In the Autoblog Garage: 2007 Mercury Montego Premier

click above image for desktop-sized pics of the 2007 Mercury Montego

Alas, Montego, we hardly knew ye. Of course, the large sedan from Mercury is not going away, but being relaunched as the Sable with a new schnoz, larger engine, and some interior upgrades. The Montego name will once again drift off into obscurity like its Torino-based forebear. While the Sable picks up where the Montego left off, it would be foolish to think the Montego is a dud. The 2007 Montego Premier AWD is a big car, with some dimensions exceeding the Grand Marquis. With a bump here and a nip there, the Montego would make the best Marquis ever. As it is, the Volvo-donated architecture underneath the Montego makes it a very modern driving sedan that belies the comfort-sized dimensions.

Criticism levelled at the Montego since it debuted in 2005 has centered on the somnambulant styling and paucity of horsepower. The Montego's looks are restrained and inoffensive. There's even a slight air of ersatz Mercedes from the back, which is one of the Montego's better angles. The bulbous front end doesn't do the car any favors in the visual distinction department, however. The fungus effect set in, though, and we began noticing little touches like the subtle crease up the center of the hood, and the bodysides unmarred by rub-strips.

For such a large car, the Montego is easy to wheel around in town or parking lots. The large mirrors make parallel parking easy, and the reverse-sensing system helps you avoid the practice of parking by feel. The Volvos on this platform have dismal turning circles, equivalent to a supertanker. Not so the Montego. In Fording the platform, a little bit of front footwell was sacrificed in the interest of turning the wheels farther. You notice the slightly smaller footwells a lot less than you do the surprising agility that the change delivers. You can park this car in one shot, even in tight lots; a trick you can't always pull off with the Montego's platform-mates. It's very geeky to be enamored with how easy it is to park a car, but that agility is something you'll live with and utilize every day.

Our tester came in a buttoned-to-the-collar deep gray called Alloy. Other hues raise the visual horsepower a tad, but the dark metallic paint was handsome and worked well with the cautious styling to exude a sense of decorum. The somber personality of the car's exterior carried over to the mostly black interior. Dark woodgrain trim sets off the center console, and silver accents sprinkled about bring some life to the party. The materials on the dash and door panels have a nice pattern, and they look like they will wear well. We did notice a flash line at the base of the A-pillar trim, which otherwise has the same look and texture of the dash. The headliner and visors seem a little low-rent compared with the rest of the surroundings, but you don't drive around looking at the roof, and the visors block the sun just fine.

Without stooping to retro-shenanigans, the Montego summons the cabins of proud 1960s barges. The slide-rule straight edges of that time have given way to curves, and the Montego's interior is filled with very nice materials in the places that matter. We liked the little squishy pad in the door that just happens to be perfectly located to cushion elbows, and the corporate switchgear is nicer than we'd anticipated. It seems that attention was paid to putting nice feeling surfaces in the places most likely to get handled regularly.

Seating surfaces are perforated leather, and the front buckets were easy to get comfortable in. The eight-way power adjustment on the seats teams with the tilt wheel and power adjustable pedals to help the Montego mold to any human form. We would have liked a steering column that also telescoped, though. The front seats feel a little narrow and lack enough bolstering to hold you securely should things get frisky. Let's face it, this is not a car for getting frisky in.

The back seat is roomy, wide enough for three to sit across without forging personal bonds, and possesed of good leg and headroom. The Premier trim level means you get all the niceties like a power moonroof, navigation system, power seats – they even threw in floormats. The little details appear to have been attended to. We were especially fond of the deep cupholders that securely held our favorite travel mug. Not all cars play nice with our favorite coffee transportation vessel, but the Montego had a well thought out slot for the fixed handle, and the cupholder itself was deep, keeping the mug planted as we careened around on-ramps. The materials and design of the Montego's interior impressed us, and we're curious to see the improvements the Sable brings to the party.

The navigation/entertainment system is easy to use and intuitive. We couldn't confuse it, though we tried. If you miss a turn, the system calculates the nearest u-turn so you can get back on track. If you continue to ignore the mellow lady telling you "turn left now," the system devises an alternate way for you to get there. The points of interest functions made it easy for us to go from one event in the city to a shopping mecca 20 miles away. Being unfamiliar with the area, we just selected "shopping" from the POI menu and entered the destination town. It came back with some options, one of which was our desired destination. While only you can determine if you really need the nav, if you go for it, it will perform admirably. Our guess is that most of the people buying this car won't use it more than a few times per year. The audio system sounded great playing back CDs and terrestrial radio, but the sound of digital compression artifacts on the Sirius service bothered us to the point of hindering enjoyment. Those with less sensitivity to such things won't find a problem.

While the Montego may handle like a smaller car, there are some aspects that make it feel positively huge. The ride height is up there. Your elevation doesn't change much as you go from standing next to the Montego to sitting in it. You step across the sill, but there's very little flopping into the seat like with lower cars. Once in the chair-height seat, the view out is almost like that of a CUV or Minivan. This car positively towers over other iron. It spent the week surrounded by a couple of Volvo S60 cousins, and it definitely peered down upon them in the driveway. While the high seating position is pleasant, especially for nighttime slogs on the highway where it helps you rise above headlight dazzle, it does have its downside. From time to time we noticed some head-toss going on, which we attribute to the elevated center of gravity. It was refreshing to see some actual sidewall on the tires. Since the rims are big 18-inchers, we were glad that Mercury resisted the temptation to go low-profile, it doubtless aids in the way the Montego swallows pocked pavement with aplomb. The ride is well controlled and secure without being flinty. More damping from the shock absorbers would better suit our tastes, but we tend toward sporty. The Montego is not a car that will goad you into back road antics, but it performs dutifully once asked.

The 3.0 liter DOHC V6 has been criticized for lack of oomph, which is unfounded. We found it adequate and in character with the rest of the car. It's not a 540i, but it doesn't have a problem building a head of steam to merge or pass. At its essence, the Montego is a car that dutifully does what you ask. It speeds up when you press the accelerator, if you press harder, it speeds up at a faster rate. Nothing heart-pounding here, but you attain 80MPH easily. The CVT isn't as strange as we thought it might be, it almost feels like a really smoothed-out conventional automatic. Something like the syrup-filled delights that used to come in luxobarges, but without any of the slow-wittedness. It's quick to fiddle with the ratios to attain optimal velocity. You can feel a little nonlinearity in the way the car pulls as the CVT does it's thing, but that's nitpicking.

The visceral component that accompanies acceleration leaves a bit to be desired. Some engines have glorious snarls and are a pleasure to listen to. The 3.0 is not one of those engines. It's not terribly pleasant sounding, and you hear more of it than you should, especially when the tach needle swings beyond 3000 rpm. Thankfully, the gearing keeps it mellow on the highway; 75MPH cruising is right around 2000 rpm. At idle and around town, the engine thrums away politely until you cane it. Thankfully, the new Duratec 35 speaks with more dulcet tones, though neither is at the top of its class.

The rest of the controls are obedient and responsive, as well. The brakes have a firm pedal and are easy to modulate, not to mention strong. The Montego's not Euro-Sports-Sedan buttoned down, but it's not Panther-Platform-floaty, either. It's a tight driver that responds alertly to inputs at the helm. One unsung benefit of the modest power is that it teams with the Haldex AWD system to offer exemplary traction when the going gets slick. We tried and failed to break traction, including full-throttle antics on wet surfaces. You'd really have to work to get the Montego out of shape. Snow did not bless us during the Montego's stay, but we'd expect the car to be secure and predictable in the white stuff. Shod with four snow tires, the Montego with AWD would eat up anything you threw at it, short of off road endeavors. The all season Pirellis our Montego wore would likely be all that's needed in most regions.

We liked the solid way the Montego drove, but found it noisier than we care for. Part of that is the 3.0 liter V6, but we suspect that some of it could be tamed by adding more deadening/dampening materials. Of course, those types of measures add weight and cost, but we were surprised by the hollow ring the doors make when being opened and closed. One of the few real annoyances is the lack of an exterior trunk release. We made multiple walks back and forth to press the dash button to release the trunk. There is a button on the key fob, but you don't always have it right there when you just want to stash something in the trunk. Living with the car for a while will retrain you, we're sure, but we had to actively remember that the trunk does not operate the way trunks have since time immemorial. Unfortunately, swearing like a sailor is not an effective way to open the trunk, either.

We came away from the Montego thoroughly impressed. We like the styling update carried out with the name change to Sable, and are eager to sample the interior upgrades and newly found horsepower. For the meantime, though, we can feel secure in giving the Montego a solid passing grade. It came well equipped and drove well. It's very roomy, packing more interior volume than a Grand Marquis. It's also flexilble, with 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, and an optional cargo management system in the trunk. It's tall enough that ingress and egress is easy, even for Aunt Ida with the bum hip.

The Montego's not a great deal if you pay sticker, but that's not going to happen. Dealers need to move their Montegos to make way for the Sable, so you can likely find one of these cars for a handy discount. As the few stragglers continue to languish on lots, prices will continue to drop for the Montego. If you don't mind being a little down on horsepower and visual flash, the Montego will remain a solid choice. It's well equipped and easy to drive. The long-term reliability of the powertrain should be good, as well. The 3.0 liter V6 has been around a while, so the bugs have been worked out, and the Haldex AWD system got sorted by Volvo, as did the basic platform. It won't light the car-guy fire in you (unless you want to try some kind of mutant engine swapping, which we fully endorse), but it's a lot of car for the money you'll likely spend to get into one.

Click here to view our full high-resolution gallery of the 2007 Mercury Montego Premier.

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