from the previous 3.0-liter engine. As a bonus, it has even better fuel economy, earning an EPA rating of 17 city/24 highway. For 2000, it meets the LEV (Low-Emission Vehicle) standard. A 4-speed overdrive automatic transmission powers the front wheels. Changes to the suspension, steering, and braking systems complement Villager's increased power, making it more car-like and easier than ever to drive.
A peek into Villager's enlarged interior reveals several refinements, surprises, and clever attention to detail. In response to popular demand, a driver's-side sliding door is standard equipment, but neither sliding door can be ordered with Ford's power-operated feature, which is a comparative disadvantage. New for ‘99 was a voice "memo unit" on the driver's sun visor which can record up to three minutes of audio.
2000 Mercury Villager
All Villagers gain as standard equipment an anti-theft system, remote keyless entry, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, and a heavy-duty 75 amp-hour battery. For safety's sake, a child-seat anchor system has been fitted to reduce the number of injuries and deaths caused by improperly-mounted child seating systems. Sport and Estate models come equipped with some previously-optional equipment, including auxiliary rear-seat A/C, a flip-up tailgate window, power driver's seat, and privacy glass. Best of the additions is a "conversation mirror" that flips down from the overhead console, allowing the driver to keep tabs on Johnny and Jane without the dangerous head-swivel - and potential for an accident. The upscale Estate now has standard leather upholstery, power passenger's seat and driver's seat memory, and the HomeLink garage-door transmitter.
Stowage space is excellent, with a passenger-side under-seat drawer, an elastic handbag net between the front seats, overhead console cubbies, and plenty of nooks and crannies for small items. Cupholders come with a little ratcheting arm that allows drivers to snugly restrain containers of any size.
New on the "are we there yet?" front is the Visteon Rear Seat Entertainment System. This dealer-installed, factory-backed accessory is bolted between the front bucket seats and features a retractable 6.4" LCD screen and VHS videocassette player, plus more storage space and cupholders. What's more, the Nintendo 64 game system is built-in, and seamlessly-integrated for hassle-free fun.
The package retails for $1,499. While our overall impression of the Villager is very favorable, we do have some qualms about a couple of features. First is the tiny horn pad in the center of the wheel. It's harder to locate and use than a larger surface in the event of emergency. Also, the lack of cloth-covered arm rests and door panels (they're made of institutional-grade vinyl) earns the Villager a couple of demerits in the comfort category. All switchgear seems to be of fine quality, however, and instrumentation is traditional and clear in the base model; Villager Sports come with white-faced gauges, while Estate models feature a digital display.
2000 Mercury Villager
Redesigned climate controls incorporate a standard pollen/dust and odor filtration system. Options like soft leather, memory seats and an in-dash CD changer make the Villager an attractive alternative to many luxury cars. However, the Villager lacks the side airbags that now adorn many luxury sedans costing the same amount.
Mercury takes pride in the Villager's versatile seating system and flexible load-carrying capacity. With its "In-Track" adjustable seats, the rear of this minivan can be configured in a countless number of ways. Seating for seven is possible, but tight. We enjoyed the second-row bucket seats, which combined with such amenities as separate audio controls and rear-seat air conditioning, make the Villager a great long-trip cruiser for passengers and driver alike.
Even with more interior room, this minivan doesn't swallow boatloads of cargo, but it does make good use of available space. We especially liked the adjustable parcel shelf in the rear load area, which doubles as a cargo cover.
Though no enthusiast's vehicle, the Villager is capable and satisfying on the road. We put this minivan through its paces in the heart of The Big Apple and on busy freeways nearby, finding it efficient and responsive. Its new engine pulls strongly and smoothly from a stop, and its throttle is easily controlled. In passing maneuvers, downshifts come quickly and politely. While the ensuing acceleration is not neck-snapping, it's plenty quick. We hustled the Villager down twisty parkways and over broken Manhattan pavement, finding the ride supple and the handling composed, on both surfaces.
The ABS-equipped brakes functioned well, providing controlled stops with shorter-than-average pedal travel.
The Villager shares nearly everything but badging with its Nissan sibling, the Quest, which received the same thorough 1999 makeover.
Mercury's minivan is smaller than its competitors from Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, and Honda, which can be a disadvantage. But for someone not entirely ready to take the minivan plunge, Villager offers family-car convenience with the cargo and people-room of a larger vehicle. Best, prices have remained reasonable this year, with the base Villager beginning at $22,510, and the top-spec Estate model at $27,210.
|2000 Mercury Villager
Base Price: $22,415
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