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2005 Mercury Montego Premier AWD

After a few miles in the Mercury Montego, I recalled that Ford had been considering a continuously variable transmission for it.

Did this model have one? It didn't feel any different than what was expected push on the gas and it goes. The tach would rise and fall during accelerations, so I assumed not. But there it was on the spec list: transmission CVT. It seems there is not a hint of difference between a multispeed transmission and Ford's CVT, at least not to the average driver and passengers.

A three-liter, V6 with four-valves-per cylinder is coupled to the CVT. The same 200-hp engine in the family Taurus makes the older car a rocket. It'll spin front wheels on dry pavement. But the Montego is a bit heavier (about 3,980 lb), so acceleration is tamer but more than adequate. EPA mileage on the Montego (19 city, 26 highway) is about the same as the Taurus, which weighs about 600 lb less, so the CVT is paying its way.

AWD adds about 300 lb to the car compared to the two-wheel-drive version, which comes with a Japanese six-speed automatic. Its EPA figures are 21 mpg city and 29 highway.

The car is one of the most comfortable I've ridden in — smooth, vibration-free, and solid. The independent suspension all around helps. We got caught in a storm fierce enough to spawn several tornadoes, but the AWD Montego was unperturbed by the downpour and high wind. Big sticky tires on 18-in. wheels and disc brakes at all four corners make stops certain.

The Montego has plenty of room front and back. My 6-ft 2-in. son sat in the back and still had about 5 in. of space between his knees and the driver's seat back. And the trunk is enormous, about 21 ft 3 . I put two golf bags in it and had room for two more.

Remember the first time you sat in a minivan and were impressed with the high seating and good view of the road ahead? The Montego is almost like that. This is a positive development in my book because doing deep knee bends to cram yourself into a car is not my idea of exercise. But a lot of small cars make you do just that.

Do-it-yourselfers will be glad to know the oil filter is not hidden as it is on many Japanese cars it's easily accessible at the front of the engine. The oil capacity has been upped from 5 to 6 quarts, and the recommended change internal extends to 5,000 mi.

A few other features that deserve mention include heated seats, always a welcome feeling during Midwest winters, and high-intensity discharge headlamps do a great job lighting up the road at night. A couple of the more unusual features include power adjustable pedals with memory. And a sensor sets off a beeper when you're backing into an obstruction. It's optional but would be welcome standard equipment.

Mercury engineers say the car's active safety systems calculate a response to an impact by collecting information from sensors throughout the car. These include a seat-position sensor that determines the driver's distance from the steering wheel, a weight sensor in the front passenger seat, crash severity sensors, and a rollover sensor that activates the available Safety Canopy air curtains.

Would I buy one? The Montego Premier AWD is a bit bigger than I need, so probably not while gas is at $3/gallon. The car carries a price tag of $28,245. And decked out with the moonroof, side air curtains, and reverse-sensing system, it's $30,635.

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