The essence of the 2006 Mercury Milan seems to be familiarity. From the benign outside appearance to the boilerplate interior design to the run-of-the-mill engine choices, the Milan is just pleasant rather than pleasing, predictable instead of impressive.
The V6-equipped Milan Premier includes 17-inch wheels that play their part in the nice exterior appearance, as well as leather seating surfaces instead of the standard cloth. The metallic Satellite Silver paint on our test car played to the strengths of the clean, understated body lines, which rise gradually toward the tapered rear end, mimicking the taillight design of the smaller Audi A4 to good effect.
The car looks classy and, yes, European from the outside. Things are decidedly more squared-off and American in the interior, but it still works: knobs and big buttons are enough when there aren't many extra systems to control. The Milan offers almost nothing in the way of cabin electronics; Bluetooth phone integration, GPS navigation, and satellite radio are unavailable even as options.
The optional Audiophile audio system is the only nod to forward thinking, and it doesn't deliver as a technology centerpiece the way the THX system does for its platform sibling, the Lincoln Zephyr. The in-dash six-CD changer is convenient and straightforward to operate, playing through eight speakers, including two subwoofers. Rated wattage isn't advertised, but the sound is full and crisp. Digital signal processing lets occupants choose between some preset schemes focusing surround on the driver, passenger, or rear seats. A speed-sensitive volume feature can be adjusted or turned off completely.
The Audiophile stereo shows ID3 tags in its limited single-line display.
The CD player accepts MP3 discs with no trouble and displays ID3 track details. However, the readout on the stereo face consists of a single-line LCD in a dot-matrix font, hindering the amount of information it can show. It supports folder navigation for burned CDs, although no auxiliary player input is offered.
The leather surfaces of the Milan's seats are a nice upgrade and, more than any other feature, lend the interior a sense of quality. The middle sections of the seat and back are perforated. Both front seats are power adjustable (with a manual lumbar support roller)--a six-way adjustment for the driver and four-way for the passenger.
Our car's dark charcoal interior color scheme was nice but would have been improved by the no-cost option of the wood appearance package. The metallic accents in our car looked uninviting in comparison to the look of the wood on Mercury's Web site. The textured plastics used for the wide dashboard and door panel tops were acceptable, but we preferred the materials on the Honda Accord EX we tested previously. We also noticed minor fit issues which detracted slightly from the feel of the Milan's interior, most noticeably with the dashtop storage binnacle lid, which was a little wavy and sometimes difficult to close.
One of the highlights of the Milan interior is the array of controls included on the steering wheel as part of the comfort package. The expected buttons are there: volume, source, and forward/backward for the audio system and set, resume, and on/off for the cruise control. But climate control buttons for fan speed and temperature are unexpected and most welcome, and all the controls are well located and have touch-recognizable markings.
Mercury adds temperature controls to the array of steering wheel buttons.
Other controls are very clear and easy to use, with large typefaces on large knobs and buttons throughout. The main gauge cluster has very clean and legible white-on-black dials for the four analog gauges: speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, and engine temperature. These gauges feature chrome-look bezels to match the analog clock atop the center stack. A rudimentary two-line electronic readout offers trip information such as range, average mileage, and a compass indicator.
As with the interior, there is little beyond simplicity to appreciate in the performance of the Milan. Both the four-cylinder and optional V-6 Duratec engines feature dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, but this merely brings the Milan up-to-date and in line with all of its major competition.
A six-speed automatic transmission, standard with the V-6, is a step ahead of the usual five-speed automatics (four-cylinder Milans get a five-speed manual standard, with a five-speed auto optional). The six-speed automatic is the most advanced part of the power train.
The 3-liter V-6 itself operates well enough, idling and stepping off smoothly. Pushing it toward the redline produces some harshness along with a bark from the exhaust that, unfortunately, has little bite. Horsepower is rated at 221, with 205 lb.-ft. of torque at a relatively high 4,800rpm. Other engines at this price level make use of electronically variable control for maximum efficiency and readier torque, but the Milan offers neither great power nor impressive mileage. The Milan is EPA-rated at 21mpg in the city and 29mpg on the highway, but the VTEC-equipped 3-liter V-6 in the Accord EX (using single overhead cams) delivers similar efficiency along with 23 more horses and more maximum torque--a noticeable difference--and it sounds better to boot.
The tachometer, with its nice bezel, lets the driver see when the six-speed automatic decides to shift.
For most driving situations, the Milan's front-drive behavior is predictable and pleasant enough. Push a little harder, however, and torque steer becomes a real issue. Dealing with uneven surfaces under hard acceleration can be trying, especially while cornering. Shifts from the automatic are smoother than they are sporty, in keeping with the general tenor of the Milan. Throttle response is very quick at initial tip-in for that all-important first step, but modulation once underway doesn't feel as direct, and with no control over gear selection, we had the transmission hunting while climbing long grades.
To complete the trifecta of mediocrity, the Milan offers just enough in the safety department to satisfy the market's lowest common denominator and nothing further. Technology that some carmakers regard as necessary standard equipment is either optional or not available on the Milan, such as ABS (standard on the Premier Milans, but optional for the base cars), traction control, and side-impact and side-curtain airbags.
When equipped with the safety/security option package as our test car was, the Milan is rated by the NHTSA with four stars (out of a possible five) for frontal driver and passenger impact tests, five stars for front side impacts, and four stars for rear side impacts. Without the package's side-curtain airbags front and rear, the front-seat side impact rating falls to four stars.
Dual-stage front airbags with an occupant sensor, front and rear crumple zones in the structure, and side-intrusion door beams are present, as they are in all midsize sedans in the mid-$20,000 range.
The Mercury new vehicle warranty for 2006 covers three years or 36,000 miles bumper to bumper, extending to five years or 50,000 miles for the supplemental safety equipment, and five years of unlimited miles for corrosion perforation.
The $595 comfort package on the car we tested included automatic climate control; automatic headlights; a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant controls; autodimming mirror with compass; fog lights; and power-adjustable, heated, body-colored side mirrors with ground lighting. We also got the $595 safety and security package consisting of a perimeter alarm and front-seat side and front and rear side-curtain airbags. Heated front seats cost $295, and the Milan's one near-tech option, the Audiophile stereo, runs $420. Finally, traction control is not standard on any Milan, but at least seems cheap at $95.
With a $650 destination charge, our Milan's total MSRP was $25,495. This isn't an awful lot of money in today's car market. But the Milan isn't the dynamic equal of some of its rivals, particularly the entrenched Honda Accord and newer Mazda 6, despite using the same basic platform of the latter, thanks to Ford Motor Company's stake in Mazda. The Milan seems positioned to provide basic transportation, little excitement, and little else.