Driving the 2008 Mercury Sable around San Francisco, we considered painting it yellow, putting a light on top, and starting a career as a taxi driver. The Mercury Sable, brand engineered from the Ford Taurus, is a big sedan with a huge amount of trunk space. The car seems reasonably well-built, with good interior fit and finish, while its V-6 engine gives it enough power to get around. But the car offers a completely characterless driving experience, with poor powertrain response and loads of understeer. One of the key reasons we wanted to review the Mercury Sable, and its most redeeming quality, is that it came with the Sync system coupled with navigation. Previously we had tested the Sync system in the Ford Focus and had to rely on a minimal radio display for information on our connected devices, but the navigation system's LCD in the Sable formed the basis for a more usable interface.
Test the tech: iPhone compatibility
Sync and the iPhone were the two most interesting products to hit the market last year, so we put them together for our tech test to see if the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts. We hoped that using an iPhone with Sync would result in a piece of new technology so mind-blowing that we would lock ourselves in the car for a week.
With Sync, you can connect an MP3 player to a USB port in the car's console, or stream music into the system with Bluetooth. You can also pair a phone to Sync with Bluetooth and get hands-free calling, complete with voice command over your contact list. If you receive a text message on your paired phone, Sync will read the message to you over the car's speakers.
To test out the iPhone with Sync, we first used its cable to connect it to the car's USB port. Interestingly, the iPhone gave us a warning about incompatibility and suggested we put it in airplane mode. This mode disables the cell phone. We set it accordingly, then were able to get music playing by saying the artist, track, or album name. For each artist we tried, Sync recognized our verbal command and started playing the track (with the iPhone sitting in the console, tethered to the USB port).
Next, we removed the cable and paired it with the Sync system. The pairing went fine, but the phone didn't show up under the Bluetooth streaming devices screen, and we weren't able to stream any of its music through our stereo. This result didn't surprise us, as the iPhone doesn't support stereo Bluetooth streaming. But with the phone paired, we were able to make calls using the iPhone. We put it back in the console, hit the talk button on the steering wheel, requested the phone function, then said the name of a contact stored in the phone. The phone rang, and we were connected.
Finally, we sent a text message to our iPhone. When we heard no signal from the car that we had an incoming text message, we pushed the text message tab on the car's LCD. The text message screen informed us that Sync wouldn't support text messaging with the currently paired phone. We put the blame on Sync for this glitch, as it also wouldn't support text messaging with our Samsung SGH-D807.
Because the iPhone had to go into airplane mode to play music through Sync, it didn't deliver on its promise of reducing the number of devices we need to carry. When we've connected a cell phone and an MP3 player to a Sync-equipped car, the combination works perfectly. When we get a call, Sync turns off the music until the call is ended. But the iPhone doesn't let us pair it to the system and hook up the cable for music playback. In this case, we have to say that the whole is less than the sum of the parts.
In the cabin
Our 2008 Mercury Sable came in Premier trim, meaning we got leather seats and a slew of minor comfort features, including an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, heated seats, a display showing the compass direction of the car and the outside temperature, and dual zone climate control. Cabin options included power-adjustable pedals and a park distance sensor that beeped with increasing frequency whenever we reversed toward a solid object.
But our major cabin tech feature was the navigation system. We've seen this system in other Ford company cars and are generally in favor of it. It uses a touch screen and has a very usable interface for inputting addresses. Its points-of-interest database is well-populated and easy to use. We especially like that you can list places by distance or alphabetically. It also has some limited voice control, letting you input destinations by searching for points-of-interest by category in your immediate vicinity.