- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

The Mercury Sable has always sought and mostly achieved a classier image than its fraternal twin, the Ford Taurus, despite the fact that the two cars sell for about the same price when comparably equipped.

Yet for every Sable that is sold, more than three customers choose a Taurus.

So there must be a perception that the Taurus is a better value, or a better mainstream choice, or perhaps it simply gets better advertising and promotion.

Anyway, in the popular mind, it is the Ford that bumps up against the leaders in the midsize sedan segment the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Once it was the Taurus that led the pack, but it has been reduced to also-ran status by the mostly American-built Japanese cars.

Yet if you combine the sales of the Sable and Taurus, even given the fact that you don't hear or see much about them in advertising, they're close to the sales of the Accord and Camry. So they're obviously doing something right.

A big chunk of it is price. The tested 2002 Sable LS came loaded with a long list of standard equipment for a base price of $22,795. A few options, including an upgraded sound system, chrome wheels, traction control and side air bags, brought the total suggested delivered price up to $24,325.

You can get a V-6-powered Camry or Accord for something near that, but you have to give up some of equipment that you'd take for granted on the Sable.

The equipment includes: leather upholstery, remote locking with anti-theft alarm, automatic climate control, fog lights, alloy wheels, automatic headlights, power windows, cruise control, and motorized and heated outside mirrors. Curiously, though the test car had the upgraded sound system, it did not include a CD player.

But it did have adjustable pedals, which deserve a special mention. Not only does the Sable (and other Ford products) offer multiple adjustments with the power seats, the brake and accelerator pedals also have power adjustments that move them closer or farther away from the driver. Bottom line: If you can't find a comfortable driving position in the 2002 Sable, you've likely been cloned from a chimpanzee or dropped from another planet.

On paper, the Sable LS has about everything a car buyer in the midsize market could want or need. The engine on the test car was the most powerful offered: A 3-liter, 24-valve V-6 that delivers 200 horsepower to the front wheels via a four-speed automatic transmission.

With a curb weight of 3,313 pounds, the specifications lead you to anticipate stellar performance.

But whether it's the gearing in the transmission or the peak power output of the engine, the Sable doesn't feel like a developing storm.

It's more like an easy breeze, with plenty of puff to carry you through traffic and freeway hurdles, but not something you'd want to rely on in a stoplight tempest.

Compared to the industry leaders in this category the Camry and the Accord the Sable feels coarse at the margins, amplified by an engine that communicates a rough edge and sounds a bit raucous.

However, it should be said that this is the sort of ambience that likely would not be noticed by anyone other than those who have an opportunity to drive the Sable side by side with some of its competitors. People who buy one car every five years or so, and don't drive anything else, will not notice anything untoward.

The handling and ride have been tuned for the masses the sorts of folks who jump into a rental car and want, and expect, a car that will not get out of shape in rapid lane changes, and will ride smoothly and comfortably enough to carry them on a daylong trip.

They are not likely to challenge the Sable starkly on twisting roads or in adverse conditions. Inside and outside, the Sable fulfills all those expectations.

The exterior styling is conservative to the point of near-invisibility, and the instruments and controls inside are ergonomically correct, though not state of the art, and the automatic climate control works precisely. Plastic wood-grain trim is tastefully applied.

The seats, front and back, are comfortable and supportive, and there is plenty of stretchout room for four persons. Only when you add a fifth person in the middle of the back seat do things get dicey, but even that perch is better than on most cars in this class.

One annoying feature: The doors lock automatically once the Sable gets underway. But when the driver exits, only that door unlocks, which means that if he or she wants to retrieve something from the back seat, the rear door must also be unlocked. Bummer.

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