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Machine Design

Mercury Montego

The Montego is a five-passenger sedan in its second year of production as the Mercury version of Ford's Five Hundred.

The Montego is a five-passenger sedan in its second year of production as the Mercury version of Ford's Five Hundred. The five new items on this year's model include two options (a navigation system and a DVD player), three new exterior colors, power-adjustable pedals, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. But as far as I could tell, the car is far from needing an update.

Under the hood, the proven Duratec V6 couples to a CVT transmission, which is part of the Premier package The 3-liter, four-valve engine puts out 203 hp at 5,750, which translates into about 18 lb per hp for the 3,800-lb car. This makes it more than adequate for normal driving, but it's not going to win any drag races.

The car also boasts a form of all-wheel drive. It is usually front wheel only. But when the Haldex limited-slip coupling detects a speed difference between the front and rear wheels, the coupling redistributes torque, sending all of it to the rear wheels if necessary.

It's a comfortable car to drive, well behaved, nice, semicrisp steering, and a smooth ride. It's also one of the safer cars on the road, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They give it a five-star rating for front and side-impact crashes. Of course, to be even safer, you can pop for side air bags (for the front seats) for another $1,000. (I've not read too much about the efficacy of side air bags, so I don't know how much protection this actually represents.) Another safety feature are the HID head-lamps. They really light up the road at night.

The car comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction control, the HID lights, and leather seats (or at least leather seating surfaces).

I got a good chance to try the car's nav system when driving at night on unlit rural roads through blowing snow. I could not figure out how to input addresses as a destination — the manual just frustrated me — so I used an intersection instead. I followed its directions, which were preceded by ample warnings of upcoming turns and about which lane I should be in. It worked flawlessly, guiding me to my destination. Then the nav system showed me a new route to get back home, one I'm not sure was the fastest or shortest.

These systems might make TripTiks and maps cluttering the car a thing of the past if engineers can refine the user interface, add a more complete map database, one that can be updated via some WiFi link, and improve the routing algorithm. Then men will have a better excuse for not stopping to ask directions.

The car lists for $28,730 with the Premier package (AWD, power seats, six-disc CD/mp3 player). But add the Safety Package ($600), the nav system ($2,000), reverse sensing ($300), and a roof-mounted DVD player for the back seat (($1,000), pushes it to $32,610.

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