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Machine Design

Mercury Milan Premier

It was clear from the get-go that the Mercury Milan was going to be a likable car: It was midsize, eye-catching, and even the base vehicle would come with a long list of standard equipment at a reasonable price.

Or at least that's what the attractive young lady on the auto-show turntable said. Now that we've gotten to drive one, I can tell you she was right.

The four-door sedan is not cramped or oversized. It fit in our garage, along with another car, and it was easy to move around the bikes, tools, and stuff everyone keeps in the garage. Clever packaging on the inside makes the Milan feel like a fullsized vehicle. The handsome interior is well equipped with power seats, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, and the latest gotta-have feature: heated seats. On cold mornings, the seats warm much faster, in about 30 sec, than the cabin temperature. My better half is usually sparse with praise for things that work well, but this one elicited positive comments and cooing when she felt the warm touch of thoughtful engineering.

Our Milan carried a 221-hp (205 lb-ft) V6 with six-speed transmission. More good news: Spirited acceleration and solid handling make even the drive to the grocery store entertaining. The suspension is independent all around. I took my son through a series of rapid figure-8s in an empty parking lot and found the handling crisp and confident. His favorite feature: The six-stream windshield washer. A clear view is important, he says.

The EPA says the driveline delivers 29 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg in town. That's a 3-mpg improvement over the family Taurus that has the same 3-liter engine and a four-speed transmission. On a night out, we packed the Milan with five adults and it still felt like a rocket.

The base 2.3-liter fourcylinder engine puts out 160 hp. Later in the year it will be available with a five-speed automatic transmission being codeveloped by GM and Ford. Its highway rating will be a slightly more respectable 32 mpg.

A few notable features include speed-sensitive wipers, 17-in. wheels, and a battery saver. Options include side air bags ($595) and the heated seats ($295). But my favorite features are still the simple ones, such as radio controls on the steering wheel and lots of storage space. A shallow bin, for instance, in the middle of the dash holds a few items nearby and out of sight.

The base list for the Milan is about $19,000, while the Premier goes for $22,845, and with all the options it's about $25,500. But I'd opt for the 2.3-liter four with the five-speed automatic ... and heated seats.

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