Milan is the fashion capital of Italy. Step off the tourist trail and it’s a combination of industrial parks and urban sprawl with only slightly more charm than Trenton, New Jersey. Still, you have got to give Ford’s beleaguered near-luxury division credit for naming their hecho-en-Mexico Fusion derivative after the home of Alfa Romeo, rather than resorting to the alphanumerics afflicting Lincoln’s take on the same model. But the question remains: is Mercury’s glammed-up Fusion a credible fashionista or an industrial waste?
The Milan's grill is the most striking difference between Mercury’s mid-market sedan and the car upon which it's based. While Ford decorated their front wheel-driver’s front room with Venetian blinds, Mercury opted for verticals. Less obviously, the Milan’s lower front fascia is more pronounced, the bright work less blingy, the wheels statelier and the rear lights look less… like an aftermarket afterthought.
Subtle as they are, the changes work. The Milan projects greater maturity and wealth than its FoMoCo donormobile. And compared to the redesigned Toyota Camry, whose front-end looks like a saggy-nosed boxer after years of cartilage pulverizing abuse, the Milan is elegantly beautiful.
Color has a Jekyll and Hyde effect on Milan’s mien. The more vibrant hues– Redfire Red, Ebony Black and Dark Blue Pearl– establish a welcome contrast to the crystalline headlight cluster and chrome accents, projecting the requisite eau de upmarket. Conversely, the bland non-color tones– Charcoal Beige, Dune Pearl, Light Tundra, Satellite Silver, Silver Frost or Tungsten Silver— create a pale and pasty pallet of pernicious pabulum.
The Milan’s interior is proof positive that Ford knows how to design and assemble a comfortable, graceful and ergonomic interior. OK, the panel gaps around the dash top cubby can be seen from outer space. And most of the luxury stuff that should be basic– automatic climate control, heated seats, leather wrapped steering wheel with secondary controls, etc.– is optional (bumping the Milan's price towards the Lincoln Fusion homonym). But there are some genuinely nice touches.
For example, the Milan’s center-mounted analog clock is so-not-plastic and the wood is. And kudos to Ford Mercury for the clever center storage bin that combines an MP3 jack, Nintendo-friendly power point and change holder.
The Milan’s elegant monochromatic gauges could use a touch of red, as in REDLINE. While it’s not a concern when driving a Milan equipped with a five-speed automatic, pistonheads opting for stick shift (available on the four cylinder engine) must rely on their ears to avoid triggering the engine’s self-preservation software.
As with the Fusion, the Milan comes in a choice of a 2.3-liter in-line four or a 3.0-liter Duratec V6. The four-cylinder mill produces a class appropriate power (160hp @ 6250rpm) and economy (23/31mpg). It revs effortlessly and remains suitably hushed at cruising speed.
Unfortunately, the manual transmission’s 3.31:1 first gear ratio is a little too much for an engine whose 150ft.-lbs. peak torque doesn’t arrive until 4250rpm. (Translation: unless you rev the engine and dump the clutch north of 3000rpm, you ain't going nowhere fast.)
The V6 Milan delivers an altogether different driving experience. Mated to a six-speed slushbox, the silken six-cylinder engine puts Toyota’s, Nissan’s and Honda’s mills to shame, redefining smooth, effortless, frugal and dependable power for the entire mid-size market.
Don’t get me wrong: the Duratec is a fine engine. But discriminating buyers will notice that the Milan’s 221hp six banger quickly runs out of puff, especially compared to Honda Accord (244hp) Toyota Camry (268hp) and Nissan Altima (270hp). The Milan's mill is also a pretty thrashy unit, with a decidedly downmarket sonic signature.
While the Milan’s mechanical anemia should eliminate torque steer, it doesn’t. Under hard acceleration, the sedan's front end rises like a powerboat as the forward donuts scrabble for purchase. For less adrenal (read: older) buyers, it’s no biggie. These comfort-oriented customers will be well satisfied with the Milan’s sophisticated short and long arm (SLA) front and multi-link rear suspenders. So equipped, the magic carpet Milan surmounts highway irregularities with near-Camry refinement.
On the fun-to-drive side of things, the Milan carves corners with Accordian poise and precision. I'm not saying the mid-sized Merc begs to be whipped. But when your inner hooligan tempts your soul, the Milan has enough spring in its step to keep everyone heading in the right direction.
At the end of my test drive, I asked my handler why anyone would buy a Mercury Milan over a Ford Fusion. “Why eat with a plastic fork when you can dine with a silver spoon?” I reckon that depends on what and where you’re eating. And even if we accept the analogy, the Milan is, at best, a silver plated plastic fork.
Anyway, the bottom line: for around $600 over the Fusion SE, you can buy a few optional trim choices and a slightly nicer looking ride. And that’s about it. I don't know about you, but that doesn’t sound very glamorous to me.