Mercury has always had a way with names: Cougar, Comet, Cyclone, Bobcat, Marauder. These are great car names. The 2005 Mercury Montego revives one of Mercury's best names. I was eager to drive the 2005 Mercury Montego Premier AWD, which carries a base price of $28,245 ($29,740 as tested). Would I feel as cool as I did in my dad's 1972 Cougar XR7? The new Montego comes with a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty, and a very low intrinsic cool factor. But there's more to a car than just coolness, right?
You'd better take note of where you parked at the mall, because you'll have trouble picking your Montego out of a crowd. It's features are very familiar - from other cars. It has the VW Passat's arched roofline, the Nissan Maxima's trunk, the Chrysler 300's wheels - nearly every exterior feature reminds me of another car. Rather than being distinctive in combination, the result is bland and unmemorable. Nobody's going to give you a thumbs up at Cruise Night in the Montego.
On the plus side, build quality looked good, with nice paint and good construction. I like the beefy grille and Mercury waterfall logo on the Montego's face, a nice, deep dimensional touch. The 18" 15-spoke aluminum wheels really fill the fender wells nicely.
The Montego has a weird throwback panel on the driver's side B-Pillar: a numeric touchpad. Punch in a five digit pre-programmed number, and you can unlock the driver's door without using the key or remote control fob. Add another couple of digits, and you can unlock all doors, lock all doors or open the trunk - all functions that are duplicated on the remote control fob. A great feature if you're prone to locking your keys in the car on a regular basis; a total waste if you're not prone to fits of bumbling.
In the Driver's Seat
2005 Mercury Montego: A $30,000 car should have a better interior, says Jason© Jason Fogelson
I had high hopes for the Montego interior. Maybe if Mercury designers worked so hard cribbing from good cars for the exterior, they'd acquire a few features to make the interior a "best of" compilation as well? No such luck. The Montego interior is bland, bland, bland. Dull-looking plastic dominates the dash, and fake wood accents just add to the sadness (Don't get me started on fake wood, you just don't want to read the expletives.). The Premier trim level includes leather seating, but the leather was far from supple. The seats are flat and uncomfortable, despite a myriad of power adjustability. The steering wheel tilts manually but doesn't telescope. At the center of the dash, a large, ill-fitting top-hinged door conceals a small, oddly-shaped compartment big enough for a PDA, but not much else. The door is flimsy and ugly, and it's the centerpiece of the dashboard. I don't know how it wound up on a production vehicle that costs nearly 30 grand.
There are plenty of luxury features on board heated driver's seat, Homelink garage opener, power adjustable pedals and power door locks, windows and mirrors -- but no luxury feel. The Montego's interior doesn't beckon you to return, and I never really got comfortable behind the wheel.
On the Road
If you're off for a road trip, one thing that this Montego does exceedingly well is haul gear. It has a huge, deep trunk, and the back seats fold down in a 60/40 arrangement, allowing pass-through access to the passenger compartment. The front passenger seat also folds flat, making the Montego a very capable hauler of long skinny stuff.
The Montego Premier AWD is equipped with All-Wheel Drive and an automatic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). AWD gives you better handling, especially in situations where traction is an issue. CVT replaces conventional transmission gears with pulley belts, and eliminates the jerky transition between steps that a conventional automatic can have. AWD and CVT are well matched, because CVT delivers smooth power, which AWD can translate into better road-holding. Where you notice the CVT most is when you're passing. Pressing down hard on the gas delivers immediate acceleration, not the kick-down and roar of a conventional automatic.
The Montego is not a flashy performer its 203 hp engine is adequate, propelling the big (3930 lb) vehicle down the road in stately fashion. I was a little disappointed by its gas mileage (19 City/26 Highway), low for a car that offers such modest performance.
2005 Mercury Montego: Trunk resembles Nissan Maxima, while arched roofline says "Passat"© Jason Fogelson
The Mercury Montego is going up against some very stiff competition in its price range, and as a first-year entry into the marketplace, it's going to be an uphill battle. If you need to seat five adults comfortably, and you want a modicum of luxury, you've got a lot of choice. The Toyota Avalon is hard to beat. Nissan's Maxima, VW's Passat, Chevrolet's Impala and Chrysler's 300 are all competitive models that have to be considered if you're looking at the Montego. Ford's Five Hundred is the same car as the Montego under the skin, with a few cosmetic differences for around the same price.
Old time car guys used to give this advice about new cars - never buy the first year of a new model when it comes out. It always takes a little while for the problems to emerge, and you don't want to be a guinea pig, helping the manufacturer to get it right. This may be old-fashioned thinking, but in certain respects it holds true. It's impossible to evaluate the resale value of the Montego yet, or to get statistics on its reliability, so you're trusting Ford-Lincoln-Mercury to get it right the first time. Nostalgia makes me long for a great Montego. But clear-eyed evaluation of the current car tells me to admire the name, and avoid the car.