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.
Having 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.
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 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.