2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid

2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid
Short Take Road Test

Hybrids are supposed to be supremely boring torture chambers, the vehicular equivalent of watching a documentary on the color brown while sitting on a giant-ass cactus. So what happened here?

It’s true that the Mercury Milan hybrid, all-new for 2010, isn’t going to incinerate your synapses with adrenaline-laced excitement, but neither will it make you want to give up driving forever. It’s actually sort of fun, and taken with the mechanically identical Ford Fusion hybrid, it’s the best mid-size hybrid sedan on the market today.

It’s Like a Botany Video Game!

A lot of the enjoyment and appeal of the Milan hybrid, though, comes not from the actual driving experience—which is good, and which we’ll get to in a minute—but rather from the gauge pod situated in front of the driver. Consisting of two high-resolution screens flanking an analog speedometer, the customizable cluster is way more fun than any instrument panel has a right to be (they’re also more distracting than typical gauges). Fuel level is presented via a meter that fills up with gas-colored liquid. Battery charge is depicted via a blue, tone-on-tone bar graph that visibly falls and rises as you demand more juice or refill it via the regenerative brakes. The gauge you’ll watch the most, however, is the much-touted efficiency gauge, which depicts your earth-friendliness via a tangle of thickening vines and sprouting leaves. Drive the Milan hybrid like you stole it, and you’ll kill the plant. Drive like a dick—hypermile, coast as much as possible, etc.—and the plant will thrive. We saw as many as 20 leaves and, while parked with the engine running, as few as two.

Of course, gardening in the gauge cluster requires driving the Milan hybrid, and here’s where it excels, at least in relation to other gas-electrics. The secret? It basically drives like a normal car. The steering is accurate and well weighted, the brakes communicate a little bit about what they’re doing, the body control is exemplary, and the ride is firm but never harsh. Sure, the steering is numb and the brakes still have that hybrid-y sensation—like there’s a piece of fruit under the pedal—but the driving experience is so beyond that of the Toyota Camry and Honda Civic hybrids that we’ll forgive those trespasses.

The cabin is comfortable and spacious, and the trunk’s 11.8 cubic feet of storage is actually 0.1 more than that found in the massive Lexus LS600hL hybrid. We’re also fans of the classy and understated new styling worn by all 2010 Milans, including nonhybrids.

The hybrid system consists of a 156-hp, 2.4-liter four-banger hooked to a 106-hp electric motor. The system’s total power output is 191 hp, enough to move our Milan to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds. That’s not quick, but it’s a decent trade-off for the 32 mpg we saw in mixed—and mostly spirited—driving. The EPA says you can get 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.

It seems as if there’s really no way to get poor mileage. (Except when you’re idling and getting 0 mpg.) When traveling under 47 mph, the system forces itself into battery-only, electric-vehicle mode often and appropriately, and the engine cuts in and out smoothly and relatively unobtrusively during such shifts. If the Milan isn’t going all electric frequently enough for your liking, the cluster will tell you how much extra throttle you’re currently applying and the threshold you must reach to force the car into EV mode. Maximizing mileage is a simple matter of light, precise right-foot control.

So What Are the Downsides?

The downsides to the Milan are just two, as far as we can see. The first bummer concerns the interior materials. The three high-res screens (the two in the IP and the large, brilliant touch-screen for the $1775 navitainment system) look great, but they live in a cabin dominated by cheap-looking leather and dash plastic that’s grained to resemble elephant hide.

The price could scare a few folks, too, especially considering how inexpensively one can hop into a hybrid these days: The latest Honda Insight and Toyota Prius start at $20,470 and $21,750, respectively. Both figures are quite a bit less than the $28,225 commanded by a base-level Milan hybrid, although we’re told that this “stripper” trim is pretty much a special-order proposition, as Mercury attempts to set its car apart from the $27,995 Fusion hybrid. Instead, shoppers are more likely to find on dealer lots examples like our optioned-up tester, which beyond the standard heated leather seats had the navigation/entertainment system and a $3075 package that includes a sunroof, a higher-spec stereo, blind-spot and cross-traffic monitoring, a rear spoiler, and a rearview camera. Indeed, Mercury advertises the Milan as starting at $31,300 on its consumer site.

So, why buy this instead of the Fusion? The most compelling reasons: You have to have heated leather seats—they cost some $1200 on the Ford—and you are interested in a car spec’d with either the navigation system or the big-dollar package. In these permutations, the Mercury is actually less expensive than the Ford, since ordering navigation in the Fusion forces you to add a more expensive option package. If you want cloth seats, however, your hybrid will wear a blue oval. Either car is eligible for a $1700 federal tax credit through September 30 of this year; Honda and Toyota have already sold too many hybrids for their models to be eligible.

Without taking that credit into account, our Milan hybrid totaled $33,075, which puts it within a stone’s throw of rear-wheel-drive dynamic standouts like the BMW 3-series and Infiniti G37, although neither of those—or really much else—will return anything close to the fuel economy of the Milan hybrid. They will be far more rewarding to drive, but if you’re looking at this Mercury, you’re probably focused more on green living and low-key luxury than on canyon carving and badge flashing. And for that the fine-driving and impressive Milan hybrid is perfect. It certainly beats sitting on a cactus.