A new technology for production cars in 1997, gas-electric hybrid drivetrains have had only 12 years to mature, yet they've been subject to serious scrutiny and plenty of backlash. The system in the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid should silence the critics. In this application, hybrid technology delivers a seamless and enjoyable driving experience coupled with the advantages of high mileage and impressive range.
Couple that hybrid power train with the best cabin tech in the business, and the Milan Hybrid is a winner on all fronts. The navigation, phone, and music systems do things that other automakers are only beginning to incorporate. Beyond that, the Milan Hybrid gets an amazing instrument cluster along with driver safety technology new on vehicles from Ford.
On the road
We always enjoy getting into a car equipped with Ford's key cabin technologies, Sync and Sirius Travel Link. With Sync, the Mercury Milan Hybrid lets us pair an iPhone by Bluetooth, and plug it into a USB port. Almost instantly, we can ask the car to call anyone in our phone book by name, or cue up music by saying an album or artist name.
As we begin our test drive, Sirius Travel Link shows traffic congestion and incidents on nearby freeways, letting us avoid snarls for frustration-free driving. This system also shows weather, although that's not really an issue in our moderate San Francisco area spring. Travel Link's fuel price display might come in handy, except the Milan Hybrid is so frugal with the gas that we barely get through half a tank during our testing.
The first indication of the car's hybrid system comes when we turn the key, getting the characteristic boot-up typical of these types of cars rather than the roar of a gas engine. We like that roar, but admit it's utterly wasteful. Part of the Milan Hybrid's boot-up process involves lighting up its colorful and configurable instrument panel display. We opt for the Engage preset, which shows engine speed (in revolutions per minute) and battery level.
Pushing the accelerator, the Milan Hybrid moves stealthily forward, propelled by electric power through our parking garage. Out on urban streets, our heavy-footed-driving style engages the gas engine off the line from most stop lights, but it quickly gives way to electric mode after the car builds up its momentum, and glides through the city at speeds ranging from 20 to 40 mph.
This stop-and-go driving finds the car constantly switching from gas to electric and back again, but the transitions are smooth and initial acceleration impresses us. The Milan Hybrid's power train rates a combined 191 horsepower, only 4 more horsepower than the 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid, but it somehow feels like a lot more. It doesn't have quite the sprightly boost of the Nissan Altima Hybrid, with its 198 horsepower, but the Milan Hybrid does have an overall more solid feel.
Flooring the Milan Hybrid's accelerator gets its 2.5-liter engine growling and the speed building quickly. Moving up to freeway speeds, the gas engine stays on, as it's programmed to do above 47 mph. Lights in the side mirrors indicate when cars occupy the blind spot; this is Ford's newest driver aid technology. When the way is clear, some quick lane changes reveal an awful wallow in the Milan Hybrid's handling--there is no intention of sport in this midsize sedan, just economical comfort. But we're very pleased to see the trip meter head past the 36 mpg mark after some time spent on the road, accompanied by a full bloom of virtual green leaves on the right side of the instrument panel.
In the cabin
We first got to try out Ford's new cabin tech solution last year in the Lincoln MKS, and have since seen Sync and Sirius Travel Link in a variety of other models. As deployed in the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid, this cabin tech suite offers a few improvements over those we've seen before.
Ford is continually expanding Sync's capabilities with offboard services accessible through a Bluetooth-paired cell phone. One example is 911 Assist, a feature that will automatically dial 911 and send an automated message if the car detects a crash. Of course, other Sync-equipped models besides the Mercury Milan Hybrid get this feature.
Sirius Travel Link is well-integrated with the hard-drive-based navigation system, letting you navigate to a gas station from the fuel prices screen, for instance. Similarly, when bad traffic shows up on a route you have programmed, the navigation system displays a warning, and will compute a route around the problem.
Route guidance works very well with the system, giving street names in the voice prompts for turn directions. In addition, the graphics showing upcoming turns are rich, giving good guidance for even the most complex interchanges.