- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

Car models typically get what’s broadly referred to a “refresh” every couple of years between more major redesigns. Sometimes these midcycle refreshes incorporate significant styling or equipment upgrades. Often, they do not.

For the 2010 Mercury Milan, its refreshes definitely fall in the “significant” category, making for an intriguing alternative to the more conventional choices in the midsize-sedan market.

You’d have to be a Milan groupie, maybe, to immediately hone in on the styling changes, but a cleaner grille and front bumper integrate with some interesting new cuts in the front fenders for a revised front look that manages to be both more minimal and more expressive.

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Inside the Milan, you’re treated to a substantially reworked interior with some noticeably nicer materials, particularly the cushy plastic that now swathes the upper dashboard and instrument panel, and some metal-look finish for buttons, switches and trim that’s more convincing than most faux-metal plastic.

The design of the instruments and center console also is updated. The gauges now have a 3-D effect that improves readability and the new ambient-lighting feature lets you choose from a variety of soft, neonlike colors to illuminate the cupholder and footwell areas.

Meanwhile, the 2010 Milan also gets a couple of fine new optional features: a brilliantly integrated blind-spot warning system that lights a small but bright indicator in either sideview mirror if a vehicle or object is the blind-spot area, notifying you to use caution before changing lanes or merging. Radar sensors handle it all and also enable a feature called Cross-Traffic Alert that warns the driver if there are vehicles to the rear when reversing out of a parking spot or onto a street when the side vision is blocked.

These new electronic “driver aids” were part of our test car’s ambitiously priced optional Moon & Tune package ($3,035) that also contains a thumping Sony 12-speaker audio system.

Yet the package’s three-grand price tag doesn’t include the Milan’s magnificent optional voice-activated navigation system combined with a 10-gigabite hard drive for storing music files. The voice activation is a treat for those exasperated by inputting information into a Nav system in the conventional manner, but it adds an additional $1,775 to the bottom line.

If all this admittedly functional stuff came for the Moon & Tune’s option-package price, then OK, but almost $5,000 extra to enjoy all this electronic gear seems extravagant.

I’d certainly recommend all-wheel-drive if considering the Milan, which big-seller competitors Chevy Malibu, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord don’t offer and is a decidedly valuable feature if you live in a foul-weather region.

The best part of all-wheel-drive is the calming effect it has on the Milan’s chassis: the grunty 240 horsepower from the uprated 3.0-liter V-6 is channeled more efficiently - and pleasingly - to the pavement when it’s going through all four wheels rather than just the front two.

Whether two wheels or four are driving, the power for V-6 Milans is transferred through Ford’s precise six-speed automatic transmission whose only fault is sometimes asking you to shove the throttle pedal a little more than you’d like to effect a downshift. The SelectShift shift-it-yourself function can address that quibble, but if you have to coax the gear lever to get ideal performance, why have an automatic?

Milan’s been one of those cars that’s flown under the radar almost since its inception as a 2006 model, but the revisions and additions for 2010 underscore that Milan, which always had sophisticated driving manners, now offers upgraded features and technology while keeping its tempting price point.

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