By on April 12, 2010

I was born in the city

A city with no shame

And when I play guitar

They all know my name

Well, as fate would have it, they only really know my name at the local restaurant where I play lunch gigs on my Gibson CS-336. I don’t consider myself a blues man, but I will go to see the blues played when I have a chance. My plan for last week was simple: drive from Columbus, Ohio to New York City to see Robert Cray perform, and then to head down Memphis way to catch the various acts on Beale Street. Tie in an additional trip to the New York Auto Show afterwards, and we’re talking 4,100 miles and plenty of dicey parking. Might as well rent some cars and do an old-school TTAC rental review or two.

It’s been nearly a year since the last Sable rolled off the assembly line. It was a stopgap car, an attempt to rectify the most serious failings of the showroom-cobweb-holder Mercury Montego and mark time until a fully revised 2010 model could debut along the MKS and low-roof Taurus. Ford’s decision to take Mercury in the proverbial “different direction” doomed the Sable to rental-car hell and astonishingly low resale value. It’s possible to pick up a fully-loaded, low-miles Sable Premier for well south of twenty grand.

As I rolled along I-80 in Pennsylvania, the cruise control set to 82 miles per hour and the average-economy readout hovering at 27.9mpg, I had to admit that such a Sable purchase would represent a pretty decent value. It’s a nearly effortless freeway car, tracking straight and true, surprisingly indifferent to sidewinds. The seating position is seemingly about half a foot above what one would have in, say, an Audi A4, and visibility is good as well.

The Montego had a gutless three-liter Duratec and a rubber-band CVT, which probably did a lot to kill showroom excitement about what otherwise would have been seen as a decent 9/8ths-scale American knockoff of the B5 VW Passat. (Is it really a knockoff when you hire the same designer to do the same thing? Somebody should ask Gerald Genta.) This 3.5L/six-speed combination is manifestly better. It’s never strong or impressive, but it’s fast enough for modern American traffic, even in the cut-and-thrust of Manhattan’s Garment District. Hard launches spin the front wheels and bring the hammer of a very strict TCS down on the engine almost immediately. It’s not an enthusiast’s car in the traditional sense, or in any other sense.

Ford’s SYNC system was included on the car I drove, and as usual it’s just about the best way to control an iPod and Bluetooth phone together. The sound system was decent enough but lacking any sense of “dynamic attack”, “stage presence”, or any of the stuff you’d get in one of a name-brand luxury-sedan installation. A full navigation screen is an optional extra and one you’d be unlikely to find in an ex-rental.

I wasn’t more than a few hours away from Ohio when my traveling partner announced her complete lack of satisfaction with the Sable’s flat-bottomed leather seats. “They need to be good like the ones in your green car,” was the succinct evaluation. She chose instead to take a nap stretched out across the three-person back seat, wrapped up in a blanket and comforted by the Sable’s better-than-Camcord-class freeway ride. Four hundred miles later, my back was sore. These are not good seats; the ones you would get in an MKS or 2010 Taurus are miles ahead.

I believe the Autowriters’ Code of Conduct calls for me to mention the Volvo S80 at this point, along with something about ancient platforms. Truth be told, I’ve driven plenty of miles in a first-gen S80 and it’s a very different car. Both the Volvo and the Sable have that slight feeling of front-end crashiness and brittle response one gets from heavy transverse-engine platforms, but other than that it really doesn’t feel much like an S80.

It’s been a while since I resisted the temptation to run a car into the triple digits, even briefly. The Sable never even saw 90mph. It’s not an inspiring vehicle. It’s safe (allegedly), quiet, comfortable in some ways, well-equipped, spacious, and inoffensive-looking. I cannot see why anyone would pick the bloated, low-content Camry over this car, if the money is equal. Problem is, the money wasn’t equal. Ford wanted a lot of cash for the Sable.

Luckily, the used market has corrected that disparity. I turned around after Mr. Cray finished his two-hour set at B.B. King’s and drove back to Ohio. Twelve hundred miles in a day, about 27.5 mpg including time in the city. Not bad, but very far from being memorable. The next car I’d rent would be quite different.

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33 Comments on “Rentin’ The Blues: Second Place: 2009 Mercury Sable Premier...”

  • avatar

    “well south of twenty grand.” I’ve seen nice used ones with less than 50,000 miles for less than $15,000. If the seats were nicer I wouldn’t even hesitate cause I’d love to drive an effortless cruiser like that from Gallup, NM were I live to where my parents live in Ohio (2,000 mile trip). I prefer driving over flying and it’s hard to beat a big car for a long trip.

  • avatar

    These cars had one major strength that is absent from the new Taurus: outstanding packaging. The interior is very roomy, and the trunk was the largest available in ANY car.

    As Jack notes, handling is not a strength. It wasn’t a strength in the Volvo, either, but the chassis feels even less precise in the large Fords.

    Reliability has generally been good, with one minor exception. 2008 Taurii had noisy struts. Ford might have fixed this with the 2009s, but we don’t have a large enough sample yet to tell one way or the other. They don’t appear to have sold many 2009s.

    Not yet signed up to help with the survey? Details here:

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with Michael, the MKS and Taurus have poor visibility and lack of headroom. I would prefer a car with a little more room and a little less “style.”

  • avatar

    Are the seats in this different from the previous-gen Taurus (née Five Hundred)? If so, this was a major oversight: a highway cruiser without comfy seats is like a horse without a saddle.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    I’ve had a Sable as a rental 2 or 3 times when making a 4-day weekend trip between Chicago and Cleveland. The seats never bothered me, but at that time I had never had the luxury of nice seats in a car before. Most of the time when I made this trip Hertz would give me a brand-new Sonata or a year-old Camry.

    Both the Sonata and Camry would get better fuel economy but the comfort and quiet of the Sable was worth the extra $3-5 per round trip. Easily.

    If you are an interstate warrior and the seats are ok to your backside (they certainly seemed no worse than the Sonata or Camry), the Sable is very hard to beat.

  • avatar

    I cannot see why anyone would pick the bloated, low-content Camry over this car, if the money is equal.

    On the used lot, you’re right. New, the Taurus/Sable was much more expensive than the Camry (especially the I4, which is good enough for most) and Ford dealers—at least in this neck of the woods—weren’t willing to haggle. The Freestyle-derivatives were even more costly.

    This invited comparisons to the Avalon and Lexus ES, which both do a slightly better job at nailing their target market than the Sable did.

    I remember thinking the same thing: these cars should sell better. The Impala and Regal/Century/Lacrosse/Allure outsold them handily, and if you think the Camry is meh, the Impala et al is a Camry with a much less comfortable rear seat. The reason the Impala won, of course, was entirely due to price.

    • 0 avatar

      The Impala does other things better than the Sable other than price. It feels and drives more sporty and IMO looks better on the outside looking less of a tubby plain whale and more a modern decent sedan with a touch of sportiness, at least in the 2LT model that I own with rear spoiler, dual exhaust and a slightly kicked up rear tail. I also get better mileage than any 2008/09 Taurus/Sable I have rented with the AFM 3900 V6. Another area the Impala wins is transmission performance. That old 4 speed shifts perfect every time and is right there responsive. The 6F GM/Ford automatic needs work and can sometimes be as flighty as a 16 year old high school student. My Impala also offers something that doesn’t some std on any Taurus or Sable- remote start which in the snow belt I cannot live without today. The Sable does have the advantage of a larger trunk and more back seat space and the dash is a little higher end on the Ford products. Both cars seem ot be about the same for reliability with 08 and 09 Fords having occasional strut noise issues and Impalas with there intermediate steering shaft problems. My Impala with well over 60K has suffered no other warranty problems and none of the Taurus/Sables cars I have rented ever had a problem or left me stranded.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford offers remote start as a dealer installed accessory on almost all vehicles in the line. Of the hundreds of cars I’ve sold, I’ve never had a single person opt for it. If I were living in the north and had to defrost windows before driving to work in the morning though, yeah, that might be something I’d go for.

      Having driven a few Impalas (cars on the used lot or trade ins) I can’t say I’ve ever had one that felt sportier than the Taurus/Sable, and in fact, I’d say the Taurus/Sable had a fairly sporting demeanor for such a large car. It isn’t in any way a sports car, but the body felt rigid and steering input, while very low on the feel and feedback, was at least linear and immediate.

      I don’t know if I have ever driven an Impala with the 3.9, but those I have driven with the 3.5, while torquey and quick enough off the line, were fairly gutless once the revs increased, of course, having only 4 cogs in the transmission doesn’t help either. Maybe the LTZ trim and the bigger engine helped both acceleration and handling. The rear seat is my biggest issue with the Impala. I like the conservative styling, and room up front is good, but I was very surprised when I jumped in the back so the couple test-driving could take it around the block how confining the rear seats were.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Hmmm, the modern Impalas I’ve driven have not been sporty at all. More like floaty and loose. I never could understand how the Impala outsold the Five Hundred/Montego when they were competing head on.

  • avatar

    Does it have keypad entry? That’s one feature that Ford did right that I’m surprised no other carmaker has adopted. Key fobs are nice but they are always kept on the keyring (integrated into the key on my Lexus!), and it’s better to have a car that you can just lock the keys in when you’re at the beach or hiking or bicycling, etc. I’ve considered buying a Ford for just that feature alone.

    • 0 avatar

      Very much enjoy it on mine. It has saved my partner’s bacon on more than one occasion too, preventing a costly tow truck visit.

      One of my (admittedly many) retrograde wishes is for every vehicle to have this feature, instead of the annoying chirping or honking you hear ad nauseum with people idly playing with their keyless fobs.

      I am aghast at the move towards integrated key/fob, as it seems like an expensive way to buy keys. Of course, I’m such a dinosaur (or is it crocodile Psarhjinian?) that I still think my old metal keys (Ford- Family of Fine Cars) are stylish.

  • avatar

    My mom just bought a loaded 2009 Premier for $18K. With a long warranty and some extras, she paid about 20K for it. I have driven it quite a bit and like it. My only complaint is that the handling could be better (IMO, they should have just left the Montego suspension alone, instead of mushing it up) and yes, the front seats do start to get uncomfortable if you sit in them for long periods of time. However, the rear seat is much more comfy. I also don’t like how wide it is (or at least seems to be from the driver’s seat).

    The reason why the Sable sold so poorly was because of the fact that Ford never marketed it, and for the fact that despite being a solid car, it is forgettable as soon as you leave the driver’s seat. While I drive it, I think, “I can see myself driving one of these.” However, as soon as I am done and driving my Caravan again, I have completely forgotton about how much I enjoyed it. In a nutshell: The Sable is a nice car, but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. However, thanks to its black-hole depreciation, it is easily one of the best buys on the used market.

  • avatar

    “The Montego had a gutless three-liter Duratec and a rubber-band CVT, which probably did a lot to kill showroom excitement about what otherwise would have been seen as a decent 9/8ths-scale American knockoff of the B5 VW Passat.”

    Bingo, Michael.

    I once rented the original CVT-equipped model and that engine/tranny combo would have been a total no-sale had I been actually considering buying one. I rented an ’08 Taurus with the revised powertrain, and it was like a different car. Not something that you’d confuse with a BMW, mind you, but as big family cars go, it was a very nice piece.

    It’s a shame – this is really a quite decent car and deserved to sell a lot better than it did. I guess the good news is that these cars are epic bargains on the used car market.

  • avatar
    Ryan Knuckles

    To those complaining about the seats: Did you adjust the lumbar support? It really makes all the difference. I just drove from SE Missouri to Kansas City and back in two days and didn’t notice any discomfort.

    I just bought an ’08 with 30K on the clock for $17K. Pretty outstanding car for the wife, I must say.

    • 0 avatar

      I find a lot of adjustable lumbar supports really inadequate. My Mazda3 has adjustable lumbar support for the driver’s seat, and even cranked out all the way, it’s barely adequate. This is not limited to cars; I have the same problem with office chairs.

  • avatar

    I have spent quite a bit of time behind the wheel of an 05 Five Hundred Limited. (CVT, AWD.) My complaints of that car were quite similar to these. the seats were uncomfortable for long trips. The meager lumbar support that was available on that particular car did not help. (just a lever on the side of the seat) I also found the center arm-rest to be significantly lacking in padding, and yes, the stereo lacked anything resembling “depth.” But taken as a whole, it was a very good car. I strongly recommended the Mercury version described here to my mother when she was car shopping, although she ultimately chose an Accord, for the better fuel economy. Even with these flaws, I would happily accept one of these “large Passats” as my own. and I’d carry a pillow for that darn armrest..

  • avatar

    I sat in a Five Hundred a few years ago at the Chicago auto show. Very roomy. Today I drove our company’s 2010 Taurus and felt like I was in a cocoon. So, I agree with Michael’s comments about packaging.

    What I am confused about is the travel route. Jack, did you see Robert Cray in New York, on Beale St, or both? The opening and closing paragraphs seem to clash.

    • 0 avatar

      B B King Blues Club & Grill
      243 West 42nd Street
      New York, NY 10036-7297

      I think it’s under different management than the chain of BB King’s Blue’s Clubs based in Memphis.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I saw Robert Cray at the end of March at B.B. King’s in New York. Couldn’t catch his gig in Columbus because I was at the New York Auto Show on those days.

      If I can find a ZHZ, I’ll give it a shot!

      My green car is just a $62,000 Audi S5 with all options except Drive Select.

  • avatar

    “…Today I drove our company’s 2010 Taurus and felt like I was in a cocoon…”

    Agreed. I sat in the Taurus “Executive Express” SHO and it was downright confining…

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I am so confused. Cray was in Columbus on the 1st.

    Where do you play? I would come up and see you play some time.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I knew I was going to miss Robert in Columbus because I’d be at the New York Auto Show. Ironic, huh? Like rain on your wedding day.

      I sing in a variety of places but you always can catch me three times a week, playing a variety of Seventies R&B at the Potbelly sandwich shop in Dublin, OH, from 11:30 to 1:45. It’s strictly for my own amusement. :)

  • avatar

    @ Baruth

    “They need to be good like the ones in your green car,”

    Not that I don’t agree that Ford seats are sh1t (not “the sh1t”, just sh1t) isn’t your “green car” a $100k+ R8?

    On a related note-while they’re still available, can you do a review of the Hertz ZHZ? That would be a fun rental review.

  • avatar

    John HornerApril 13th, 2010 at 12:57 am
    Hmmm, the modern Impalas I’ve driven have not been sporty at all. More like floaty and loose. I never could understand how the Impala outsold the Five Hundred/Montego when they were competing head on.

    You must be driving the base 3500 LS models that use a softer suspension. My car is the 2LT that includes a sport suspension, 17″ tires and the 3900 engine which transforms the handling considerably and rides much more firmly. I can pull around the very same off ramp going a full 10 more MPH before the tires and suspension give up in howls of protest compared to any 2008 or 09 Taurus I have rented and the steering is firmer and better weighted. I do agree that the base Impalas steering is a tad light and that they ride more softly but that has been cleaned up for 2010 as all Impalas now come std with the firmer touring suspension and 17 tires as std equipment and feel even better than my 2008 2LT. We had 2 2010 rentals so far with this new setup and were pleasntly surprised how well these cars handled. As for why the Impala outsells the Taurus it does most everything pretty well unless your over 6′ tall and have the seats all the way back which compromised rear seat legroom a bit. I am 5’10” and have the seat back half way and so far no one has complained about room. It’s the sharp ridge at the seat bottom due to the flip and fold rear seat that causes some fuss. The Impala is cheaper and offers some things not available on the Taurus such as Onstar and std XM radio. I have also heard many say they don’t care for the Taurus exterior styling which is rather Passat generic and overly plain and tall. That and I think the older 500/Montego may have soured some peoples taste with the noisy gutless 3.0 liter and oddball transmission choices plus those uncomfortable front seats.

    • 0 avatar

      In my time at two rental companies, I’ve driven perhaps 400 different Imapals, from the base LS all the way through the SS, and from model years 2006 through 2010. None has ever felt any stiffer than a worn out sofa on wheels. The Impala is what it is, and I’m glad you enjoy yours, but please don’t try to convince anyone here that it’s a stiff, sporty vehicle.

      I’ve also driven hundreds of Five Hundred/Montego/Taurus/Sables, and the pre-facelift Five Hundred/Montego had shockingly connected handling for such a vehicle. Ford toned it way down for the ’08 refresh/rename, but it was still leagues more competent than the Impala(in fact I’d posit that any D3 [?] car is better in this regard than any W-Body save the Grand Prix GXP).

  • avatar

    This car reigns supreme over the smaller, less useful, less efficient, more expensive 2010+ Taurus.

    Ford had to go and ruin a good thing for a huge swath of their buying demographic.

    • 0 avatar

      I will remind you that the last generation car did not sell well at all, so Ford had to do something. I feel they made a decent move; let the Fusion soak up the Camcordima bulk sales and let the Taurus nip at the near-luxury segment. People in that segment aren’t looking for practicality above all else (the new Taurus is still practical, just not to the same level as the last-gen), and enough so that I feel it’ll do well. Sales numbers seem to support this, and the new car has next to no fleet sales gaming the numbers compared with the old model.

    • 0 avatar

      They ruined a good thing by increasing sales dramatically?

  • avatar

    My mom just bought one of these, a base ’08 with 24,000 miles for $15k.

    It’s a pretty impressive car; very quiet, smooth ride, plenty of power, and tons of room. Since my own car is a Mazda3, it doesn’t feel sporty, but the handling is tight enough that I find it quite pleasant to drive. Not an especially memorable car, but my mom loves it, and hopefully it will prove trouble-free.

  • avatar

    As an owner of a 2007 Montego I have to say that I really like the car. I have found it to be very comfortable (especially on long trips), reliable and has a great safety rating. Although I understand the criticism about it being underpowered, there is a flip side to that–great gas mileage! The car routinely gets 22 – 23 mpg around town and about 26 mpg on the highway.

  • avatar

    I had a 2008 Ford Taurus as a rental car.


    Plan was to drive it from LA to San Fran and then keep it in San Fran for the week. I was so exhausted from the numb steering, the terrible seating position, and the weak headlights that I stopped at the airport in Sacramento to swap the car out. It was just horrid.

    Three worst rental cars in the last five years:

    1) 2008 Ford Taurus
    2) 2008 Toyota Camry LE
    3) 2007 Buick Lucerene V6

    Three best rental car surprises in the last five years:

    1) 2008 Hyundai Sonata V6
    2) 2008 Pontiac G8 Base
    3) 2009 Ford Fusion SEL V6

  • avatar

    the ford seats that i thought were extra crappy were in my 05 F-150 supercrew. on the other side of the coin, i could comfortably drive all day in the 09 fusion.

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