- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

Mercury Monterey is the fraternal twin of Ford’s new Freestar, the replacement model for the aging Windstar minivan. Offering the upscale amenities of a luxury vehicle and the family-friendly features of a Cub Scout carrier, Monterey shares Freestar’s dimensions, its 4.2-liter V-6 powerplant, and its Safety Canopy air bag rollover protection system.

As the new Freestar/Monterey pair supplants the old Windstar/Villager lineup, the Blue Oval is looking to inject life into sales of its suburban hauler.

Monterey, designed for soccer moms, as well as “free birds” (older women with aging parents, say Mercury spokespeople) is available in Convenience, Luxury and Premier trim levels.

The Convenience level includes a 4.2-liter V-6 engine (available on higher-end Freestars), ABS, tilt steering wheel with integrated cruise controls, Securilock, dual-zone climate control, front console cup holders and storage, a folding third-row cloth bench seat, and forward and reverse park assist.

Luxury models have first- and second-row leather trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, power-adjustable pedals, driver and passenger side heated/memory mirrors, memory function for pedals and driver’s seat, anti-theft system, side air bags and all-row Safety Canopy, dual-zone automatic climate control, floor console storage, third-row reading lamps, roof rails and power sliding doors.

On top of Luxury-level amenities, Premier adds driver and passenger heated and cooled seats, lumbar adjustments for the front passenger, first and second row perforated leather seats, AdvanceTrac traction control, split-spoke aluminum wheels and satin aluminum roof rails.

In addition, several options are available, including DVD rear entertainment and self-sealing tires for Luxury and Premier versions; Luxury Montereys also can be ordered with AdvanceTrac.

The new Mercury minivan adds two new paint colors and shares the same long wheelbase (120.8 inches) and overall shape with its Ford sibling, but has a more expressive design.

The front end includes large headlamps and signature waterfall grille, with satin aluminum accents and monochromatic body cladding for a smooth, elegant profile.

Base and Luxury models have 16-inch tires and solid-spoke wheels, while Premier models get the same rubber with split-spoke wheels. Self-sealing 16-inch tires are also available for Luxury and Premier Montereys.

Under the hood is a 4.2-liter V-6 developing 201 horsepower and 265 foot-pounds of torque matched to a four-speed automatic transmission. Improvements include triple hydromounts for reduced engine noise and next-generation transmission hydraulics for faster, smoother shifting.

Offering numerous high-end features across all three trim lines, Monterey has a sophisticated interior. However, the leather surfaces, DVD system, climate control and other amenities are just icing on the cake — this minivan also is a practical family carrier, with a spacious cabin built to stow all kinds of family gear.

The Mercury van has seating for up to seven passengers and more than 25 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third-row seat. The third row can be folded flat and stowed in the floor, and second-row seats can be removed entirely to create 134 cubic feet of storage space; the third-row seat position can be reversed for tailgating. Numerous cubbyholes and storage spaces can be found throughout the vehicle.

Mercury’s latest minivan offers a pleasant, quiet ride. Significant noise reduction has been achieved through improved body and door sealing, sound insulation and powertrain mounting, along with Ford’s Conformable Constrained Layer Damping technology.

Monterey’s independent front suspension, including MacPherson struts, is matched to a semi-independent twist-beam/coil spring rear suspension. Monterey’s power rack-and-pinion steering is easy to use with a precision and feel more typical of luxury cars.

More than 30 safety features are offered on Monterey, including the Safety Canopy, a side curtain air bag system designed to provide protection for all three rows of seats in the case of a rollover or other severe crash.

Other safety features include occupant-sensing air bags, four-wheel ABS, AdvanceTrac stability/traction control, three-point safety belts and head restraints for all seating positions and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

As the uptown half of Ford’s set of new minivan twins, Monterey combines high-end features with down-to-earth practicality.

Although the Monterey/ Freestar pair face stiff competition, the vehicles’ innovative safety features and capable road manners make them worth a close look.

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