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A new technology for production cars in 1997, gas-electric hybrid drivetrains have had only 12 years to mature, yet they've been subject to serious scrutiny and plenty of backlash. The system in the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid should silence the critics. In this application, hybrid technology delivers a seamless and enjoyable driving experience coupled with the advantages of high mileage and impressive range.
Couple that hybrid power train with the best cabin tech in the business, and the Milan Hybrid is a winner on all fronts. The navigation, phone, and music systems do things that other automakers are only beginning to incorporate. Beyond that, the Milan Hybrid gets an amazing instrument cluster along with driver safety technology new on vehicles from Ford.
On the road
We always enjoy getting into a car equipped with Ford's key cabin technologies, Sync and Sirius Travel Link. With Sync, the Mercury Milan Hybrid lets us pair an iPhone by Bluetooth, and plug it into a USB port. Almost instantly, we can ask the car to call anyone in our phone book by name, or cue up music by saying an album or artist name.
The Engage preset for the instrument panel display shows battery level and engine speed.
As we begin our test drive, Sirius Travel Link shows traffic congestion and incidents on nearby freeways, letting us avoid snarls for frustration-free driving. This system also shows weather, although that's not really an issue in our moderate San Francisco area spring. Travel Link's fuel price display might come in handy, except the Milan Hybrid is so frugal with the gas that we barely get through half a tank during our testing.
The first indication of the car's hybrid system comes when we turn the key, getting the characteristic boot-up typical of these types of cars rather than the roar of a gas engine. We like that roar, but admit it's utterly wasteful. Part of the Milan Hybrid's boot-up process involves lighting up its colorful and configurable instrument panel display. We opt for the Engage preset, which shows engine speed (in revolutions per minute) and battery level.
Pushing the accelerator, the Milan Hybrid moves stealthily forward, propelled by electric power through our parking garage. Out on urban streets, our heavy-footed-driving style engages the gas engine off the line from most stop lights, but it quickly gives way to electric mode after the car builds up its momentum, and glides through the city at speeds ranging from 20 to 40 mph.
This stop-and-go driving finds the car constantly switching from gas to electric and back again, but the transitions are smooth and initial acceleration impresses us. The Milan Hybrid's power train rates a combined 191 horsepower, only 4 more horsepower than the 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid, but it somehow feels like a lot more. It doesn't have quite the sprightly boost of the Nissan Altima Hybrid, with its 198 horsepower, but the Milan Hybrid does have an overall more solid feel.
Along with the informative instrument panel, you also get the traditional hybrid power animation on the central LCD.
Flooring the Milan Hybrid's accelerator gets its 2.5-liter engine growling and the speed building quickly. Moving up to freeway speeds, the gas engine stays on, as it's programmed to do above 47 mph. Lights in the side mirrors indicate when cars occupy the blind spot; this is Ford's newest driver aid technology. When the way is clear, some quick lane changes reveal an awful wallow in the Milan Hybrid's handling--there is no intention of sport in this midsize sedan, just economical comfort. But we're very pleased to see the trip meter head past the 36 mpg mark after some time spent on the road, accompanied by a full bloom of virtual green leaves on the right side of the instrument panel.
In the cabin
We first got to try out Ford's new cabin tech solution last year in the Lincoln MKS, and have since seen Sync and Sirius Travel Link in a variety of other models. As deployed in the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid, this cabin tech suite offers a few improvements over those we've seen before.
Ford is continually expanding Sync's capabilities with offboard services accessible through a Bluetooth-paired cell phone. One example is 911 Assist, a feature that will automatically dial 911 and send an automated message if the car detects a crash. Of course, other Sync-equipped models besides the Mercury Milan Hybrid get this feature.
The navigation system offers a detour around bad traffic.
Sirius Travel Link is well-integrated with the hard-drive-based navigation system, letting you navigate to a gas station from the fuel prices screen, for instance. Similarly, when bad traffic shows up on a route you have programmed, the navigation system displays a warning, and will compute a route around the problem.
Route guidance works very well with the system, giving street names in the voice prompts for turn directions. In addition, the graphics showing upcoming turns are rich, giving good guidance for even the most complex interchanges.
We mentioned the Bluetooth phone system above, which offers unparalleled pairing, making a phone's contact list available through voice command. More impressive, if you have multiple numbers for a single person, Sync will ask which number you want to call, using proper labels for home, mobile, and work.
After pairing a Bluetooth phone to the car, it asks if you want to copy over phone book information.
The Milan Hybrid's stereo benefits from both the navigation system and Sync. CDs can be ripped to the navigation system's hard drive. With Sync, you can plug just about any MP3 player into the car's USB port, then use voice command to request specific artists and albums. That same functionality extends to USB flash drives plugged into the port and to the hard drive. In our testing, the system is remarkably accurate, correctly interpreting even complex artist names.
Voice command works for Sirius satellite radio, as well, letting you ask for channels by name or number. The CD player can read MP3s, but lacks the advanced-browsing features offered by the hard drive and USB port. The system also works with Bluetooth streaming devices, although that source, similar to the auxiliary input, doesn't allow music search or browsing.
The Sony audio system isn't quite as refined as the THX system used in Lincoln models, but it was much better than we expected. Each door has a woofer; tweeters are mounted in the A-pillars; and surround-sound speakers sit in the rear deck. The audio from those speakers is augmented by a center channel and a subwoofer. The resulting sound is well-balanced, offering good, but restrained, bass, and clear highs. It's not the best system we've heard, but it won't mangle the music you love.
Cabin tech features that help the driver are a rear-view camera and a blind-spot warning system. The rear-view camera shows static lines indicating distance, and a sonar sensor adds additional warnings to help the driver avoid hitting objects.
An amber light in the side mirror warns of cars in the Milan Hybrid's blind spot.
The blind-spot warning system monitors the lanes off each rear quarter of the car, lighting a small amber dot in the appropriate side-view mirror if it detects a another car. Strangely, the system gave more warning in the passenger-side than in the driver-side mirror, only turning on the warning light in the driver-side if a car was actually in the blind spot. The passenger-side lit up as cars approached the blind spot. We would have liked a slightly larger warning light, but overall the system worked fine.
Under the hood
Ford's hybrid system is similar to Toyota's Synergy hybrid system, although Ford claims it was developed independently. As realized in the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid, it seems that Ford has brought it up to a new level of efficiency and power.
Like the Toyota system, the Mercury Milan Hybrid has a nickel metal hydride battery pack that stores electricity generated by the brakes and the gas engine, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder in this case. The electricity is used to power a 106 horsepower motor, which is used to get the car going from a start and drive it at low-to-moderate speeds.
The transmission is also similar to that used by Toyota, a virtual, continuously variable transmission that gives the driver limited options for control--merely drive, low, and reverse. But we have no complaints about the capability of the transmission to step down its ratios when we wanted power.
The leaves on the right side of the instrument panel become more abundant the more economically you drive.
This system lets the Milan Hybrid get an EPA-rated 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg highway. In our testing--a mix of city and freeway driving--we topped out at 36.7 mpg, so you might have to put some effort in to reach 40 mpg. The car impressed us in its readiness to switch over to electric drive, especially on a flat road cruising at above 40 mph.
The power train drives the car's front wheels. As mentioned above, the Milan Hybrid is no sports car. The electronic power steering offers the right amount of resistance, but the car leans heavily in turns. Traction control and an electronic stability program come standard.
The 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid goes for a base price of $27,500. The base car will have the excellent hybrid power train, very cool instrument panel, and Sync. Our car included navigation, for $1,775, and a package that brought in the Sony audio system, blind-spot detection, and rear-view camera, for $3,735. Add a $725 destination charge, and our car's total came up to $33,735.
The Milan Hybrid is outstanding in every category. For performance, the power train is satisfyingly responsive while drinking minimal gas. The only drawback in this category is the wallowy handling, and that's a minor issue in a car built for destination driving. Sync and Sirius Travel Link keep the Milan Hybrid out ahead of the competition for cabin tech, and the addition of the blind-spot system makes it even better. For the design category, the car's banal exterior hurts it a little, but the instrument panel and intuitive touch-screen design keep its rating high. Especially given its price, the Milan Hybrid is a spectacular car.