- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Mercury just introduced a minivan that has a lot of appeal both inside and out. The upscale design should attract buyers who want to ride in comfort.

Styling was the first thing to get my attention. The Monterey has smart lines and doors that open wide. The side doors open and close at the touch of a button on the key fob or a switch near the driver’s seat, or the door handles themselves.

Entry to the rear seat is very easy as getting the center seats out of the way requires only a light touch to fold them forward. Cargo hauling is not a concern because the rear seats fold down flat into the floor and the rear hatch opens with ease.

I was impressed by the simplicity in transforming the vehicle from one chore to another.

With the rear seat up, it carries seven passengers, each having plenty of leg room. On a long trip, there is the additional comfort of a DVD to watch.

The long wheelbase of this minivan makes the ride smooth, yet it is capable of making a U-turn in less than 40 feet. That means parking this roomy vehicle can be done with ease.

The power-controlled driver’s seat is simple to adjust and I found road visibility very good because I was viewing the road from a somewhat higher angle, similar to the height of a sport utility vehicle. Yet I never felt I had to climb up into the seat; entry is very easy.

The front seats are covered with leather and have a tiny thermoelectric device mounted in the seat frame. This allows the seat to be heated or cooled depending upon the time of year. There aren’t any moving parts, but the surface temperature is changed by an electric current or a fan inside the seat that blows air through the perforated leather.

It also has front and rear parking assist, which was helpful at times and annoying at others. In slow-moving tight traffic, either the front or rear alarm “ding-ding-ding” would sound when I got too close to the car ahead or vice versa. However, in tight parking, it was nice to have an extra eye guiding me.

The Monterey has numerous safety features including a side-curtain air-bag system with rollover sensors. I’m told there are more than 30 safety and security features, including an occupant-sensing passenger air bag plus a belt warning alarm. It also has a stability-control system with traction control and panic brake assist. The Mercury people say this vehicle has done quite well in independent crash tests.

I found no difficulty figuring out how the sound system operates. The same applies to the climate control — which offers zone temperatures.

In some vehicles, the sound systems are so confusing that I’m afraid to change stations fearing I may never return to the same station again.

The Monterey, however, is very straightforward and simple to operate.

On the road, there is more than ample power. This vehicle has a 4.2-liter V-6 engine that produces only about 200 horsepower but generates 263 foot-pounds of torque in a hurry. I’ve been told that later models will be able to tow up to 3,500 pounds.

There are numerous thoughtful features throughout; for example, speed-sensitive volume control of the sound system, rear-seat audio control, tri-zone temperature control, and power-adjustable pedals with memory. The list of goodies goes on and on, and pretty much all are included in the base price. The test vehicle had a roof rack plus self-sealing tires as the only options, and the bottom line was $35,795.

For those who want to ride in comfort in a vehicle that has dramatic styling, that price shouldn’t stand in the way.

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