When you hear the name Mercury Monterey, what comes to mind? Well, if you were keen on automobiles back in the 50’s and 60’s, you might think of sleek cars with two-tone paint and tail fins. But today’s Monterey won’t be easily traced to that family tree, because the 2004 Monterey is a family-friendly minivan and certainly a good reason to ponder that age old question: ‘‘What’s in a name?’‘
The 2004 Mercury Monterey is more than just a replacement for the Villager minivan. It is the first of four new vehicles over the next three years designed to bolster Mercury’s upscale image and sales. The 7-passenger Monterey is Mercury’s first long-wheelbase minivan. At 120.8 inches, it has nearly nine inches more between the wheels than Villager. And, while Villager was a thinly disguised Nissan Quest, the Monterey is kin to Ford’s revamped Freestar minivan. But, the more-luxurious Monterey does boast some obvious differences.
Taking design cues from the Mercury Mountaineer SUV, the Monterey is quite polished in exterior appearance. Witness the big, signature chrome waterfall grille, unique monochromatic body cladding, and ample tail lamps with satin aluminum accents. The side-entry doors are large and provide easy access to the rear seats. While light in operation, we suggest you go for the power sliding doors and power lift gate, and gain optimal loading convenience. While Monterey is not the biggest minivan, the cabin is airy and spacious. Wood and bright accents provide highlights for the wide, rolling contours of the dash. This low, efficient style reminds us of Audi and VW products and will make its way to more new Fords in the future.
A single pod houses a well-planned gauge cluster, clearly seen through the tilt steering wheel, and is augmented by an easy-to-read digital message center. The center stack is simple, smart and logical, housing a standard AM/FM cassette and CD stereo and dual zone climate controls. But a navigation system, so popular in Honda’s Odyssey, is not available.
Ford-built minivans are stand outs in safety, and the Monterey is no different. Dual-stage air bags are standard for driver and front passenger, and three point seat belts and head restraints protect all on board. But, for enhanced safety, opt for Ford’s patented three-row protection ‘‘Safety Canopy.’’ Its multiple airbags and sensors help safeguard rear occupants in side impacts as well as rollovers.
The Monterey offers wide twin front bucket seats. Power adjustable seats and pedals allow anyone to find a perfect driving position. But the real mettle of a minivan is in the back. The second row split bench folds easily and is removable. Entrance to the third row seat is easy, and it now includes the fold-flat-into-the-floor system that is increasingly a must have for minivans. Multiple storage compartments, almost a dozen cup-holders, and the available rear DVD entertainment system also remind you this is a primo-family van. And for all that a family has to haul, there’s big cargo space. With second row seats removed and the third row seat folded, maximum cargo capacity exceeds 134 cubic feet.
The 4,400-pound Monterey is motivated by a standard 4.2 liter pushrod V-6 engine. Output is 201 horsepower and a robust 265 pound-feet of torque. In fact, that’s the most torque in its class. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds. And that torque is linked to a front-drive 4-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is not offered. On the track our Monterey launched to 60 in 9.4 seconds, taking the quarter mile in 17.2 seconds at 81 MPH. Very decent numbers for a van. Throttle response is deceptively smooth at launch. But power really comes on at 3,200 RPM and pulls strong until the redline. Overall, transmission shifts are flawless and quick, and for a minivan, rather impressive in their finesse.
The Monterey’s 4-wheel vented disc ABS brakes averaged a stopping distance from 60 to 0 of a reasonable 129 feet. Fade was minimal and stability great. In handling tests, our drivers noted modest leaning in corners, but nothing to upset family carriage capabilities. The Monterey accelerates smartly out of turns, with only a hint of oversteer when pushed hard. The front MacPherson struts, and semi-independent twist beam at the rear, are well tuned, and deliver a consistently soft and controlled ride even on our rapidly-decaying East Coast highways. Freeway hop never upset the Monterey’s pace.
Even fuel economy is reasonable. According to the EPA, Monterey is capable of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 on the highway. On a mixed everyday loop, 19 is expected.
And expect to pay reasonable prices for the well-equipped Monterey, too. A Convenience trimmed Monterey starts at $29,995. Upgrade to the Luxury trim and shell out $33,995, while $35,525 is the tab for the top level Premier.
Mercury has suffered for years with a minivan too small for most buyers. The new Mercury Monterey corrects that situation completely. With its almost elegant styling, well packaged and safe interior, array of popular minivan conveniences, and class-leading torque, the Monterey fits Mercury’s minivan needs perfectly and provides upscale minivan buyers with a sensible, well-executed choice.
Engine: 4.2 Liter Pushrod V-6
Torque: 265 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 9.4 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 17.2 Seconds @ 81 MPH
60-0 MPH: 129 Feet
EPA Mileage: 16 MPG City 22 MPG Highway
Motorweek's Mileage Loop: 19 MPG Mixed City/highway