Seldom does a week go by that I don't get at least one call or e-mail that accuses me of favoring import brands over domestics, and another that insists I bang the drum for American cars. Fine: If both sides think I favor the competition, then I must have found some sort of balance.
I expect more of those U.S.-centric calls and e-mails about the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid, essentially the same vehicle as the Ford Fusion Hybrid, though the Mercury has more standard equipment.
I liked, but didn't love, the Milan and Fusion when they were first introduced as the company's response to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. For 2010, both were successfully updated, but the big news is the available gasoline-electric hybrid drive train, with an EPA-rated 41 mpg in the city, 36 on the highway. Those are rather spectacular numbers, given the fact that this is a roomy, relatively heavy car, with a rear seat large enough for adults.
Part of the reason for that high city mileage is that the Milan and Fusion can go up to 47 mph on battery power alone, before the four-cylinder gasoline engine kicks in. That doesn't happen often -- you have to accelerate very gradually to hit 47 mph on electricity alone -- but it's possible.
In one evening, making no conscious effort to maximize mileage, we averaged 38.7 mpg in about 210 miles of driving. The transition back and forth between electric and gasoline power is seamless and quiet, as nicely accomplished as any hybrid on the road. Full-throttle acceleration, while modest, is more than adequate. The CVT, or continuously variable transmission, helps maximize available power.
Mileage, though, is not what sold me on this Milan Hybrid. Handling is exceptionally good -- far better than a Toyota Prius or even the new Honda Insight -- and the ride, while smooth, has enough road feel to make the driver feel involved. The electric power steering is just right, something Toyota and General Motors haven't mastered.
Inside, the test Milan Hybrid is a luxury car, with standard leather upholstery, and about $5,510 in options that included a navigation system, a rear-view camera, a power moon roof, blind-spot detection and a powerful 12-speaker Sony sound system. Yes, the sticker price is a not-cheap $33,075, but this Milan Hybrid was loaded.
Consumers have said that they want hybrids, but don't want to sacrifice performance or creature comforts to get them. The Milan and Fusion Hybrids are proof you don't have to.
They may be the best hybrids on the road.
If that sounds like I'm rooting for the home team, then let those calls and e-mails begin.
2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid
Base price: $27,500.
Price as tested: $33,075.
EPA rating: 41 miles per gallon city driving, 36 mpg highway.
Details: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive sedan with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with an electric motor that totals 191 horsepower, plus a continuously variable transmission.