Mercury Milan Hybrid

Written By nyit on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 | 4:48 AM

With the industry tightening belts and nameplates being retired left and right, it comes as a bit of a surprise to see that Mercury’s still around. That’s not to say that the brand has no right to live; thousands of loyal Mercury buyers would certainly argue that it’s got a place on the automotive landscape. Still, Mercury has been high on the automotive dead pool lists for over a decade now, and parent company Ford’s repeated reassurances that it has a plan for the marque are beginning to ring hollow in the face of a complete lack of unique product.

Just because all of Mercury’s current products are better-equipped virtual clones of Fords doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to see here, however. For 2010, Mercury is fielding a cutting-edge hybrid-electric family sedan that offers seamless performance and achieves the best mileage in its class. Is there a spark of life in the Mercury brand still?

The Milan Hybrid benefits from the same styling updates that add some necessary pizzazz to the Milan. A broader waterfall grille with thicker elements dominates the front end, pushing the headlamps out to the sides. Improved trim and new taillamps help to update the Milan’s exterior. Unique seventeen-inch wheels and Ford’s road-and-leaf hybrid badges set the Milan Hybrid apart.

Behind the wheel, the first thing you’ll notice is the Milan’s new interpretation of Mercury’s brushed-aluminum, two-tone style. Touch points on the armrests and doors have been made softer, and redesigned seats are more comfortable. They look better too, with contrasting stitching to add some distinction. Ambient lighting for the footwells and cup holders is available. In some places the plastic-silver trim’s quality seems to have suffered a bit, but the Milan is comfortable and seats five easily, on eco-friendly cloth made from recycled materials. Look a bit closer and you’ll notice the instrument panel, which is easily the most animated in the industry.

The Milan Hybrid gets a unique instrument panel featuring Ford’s animated SmartGauge system. The three-dimensional display flanks a standard analog speedometer, and features the “EcoGuide” coaching system which helps drivers to maintain maximum fuel economy. Fuel level and other functions are represented with eye-catching 3-D graphics, while leaves and vines “grow” to show how good your fuel efficiency. We found a bit confusing at first; it distracts the eye a bit as you try to find your info. The “floating” gas gauge level and economy gauge are a bit too animated for our taste. SYNC voice-activated in-car communication, a voice-activated navigation system and a backup camera are also available.

All aesthetic quibbles aside, the Milan Hybrid’s mechanical parts work just as well as advertised. Under the hood, a 155-horsepower Atkinson-cycle 2.5 liter four-cylinder and 275-volt permanent-magnet electric motor assist can run up to 47 miles per hour on full-electric power. The electric motor adds about 160 horsepower. The engine’s efficiency is boosted by variable intake cam timing, which also makes the transitions from gasoline to electric power smoother.

The Milan Hybrid shuts off the gasoline engine when the car is stopped as well, reducing idling time. Improved battery technology means that the Milan Hybrid’s battery is smaller, lighter and more efficient, and it doesn’t require separate cooling fans. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) gets the power to the road with maximum efficiency. The CVT creates an unusual engine note, and it’s obvious that there’s a small four-cylinder under the hood. With a range of around 700 miles on a tank of gas, you won’t be filling the Milan Hybrid much, but when you do you’ll notice Ford’s EasyFuel capless fuel filler.

The electronic power steering has been retuned, along with new suspension link geometry front and rear, sharpening the Milan’s reflexes and freeway ride. The Milan Hybrid shares the standard sedan’s short-long arm front suspension and independent rear, so handling can be entertaining should you want to push it. It’s comfortable on the suburban roads it was bred for, and the excellent range makes it a good road-tripper as well. The Milan Hybrid’s four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes have been adapted with a regenerative function that helps to keep the batteries charged.

The Milan Hybrid also shares many of the new innovations that have been added to the Milan/Fusion lineup, including the available Blind Spot Information System with Cross-Traffic Alert. This system uses radar to alert the driver when a vehicle is traveling in the Milan’s blind spots, or if there’s a car approaching as the Milan is backing out of a parking space.

The slim lineup doesn’t bode well for the Mercury brand’s future, but it’s still getting the good stuff from parent company Ford, and the Milan Hybrid is proof of this. The Milan Hybrid offers excellent fuel economy and range without sacrificing (much) performance or comfort. There’s a premium, of course. Milan Hybrid pricing starts at $27,500, putting it in the neighborhood of some compact luxury sedans. High-tech options like SYNC and the Blind Spot Information System help to make this proximity seem a bit less optimistic.

By Chris Jackson

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