My parents' first new car was a 1970 Montego coupe. They liked it so much they added a Montego sedan to the ranks– just in time to transport this nascent pistonhead home from the hospital. They no longer own a Montego. And soon, no one else will either. At least not a new one. Ford is about to rebadge the current Montego (a gussied-up Ford Five Hundred) a Sable; just as they’re about to rebadge the Five Hundred (the Taurus’ replacement) a Taurus. Which leaves everyone exactly where they started. I think. Let’s take a look.
The Five Hundred, sorry, Montego, began life as an Audi A6-a-like penned by the same designer who gave us the A6. Ugly it ain't. Boring it is: a third grade piano recital on wheels. Needless to say, the Quicksilver Boys grossly underestimated the need for brand specific product differentiation. Adding an aluminum-toned spizzarkleprow, LED eye catchers and Xenon lighting to a Ford Five Hundred is no substitute for unique sheetmetal. It’s like putting lipstick on a sloth.
Even if the Montego had the svelte sheetmetal to lure the public into a Mercury showroom, there's precious little inside the car’s cabin to keep them there. Swing open those tall and imposing portals and the geriatric bling theme continues apace. Sure, the dark wood-effect trim and richly textured leather hides exude a slight amount of Teutonic flavor. But someone forgot to sweat the details. The chrome ringed gauges look great– provided you can ignore the wall o' matte black buttons on the center stack.
You can see where Ford—sorry, Mercury thought they had a winner. Although fundamentally utilitarian, the Montego’s cabin is also fundamentally huge. According to the age-inappropriate image on the official website, the trunk can swallow enough gear for a small rock band. Stratocaster owners: you can fold down both the rear seat (trunk pass-through) and the front passenger seat and lay your naked, unsecured axe across two rows. How great is that?
Anyway, the Montego’s back seat is Old School Caddy wide and reasonably cushy; there’s plenty of room for three real adults back there. Unfortunately, the space offers all the charm of an airplane hangar. A full complement of airbags (including a side canopy system) ensure five star crashworthiness all ‘round, save for rollover (four stars), which may explain the class-exclusive rollover sensor.
At nearly 201 inches, the turnpike cruisin' Mercury creams most any bump, lump or stump. The spoke-intensive 18" wheels keep things on course, but the noise from the Pirellis at cruising speed throws a howler monkey into an otherwise competent isolation chamber.
Ease the Montego into a corner and it’s clear that this is not your typical land yacht. Thanks to its Volvo-fettled underpinnings, this large, nose-heavy, front wheel-drive sedan does a superb job at keeping understeer at bay without sacrificing ride quality. Predictably enough, the Montego’s steering is to road feel what a Stannah stair lift is to a leg workout. But it’s accurate enough to place the big Merc with precision. And if you don’t, four wheel discs will save your bacon (them’s the brakes).
Of course, this assumes you can amass enough forward speed to get into trouble. Ford's last-gen Duratec V6 welcomes you with a coarse hum at idle that stays all the way to the mill’s modest redline (5700rpm). The powerplant’s 203 horses struggle to tow the Montego’s massive 3670lb frame from rest to 60mph in eight seconds— or any other accelerative metric you can name.
Luckily, the powertrain has a singular saving grace. Well, six of them. The Montego's close-ratio six cog slushbox canes the motor rapidly enough for most, netting respectable fuel economy (21/29) in the process. Even a certified lead foot will find the combination of a flat torque curve and an always-willing gearbox adequate at part throttle, if wholly unacceptable at full-tilt.
In short, the Montego is a fine car for buyers seeking an unassuming full-size sedan that’s a tiny bit more exclusive and sparkly than a Ford Five Hundred, for around $825 more (base to base). Too bad this niche exists only in the world of product planners and flak-talking spin-doctors. Everyone else flocks to well-established import sedans or “real” American cars like the Grand Marquis. In fact, Mercury’s royal sweetheart sports a competitive sticker price and frequently triples the Montego’s monthly sales numbers. Oops.
The Volvo-Mercury is a bowl of corporate porridge that’s so "right" even Goldilocks smells a trap from a mile away. It’s no match for smaller cars in its class and lacks the swagger of its Panther chassis partner. Even with (another) retro name and modest upgrades, the Montego's successor faces an uphill battle in 2008. Ford’s money would have been better spent whipping the old Crown Victoria, Mercury Marquis and Lincoln LS into shape.