We've also been impressed previously how this system lets you enter multiple waypoints, putting them in the most efficient order at the touch of a button. With its route guidance, it reads out the names of streets, another advanced feature. But its graphics aren't all that attractive. Its maps are jaggy and use an ugly color scheme, while its route guidance graphics aren't overly informative. As a DVD-based system, its route calculation is a little slow.
Because we had the navigation option, we got to see how Sync uses the extra real estate available on the LCD. In the Premier-trimmed Sable, Sync comes standard along with an in-dash six-disc changer. We also had Sirius satellite radio. The disc changer plays MP3 CDs with no problem, showing track information such as album and artist. But with Sync, we had no interest in using the disc changer. CDs seemed unnecessarily bulky when we could just hook up our MP3 player and call up any track from our 30GB collection.
And while we are still entranced by the novelty of Sync's voice command, we also delved into the visual interface. A virtual button labeled Music Library on the LCD took us to a screen that let us drill down into our connected MP3 player by artist, album, genre, and playlist. In each of these categories, we could navigate a list of available music using an alphabetical keypad. This interface is very functional, and our only complaint is that its graphics are chunky and could use a better aesthetic design.
What most surprised us about the Sable's stereo, considering the unassuming nature of the car, was the bass response of its stereo. Mercury calls this stereo an audiophile sound system, meaning you get some digital signal processing controls. Looking around the cabin, we saw woofer-size speakers in each door, plus two extra speakers on the rear deck. This configuration is odd, as most automakers put woofers in each door, then supplement those with tweeters near the A-pillars. But this configuration made sense when we put in a bass-heavy track and felt the entire car shaking. We turned up the stereo and drove through the streets of San Francisco, emitting the classic thumpa-thump from our merlot-colored sedan. At this point, all we needed were 22-inch rims. Otherwise, the sound system is merely passable, with unimpressive high notes and a muddy midrange.
Under the hood
As for the 2008 Mercury Sable's powertrain, we find it odd that such a big car uses front-wheel-drive (all-wheel-drive is an option). Ford jumped onto that bandwagon with both feet. The engine is a 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 263 horsepower at 6,250RPM and 249 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500rpm, but with its six-speed automatic transmission, you will rarely get the engine turning that fast. There is no manual shift option, and it takes a while for the wheels to start turning when you push the gas pedal. With a hard stomp, we did get a little sound out of the front tires as they launched us off the line, and holding down the accelerator made the transmission hold its gears long enough to build up speed, but the car wasn't ready to leap forward at a moment's notice.
The EPA rates the fuel economy of the Sable at 18 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, but our observed average, which included city, freeway, and highway driving, stuck at 19.8 mpg. We could only imagine getting it up to 28 mpg through hours of steady driving at 50 mph, not the usual 65mph with bursts up to 80mph on today's freeways. On the plus side, the Mercury Sable, when fitted to comply with California Air Resources Board requirements, achieves a SULEV rating for emissions. A SULEV-rated car only puts one pound of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere over 100,000 miles of driving.
Our Sable came with the AdvanceTrac stability control system, along with the usual traction control and antilock brakes. Its suspension was well-tuned for damping out imperfections in the road, minimizing any jouncing. The car felt reasonably well-grounded, but we weren't inspired to put it through much hard cornering. Because of the slow throttle response, we didn't see power until the middle of a turn. Its serious understeer means you have to crank the wheel far around to handle any real twists, hampering any kind of sports driving. This isn't a car that you want to take down your favorite mountain road, but it will change lanes if you put some work into it.
The car we reviewed was a 2008 Mercury Sable Premier with front-wheel-drive, going for a base price of $27,330, including Sync and that thumpin' stereo. Our options included navigation for $1,995, AdvanceTrac stability control for $495, Sirius satellite radio for $195, and the park distance sensor for $295. Along with other sundry options and a $750 destination charge, our Sable totaled at $31,445.
For our tech rating, we give the Sable high marks for Sync, which brings in excellent Bluetooth cell phone and MP3 player integration, along with the most advanced voice recognition available today. The navigation system also helps out on its cabin tech rating, though not as much, while we don't consider the sound system particularly special. As for powertrain tech, our thumbs are down. The power arrives too slowly and the steering response is poor. We also couldn't get better than 20 mpg for our average. Its only redeeming characteristic is its emissions rating.