By on September 25, 2009


It’s ironic that on the same day Sajeev’s memory was jogged about driving one of the last built, dealer-lot-fermented Mercury Montegos in existence two years ago, I was piloting one of the last known Hertz-o-riffic Mercury Sables into its twilight. Again. Finally.

Adventures in promotionHaving known intimately this car’s roots from birth in 2004, it pains part of me to see how the Mont Sable has suffered through life. But as evidenced by the inability to even surmount half the sales figures of the absolutely ancient Grand Marquis, something went terribly wrong in this car’s upbringing. Hence, my post-mortem requiem.

The Montego started life half-baked and unloved. Inoffensively styled, the Montego was a classic exercise of characterless badge engineering; merely afterthought exterior blingery on a wallpaper Ford Five Hundred. Worse, it was saddled with the same dog of an engine, Ford’s infamous flash-in-the-pan-then-put-out-to-pasture marketing, and zero product plan.

Not to say there weren’t inherently good traits: comfy Barcalounger seats, vast interior space, limousine-like rear legroom, excellent sightlines, and an enormous trunk that might possibly be hiding Jimmy Hoffa. If you could cane the simply anemic 3-liter V6 into cooperation (easier done with the proper 6-speed auto than the ill-fated and lethargic CVT), the driving dynamics were quite impressive for its class. Equipped with optional AWD, the Montego was a capable big sedan for snow-belters, but nobody noticed—or cared.

2008 brought an identity crisis; the same crack marketing group that failed the car originally thought merely a pseudo-nostalgic rebadge might spur non-existent sales. Sable was reborn: one step forward and two steps back.Pa-rental

Step forward: the proper powertrain. Ford’s new 3.5L “Cyclone” V6 arrived mated solely to a proper 6-speed automatic. Hamstrung only by Ford’s complete ineptness at tuning throttle-by-wire to keep the transmission happy, the new engine makes serious haste. All is made right dynamically. Or, not. Ford siezed the model re-hash to squishify the suspension to full-time Waft mode. The car had always been a comfy cruiser, but now if you dare attempt turning the wheel—although controlled in roll—tactility becomes a fearfully distant memory.

Backwards step one: If the Milan and Jill Wagner were the new face of Mercury at the time, then the Sable’s new nose job was akin to grafting Jill’s face onto Kirstie Alley’s body—an image sure to shatter anybody’s stream of blissful consciousness. The bean counters got their way with the Sable: the glitzy HID lights were chucked for dollar-store halogens, and IKEA evidently had a blowout sale on light birch interior trim. One early ’05 Montego prototype was built with LED taillamps that didn’t have a red lens. Many Ford folks thought the lights made the albino Nobody cares about the strongest link...white Montego look sharp, and subsequently considered the design for the next refresh. Unfortunately it didn’t translate, as the Montego’s imposing LED array gave way to the Sable’s chintzy, JC Whitney Altezza knockoffs.

Backwards step two: Nobody ever knew the Sable was reborn. I’m guessing the marketing kickoff was aimed at a seventy-square-mile section of central North Dakota.

My jet black on cream leather rental bore an ironic symbolism to the Sable’s life story—tattered with scrapes of abuse and dings of neglect, standing proud in stature yet hidden in ubiquity. So after only five years, the Sable unceremoniously meets the end of the line, as its brother Taurus steams on with something remotely resembling product focus. As I roll back into O’Hare at dusk, and hand the keys to a bleary-eyed Hertz agent, I can’t help but damn the Sable with faint praise. It could have been very good, yet it never stood a chance.

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25 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2009 Mercury Sable...”

  • avatar

    Backwards step one: If the Milan and Jill Wagner were the new face of Mercury at the time, then the Sable’s new nose job was akin to grafting Jill’s face onto Kirstie Alley’s body – an image sure to shatter anybody’s stream of blissful consciousness.

    Wow. Now THERE’s an image.

    I agree with you – this was a case of a basically good (in fact, I’d say very good) design being hamstrung by awful marketing and an even worse engine/transmission mating.

  • avatar

    I will never forget J Mays statement of “You can never look too much like an Audi”. An arrogance that is in the bottom of this cars failure to hit the market.

  • avatar

    For someone who cares mostly about room and comfort, these will make great buys as used cars.

    Insufficient data on the 2009s. The 2008s have been about average in reliability, thanks to a common problem with creaky front struts. Aside from that, not much goes wrong with these cars.

  • avatar

    Ingvar :
    September 25th, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    I will never forget J Mays statement of “You can never look too much like an Audi”. An arrogance that is in the bottom of this cars failure to hit the market.

    I don’t think that’s arrogant at all – Audi had great design in the early part of this decade.

    I think an argument can be made that it wasn’t styling that killed this car – after all, the sales leaders in this segment are even duller-looking than this car – but rather two very stupid product and marketing decisions.

    1) The engine/tranny combo was a “no sale” for a lot of people who drove the car (me included).

    2) Ford brought out two brand new nameplates with little or no marketing behind them.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    Rented one in the Big Island oh Hawaii to drive around the volcanic park. It was black, had around 1,800 miles. No car in the world would be more out-of-place parked under a Lanai in the rain forest that one of these things. You could tell it screamed to be taken back to the parking lot at the Hyatt’s golf course for the whole week we had it. Instead, we tortured it with sand, snorkels, wet towels, sulfurous clouds and a constant regimen of kids and doritos in the back seat.

    Our Hertz upgrade had a noise in the right front suspension every time someone sat on the passenger seat or when the suspension moved to accommodate the street. It groaned.

    The engine was coarse and was only at peace when left alone around 50 mph or when coasting downhill.

    Interior space was great, trunk was huge and the materials were good. The headlights sucked on the dark nights.

    I am 42 and felt like 72 driving this thing.

    If I was a dictator of a poor African nation and needed a ride, this would be the car.

  • avatar

    This car wearing the Ford sticker, is the NUMBER ONE reason why Ford should have left the Taurus name dead. After the 2008 and 2009s…why would any sane person look at a Taurus for 2010? When people hear the name ‘Taurus’, they think of the cheap 2006 they got as a service loaner, or the horrid 2009 they got when they were on vacation.

    And because of Ford’s terrible advertising department (do they even have one?), these cars were hastily redesigned in 2008…the Taurus X was reskinned into the Flex, and the Taurus was redesigned yet again in 2010. All of these refreshes do not make a buyer feel comfortable buying a product. The buyer would be stuck wondering…”what did they screw up that will be fixed in 2 years?”

    Think of all the money Ford could have saved in the endless redesigns of the D3 platform if they would have just invested ANYTHING into advertising.

    It would have been pennies on the dollar.

  • avatar

    P71_CrownVic :
    September 25th, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    This car wearing the Ford sticker, is the NUMBER ONE reason why Ford should have left the Taurus name dead. After the 2008 and 2009s…why would any sane person look at a Taurus for 2010?

    So…potential Taurus buyers are insane? Nice flame job.

  • avatar
    alfred p. sloan

    I disagree with the idea that the refreshes will turn buyers off.

    I have grown up in an age of bodystyles lasting 4-7 years (longer for trucks) and that is a turn off. If one grew up in the fifties or sixties you could tell model years apart. Nowadays unless you recognize the slight differences in parking lamps or count the number of grille bars you are hard pressed to know a 2004 from a 2009.

    I appreciate Ford or anyone trying to differentiate model years with body re-styles every 2 years. Things don’t get stale that way and there will be something exciting at the dealers every year. Face it, the platforms don’t change (W-Body, im lookin at you) so you might as well restyle the thing.

  • avatar

    I don’t think the problem was styling (I thought the Five Hundred/Montego looked pretty dern good…the worst you could say was that they were bland) or the name (did anyone at Ford really think it’d make a difference?). I just think the market for full-sized cars is very small at this point. People have migrated to minivans –> SUVs –> crossovers for family haulers. And the so-called midsize cars these days (Fusion, Accord, Camry) are big enough for most needs anyway.

  • avatar

    Lets not confuse the 2005-2007 Five Hundred 203 HP 3.0 liter V6 and CVT transmission for the much improved 2008-2010 3.5 Duratec and Ford/GM 6F 6 speed tranny. Night and day difference here folks especially in the power department. I know 3 people with the 2008/09 Taurus cars and they love them for the most part and really enjoy the 263 HP 3.5, room and comfort, trunk space and excellent reliabilty. The only real complaints I hear with this car are bland exterior styling, no bodyside molding protection(must be purchased aftermarket and installed by user or bodyshop) and the as mentioned poor marketing and focus. The Grand Marquis had more focus for goodness sake at the poor lamented blue hair but loyal set who like there cars traditional, flashy, big and elegant with a V8 purring away underhood.

  • avatar

    All of these refreshes do not make a buyer feel comfortable buying a product. The buyer would be stuck wondering…”what did they screw up that will be fixed in 2 years?”

    We bought a Taurus X anyway. The guts are the same, and we were going for utility anyway, not style.

    Plus it’s so rare, I’m thinking Pebble Beach Concours in 2040.

  • avatar

    2005-2007 Five Hundred 203 HP 3.0 liter V6 and CVT transmission

    I have never ever seen a car with a cheaper looking more plasticky interior in my life. If it went head to head against a Cozy Coupe in terms of interior quality… I don’t know who would win….

  • avatar

    I have a 2007 Ford Freestyle. It is poor man’s Volvo. The best part about the car is that the suspension is tuned to mimic its Volvo cousin. In fact I test drove both Volvo and the Freestyle and found the Freestyle a better value with almost the same driving dymanic. I was impressed.
    A few months ago I was in the market for another car. Since we had had so much success with the Freestyle I was looking to continue the fun and purchase a Mercury Sable for a second car. I loved the room, the lines and mass of the car. I was however, very disappointed that Ford/Mercury decided to change the handling dynnamics of the 09. What could have been a real altervative to a volvo sedan had suddenly become a very dull and floaty car to drive. I still think the car is a great idea, it just seemed to miss the mark in what could have been a fun car to own and drive.

  • avatar

    My former in-laws have a Five Hundred… 100K and no issues so far. Not one trip to the dealer for anything other than routine service.

    Now, boring styling aside, I’d love having one as a company car. Comfortable, reliable, etc.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    I’ve ended up with an 09 Sable twice at Hertz in the last year. Both times I was going for a long interstate trip. I’ve made the drive from Chicago to Cleveland many times, but I can’t remember ever arriving with less road fatigue (but I’ve never driven a “luxury” car that distance). With the cruise control on I averaged around 28 or 29 mpg – pretty good for a car of this size. Big gas tank too.

    If I was one of those road warrier/traveling salesman types, this would be on my list of excellent used car values. If Karesh is right about reliability, all the better.

  • avatar

    The biggest problem with the 2008-2009 Taurus and Sable is that they were entirely forgettable cars. The 3.5 V6 had plenty of pep for city or highway driving, the interior materials were just as good as entry or midrange Japanese cars, and much better than the Chevy Impala or Chrysler 300, but the styling inside and out was big, blocky, and completely anonymous.

    For those who appreciate reliability, practicality, and safety more than syle or fun these cars are a great buy preowned.

  • avatar

    I have to say that I have never understood the criticism about these cars that they are “boring” or are poor performers. We have an ’07 Montego in our family that I find good looking and handling car that is very comfortable and has loads of room. While it is true that it is not a particularly fast car, I don’t think that it is very slow either. More importantly, the car has a couple of performance characteristics that are very desirable. First of all, for a big car it is very efficient. Ours averages around 24mpg around town and will hit as high as 28mpg on the highway (I did hit 31mpg once, but that was an anomoly). Also, the 3.0 Duratec engine has proven to be a very reliable engine. We have a 2002 Taurus with the same engine that has gone over 150k miles without any service beyond normal maintenance. I think these cars are excellent values and very underrated.

  • avatar

    It wasn’t just the Taurus/Sable that was de-funned: the Focus was softened as well. I think the new Fusion is a little mushier, too, but I can’t recall.

  • avatar

    More Ford R&D wasted by not getting spent on the proven Panthers.

  • avatar

    I think styling was the problem. When the thing came out, I looked at the 93 Crown Vic in my driveway. Not a lot of difference, particularly in the greenhouse. This would have been a successfully styled car in the 90s. But not in 2005. It was just too conservative. When the Fusion came out, it was a much more modern look, and sold much better.

  • avatar

    “If the Milan and Jill Wagner were the new face of Mercury at the time, then the Sable’s new nose job was akin to grafting Jill’s face onto Kirstie Alley’s body”.

    I will say this – about 20 years ago, both Miss Alley’s face AND body were pretty damned nice. Throw in that husky voice and she was the stuff of fantasy. Man, did she ever let herself go.

    Kind of analogous to the Big Three??

  • avatar

    I had a white over dirty cream leather one from Hertz in St Louis last week. Big, squishy and comfortable, decently quick too, but definitely not up for any cornering high jinks. The fake wood panels in the dash were dreadful though. I actually didn’t realize they were supposed to be wood for at least a day, the grain was kind of faint and I though they were just bizarre shiny beige panels. There were some disconcerting thumping noises from the suspension/exhaust when driving over bumps on mine too. The gas mileage (mostly local driving) was pretty dire too -computer said around 16mpg.

  • avatar

    I really liked the 500 but AS USUAL the model’s lifetime was so short that thery never really got much age on them before they were reconstituted as the Taurus which I don’t know whether is related and worth watching.

    Durability, looks, performance in that order. It’s got to last. I’ve got to like the looks no matter what I do with it and the performance features are neat but I really wring it out just a few times every 20,000 miles.

    Most of the time I’m using about 20 percent of the car’s performance and capability.


  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    I’ll never understand all the hate that was levied upon the then-500/Montego cum Taurus/Sable. They were much better than the vehicles they replaced, and were designed to perform the same function as a Camry, a car that (it seems) many people love. This platform should have been successful, IMHO.

  • avatar
    Jonathan Gregory

    The Montego was never a bad looking car, and most people here will concede that boring sells (ie CamCord). It was also wonderfully packaged. However the powertrain wasn’t anywhere close to class competitive until 2008 by which time the car had been completely forgotten.

    Better than the old D186 Taurus/Sable? By light years, yes. But it was rendered uncompetitive and irrelevant the day after it launched, thanks to piss poor market support. Nice cars to drive and own, but market failures for obvious reasons.

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