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Mercury Monterey

Martha Hindes

Mercury Monterey
Mercury Monterey

If you're going upper class, there's no reason to be anything else. That is the simplified strategy from Mercury which abandoned two trim flavors and is keeping one luxurious Monterey minivan offering. For 2006, all upmarket Monterey models -- the cousin of Ford's more urban Freestar minivan -- will come equipped to the nines. There is no shortage of amenities one would expect in a luxurious, quiet-cabin class minivan.

This is a refinement of the Monterey that debuted two years ago with great expectations from Mercury's parent, Ford Motor Company. Since then, it has butted heads with some riskier designs from competitive auto makers. On a radical design scale, Monterey (and Freestar) fits roughly in the middle of the pack, trim, attractive, well thought out and comfortable with excellent handling and a lot of attention paid to such issues as safety and comfort for pregnant women drivers or constricted older drivers, among others. It is neither too large nor too small, but a just-right size full of thoughtful amenities and surprises. The Fall football crowd could enjoy a tailgate party with the fold-in-floor third row seat flipped rearwards, for high and dry seating under the raised liftgate even in a sudden downpour.

Monterey has not gained the intensely loyal following of some other similar minivan offerings, despite its top, Five Star crash test rating and much of the Number 2 American auto maker's value pricing as of late. This vehicle, on Ford's trusty and time-tested Windstar underpinnings, offers a blend of good driving characteristics, adaptable seating and storage, comfortable ride and impressive mileage (a 600-mile round-trip from Detroit to Chicago on one 26-gallon tank fill-up, says Ford).

New for '06 are redesigned wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel, optional 17-inch, nine-spoke bright aluminum wheels and Dark Toreador Red and Smokestone clearcoat metallic exteriors. Other standard or available goodies include "sleeping baby" overhead light, speed control, leather and suede seating, roof rack, power liftgate, power adjustable pedals with memory, tri-zone temperature controls, cargo management system, premium audio and DVD entertainment, and more.

The front drive Monterey comes with a single, 201-HP, 4.2-liter high-torque "hill climber" V-6 powertrain paired with four-speed automatic. Tire pressure monitors are standard. For a loaded vehicle in the mid to high 20's range (not factoring in rebates), we think it's a deal waiting to happen.