by Ted West
Base Price $18,845
As Tested $24,820
Mercury Sable has been improved in all the key areas for 2000 - appearance, mechanicals and accommodations. The new Sable presents a pleasingly muscular look, validated by upgraded powertrains, increased responsiveness and surprisingly agile road manners.
This bread-and-butter family sedan has one big trick up its sleeve--it's a pleasurable drive for even the most enthusiastic driver. And its agility doubles as an important adjunct to its comprehensive inventory of safety features. The interior spaces are spacious and pleasing, and by and large, its controls and instrumentation are contemporary, straightforward and easy to use. As Mercury's headliner, the new Sable will pamper its occupants during the period of ownership and, thanks to its higher prestige, it should command a higher return at resale time.
Mercury's Sable sedan comes in GS ($18,845) and LS ($19,945) trim levels along with the fully loaded LS Premium Sedan ($21,245). Also available are the Sable GS Wagon ($20,645) and LS Premium Wagon ($22,345).
LS standard equipment includes cloth with leather seats, a power driver's seat, a split, fold-down rear seat, power-adjustable pedals and the Vulcan V6.
The LS Premium versions come standard with the excellent 24-valve Duratec V6, plus leather seating surfaces, electronic climate control, automatic-on headlights, foglamps, a rear center elbow rest and other amenties. Anti-lock brakes are optional throughout the Sable line, while electronic traction control is available as an option on LS models. The Duratec V6 is a $695 option for the LS.
At first glance, you'll know the 2000 Sable is different, but it's hard to pin down exactly why. The greenhouse and doors are basically unchanged, but the nose and hood have been subtly redrawn. The grille is larger, and 25-percent more powerful headlights are mounted in a larger headlight box. The hood surface rises slightly higher at the cowl, shrouding the wipers and reducing wind noise. The more angular front fenders and handsomely modeled flanks lead to a larger taillight complex.
A higher rear deck yields generous cargo space of 16 cubic feet in the sedan. The station wagon has 38.8 cubic feet of space with the rear seat up and a cavernous 81.3 cubic feet with the seats down.
Sable comes with a choice of two 3.0-liter V6 engines. The base engine is the mundane 12-valve Vulcan V6. The power output has been increased for 2000, the Vulcan now delivers 155 horsepower and 185 foot-pounds of torque. Just 10 percent of all Mercury Sables will be equipped with this base engine.
The vigorous 24-valve Duratec V6, available in LS models, is far more popular. This excellent V6 is 30 pounds lighter, despite its more complex valvetrain, and produces a responsive 200 horsepower and an impressive 200 foot-pounds of torque.
The Sable cabin is a refined interior space furnished with controls and instrumentation that are admirably straightforward and user friendly. For 2000, front-seat passengers will enjoy almost an inch more headroom, while rear passengers receive nearly two additional inches of headroom. Also featured in LS models as standard is Ford's power-adjustable brake-pedal system. The system provides up to 3 inches of adjustment, which enhances safety by allowing shorter drivers to obtain a safe, comfortable driving position without sitting dangerously close to the air-bag.
The Sable instrument panel's large, legible gauges are set into a two-shade dashboard, the upper panel toned darker to reduce glare and the lower, lighter panel keyed to the door panel covering. Audio and climate controls are mounted in the center panel on the dash. Happily, this panel is free of the prior oval-obsessed layout. However, the new center panel, while aesthetically an improvement, still presents an intimidating array of small, similarly shaped push buttons with tiny labels. At first glimpse, this array may impress you with its high-tech appearance, but it can be a challenge to find and hit the right button while battling drive-time traffic.
The 2000 Sable can be ordered in either five- or six-passenger configurations. If you specify both a five-passenger layout and Sable's premium audio, you get a bonus: a very tidy between-the-seats front console with floor-shifter. This console conceals a six-disc CD changer, a vastly more convenient location than the more common trunk-mounted CD changers elsewhere. In five-passenger form, the twin front bucket seats deliver surprisingly good lateral support without incurring a penalty in seating comfort - even for larger drivers. The cushions and seatbacks are on the firm side, which initially seems a shortcoming. However, well-designed firm seats deliver better comfort and reduced fatigue on long drives. The Sable's rear seating for three is spacious and comfortable, with the two outboard positions having a semi-bucket form. In our LS Premium, a pull-down rear center elbow rest contained two cupholders. And if you are a skier or carry ladders everywhere you go, the positively enormous split-seat pass-through into the trunk in our test car would make your life immeasurably easier.
Other nice touches in the Sable include driver and passenger lighted vanity mirrors that incorporate a rheostat for raising or lowering their illumination. Also, the sunroof opens with one touch.
In the area of safety, the Sable earned NHTSA's top five-star frontal crash-test rating. It is equipped with dual-stage airbags, this system sensing the intensity of the impact and deploying the bags at one of two different speeds. In lesser impacts, gentler deployment reduces the risk of injury by the bags themselves. Head-and-chest side airbags are also available as an option. Seatbelt pretensioners are standard, as is a system which releases small amounts of seatbelt tension to reduce injury.
Mercury's Sable is a startlingly agile, controllable--even sporty--family sedan. In earlier iterations, the Sable has been competent but utilitarian. And when furnished with the base 155-horspower Vulcan V6, the present model remains adequate but little more. If that sounds like a serious criticism, it is not.
Even with a plain Vulcan in the engine room, the 2000 Sable chassis proves itself anything but plain. Its finely tuned variable-ratio power rack-and-pinion steering gives just the right amount of assistance--less and less of it as road speed increases--and a constant stream of vital road information to the driver. This live-wire steering combines with a recalibrated front suspension to deliver surprisingly sporting driving sensations. Driven to the extremes, the Sable takes the safest course, understeering to warn the driver that traction has been overcome. But before exceeding the tires' grip, this family sedan feels for all the world like a closet sports sedan.
Having said that, the Sable still manages to deliver a comfortable ride that gently deletes the more unruly broken pavement passing beneath the wheels. Mercury has achieved a fine balance between crisp handling and gentle ride, a balance that has earned the best European sedans a loyal following for decades.
Add the superb Duratec V6 to this mix, and the Sable comes alive. Its fine handling qualities are now devoted to orchestrating a very responsive engine. When heavy throttle is applied, acceleration is sharp enough that traction control is needed to prevent wheel spin. The Duratec makes a tactful but nonetheless exciting growl. So equipped, the 2000 Sable allows the hidden hurrier in you full expression, but in this car, who will suspect? It's just a family sedan, right? (Just smile and nod--nobody needs to know your secret.) A test drive of the Duratec will demonstrate that it positively transforms the personality of this Mercury. With its finger-snap responsiveness, the Sable has a heads-up, ready-to-run willingness that knowledgeable drivers will find irresistible.
The 2000 Mercury Sable is a happy blend of family-car safety and mid-market value. When equipped with the optional Duratec V6, it is blessed with the kind of performance and agility expected in expensive sports sedans. The Sable combines the virtues of high quality, five-star crash protection and comfortable accommodations, plus a healthy helping of driving fun. That's a combination that should see Mercury's star player selling large numbers well into the millennium.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.