2003 Mercury Sable
Mercurial behavior: Sable shines through its own humble reputation
by TCC Team 12/27/2002
I love cars (OK, and some trucks too, I'll admit). So I don't mean to sound jaded when I say that nothing much surprises me about the auto biz anymore. A few things still do, however; and I'm not too proud to say that when a 2003 Mercury Sable rolled my way recently, I was completely taken aback by how much I liked the car. The Sable is, after all, the purest equivalent to an anonymous Anycar that is currently plying the roads.
If somehow I could have been blindfolded when approaching the car, then blinkered while driving it, I would have sworn that I was in a peppy, responsive, nimble yet solid touring sedan from... Well, I wouldn't have been able to say where from exactly. The 2003 Sable delivers more pleasurable road feel and feedback than its typical Japanese rivals from Toyota and Nissan. On the other hand, the Sable is a bit cushier in the ride department--a little less severe, perhaps, in the way it absorbs bumps and road deflections--than the European models we get over here, most of them Teutonic. Could it be that Sable is a truly genuine interpretation of a distinctly North American automotive idiom?
Certainly none of the world's other automakers have emphasized so completely the iconic jellybean shape that was quite revolutionary in 1986 when the Sable debuted alongside its sibling Ford Taurus. I loved that styling then, and I still like it now, although I have to admit it's very long in the tooth. In 2003, Mercury's top-of-the-line Sable LS boasts a 200-hp 3.0-liter V6. It's not exactly a race motor, but this twin-cam Duratec can at least provoke a few chuckles in the enthusiast who cares to exploit 200 brawny ft.-lbs. of torque--particularly in traffic. I really enjoy the Sable's point-and-squirt reflexes which its powertrain makes possible: the four-speed auto shifts crisply and optional traction control ($565, also including side airbags) harnesses potential front wheel spin discreetly, without distraction. Steering feel is spot on. It is precise and quick to react, but not too light in the hands or vague while cruising the highway.
Inside, my Sable featured the optional five-seat layout (no charge), wherein the center front armrest flips forward to become a sort of command-center console. Part of the LS Premium equipment list includes leather-trimmed seating and steering wheel, plus another one of those no-charge options in the form of a six-disc in-dash CD changer over the AM/FM radio. Ford's "Mach Audio" package ($670) delivered not only mega-wattage power but also very enjoyable "audio-imaging" for tailoring sound to both the type of music played and the position of the driver and passengers. A moonroof ($890) added a finishing touch of sportiness and luxury.
So just what is so surprising about all this, one might ask? By one way of thinking, it's surprising that this much car can be bought, as-tested, for only $25,865. A more discomfiting surprise, however, is the erratic, even illogical way Mercury seems to go out of its way to hide its lights under a bushel. There is a good bit of baggage that complicates the Sable's life right now, and it's not the kind that will stow in this car's 16 cu. ft. of trunk space.
For one thing, Mercury is an auto division that's searching for the meaning of life. Every Mercury model--and now there are only three--is based on a sibling Ford. Mercury would like us to think its retro-hot rod Marauder represented another distinct model, but even it is based on a Mercury Grand Marquis that's in turn based on a Ford Crown Victoria . When a marketing department press release trumpets a new 2003 ad campaign with the headline "Aretha Franklin Helps Mercury Get Some Respect," I have to wonder what's the advertising principle behind allying one career in need of a revival to another one that's craving simple respect.
Mercury's mercurial behavior doesn't stop there. Consider, for instance, the engineering decision to equip Sable station wagons with four-wheel disc brakes, while relegating front-disc, rear-drum braking to the clearly sportier Sable sedans. And what's with these mysterious "no-charge" options? On a car that's perched at the very pinnacle of safety rating prestige--with five stars for frontal crashes and four stars for side crashes--why make antilock brakes an option? Or are they, since they're mysteriously available for no charge?
Curiously, Sable (and Taurus) are victims of their own success. Their fleet-car ubiquity puts them in the hands of traveling sales folks and rental car customers everywhere. Familiarity has bred undeserved contempt; and not even an optional "Platinum Feature" appearance package ($595), with its quite attractive five-spoke aluminum wheels, can tempt eyes and aspirations to alight on this car. It says a great deal about our hyper-developed senses of self that auto enthusiasts and status-seekers don't even think of a more-than-competent sedan like the Mercury Sable when they're pondering what their next big Personal Automotive Statement will be.
Mercury's chiefs certainly don't seem to be helping very much. Like the aforementioned ad campaign, the Sable's latest tag line--"understated sophistication and value"--might just as well apply to a new consignment of terry cloth wash rags at Big Lots. Come to think of it, the disparity between Sable's performance reality and its image perception--and what Mercury executives are doing about that--does suggest that Ford is about to throw in the towel where its Mercury Division is concerned. That would be too bad if it meant loosing the opportunity to buy a very classy and capable car that's arguably the equal of its rivals, although merely a stepchild in its own home.
2003 Mercury Sable
Base price: $22,495
Engine: 3.0-liter DOHC "Duratec" V6, 200 HP
Drivetrain: 4-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 199.8 x 73.0 x 55.5 in
Wheelbase: 108.5 in
Curb weight: 3324 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 20/27 mpg
Safety equipment: Personal Safety System "smart airbags; Beltminder, keyless entry, anti-theft alarm
Major standard equipment: Power windows, power locks, tilt wheel, cruise control, adjustable pedals
Warranty: three years/36,000 miles
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....