Future Curbside Classics: 2008-2009 Mercury Sable – New Doors Closed

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Although it always lived in the shadows of its more popular Ford Taurus sibling, the Mercury Sable was nonetheless a significant and successful model in itself, helping redefine the midsize class with its contemporary design and high configurability. Despite its futuristic styling, the Sable found a broad acceptance among buyers, enjoying sales of above 100,000 units most years for its first decade-and-a-half. Yet like the Taurus, the Sable fell on hard times by the early 2000s. Neglected by the Ford Motor Company in favor of high-profit SUVs, the Sable’s competitiveness and buyer interest diminished, and it quietly faded away in 2005. Or so it seemed.

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The Sable’s initial absence proved a brief one, as less than two years after its discontinuation in early 2007, Ford unveiled a new Sable, with sales of this resurrected model beginning later that summer as a 2008 model. The new Sable was not in fact an “all-new” vehicle, as it was a face-lifted and re-engineered version of the three-year old Montego.

4th gen Sable LS Premium

With production of the D186 Sable winding down in 2005, Ford chose to replace it with two sedans, one slightly smaller and one slightly larger. Utilizing its global operations, the smaller Mazda-based Milan arrived as a 2006 model, while the larger Volvo-based Montego bowed first as a 2005 model. Derived from the S80’s P2 platform, Ford’s new D3 platform underpinned the Montego, and like the P2, was engineered for front- or all-wheel drive.

Montego front

For the D3, Ford also applied Volvo’s Total Vehicle Geometry (TVG) manufacturing process, increasing build quality and decreasing production time. The Montego also benefited from Volvo’s numerous safety features including roof and underbody energy-channeling cross-tubes (Volvo’s Side Impact Protection System in everything but name), as well as side-impact and side-curtain airbags. Not surprisingly, the Montego and later Sable earned top safety honors.

Montego rear

The 2005-2007 Montego was met with generally positive reviews, and although it was a much more refined and competitive car than the 2005 Sable it replaced, the Montego was not without its flaws, most notably regarding its powertrain. While the V6s of competitors such as the Chrysler 300 and Toyota Avalon were making 250-280 horsepower, the Montego’s sole engine was the 203 horsepower and 207 pound-foot torque 3.0L Duratec-30 V6, the same engine available in the old Sable since 1996.

Montego interior

It wasn’t that the Montego needed to be a hotrod, but with some 3,900 pounds to move around for the all-wheel drive versions, acceleration for everyday driving was inadequate. Especially when mated with the AWD’s continuously-variable transmission, the Duratec pulling all its might was felt and heard. Apart from this and a general lack of any personality, the 2005-2007 Montego was typically regarded as a decent large family sedan; neither class-leading, nor particularly exciting, but all-around a solid entry. Unfortunately, sales weren’t impressive.

Montego AWD

Montego sales only reached 27,007 in 2005, the car’s best year. This was just barely more than the aging Sable did in its abbreviated 2005 season, and substantially less than most competitors, as well as less than half the sales of the similarly-priced, yet far less technologically-advanced Grand Marquis which it occupied showroom space with. With the higher-volume Ford Five Hundred also seeing disappointing sales, Ford pushed ahead with a significant refresh for the 2008 model year, claiming to have made over 500 individual changes.

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Somewhat unsurprisingly, the refreshed cars were rechristened as “Taurus” and “Sable”. Despite “Montego” and “Five Hundred” having heritage in their respective brands’ history, neither had been in use for decades. Taurus and Sable, meanwhile, had much greater relevance in the modern era and in spite of their somewhat tarnished reputation as lackluster fleet cars, Ford hoped that these namplates’ equity would translate to higher sales. Little did we know then that this Sable would be Mercury’s last “new” car.

Cyclone V6 Sable

Addressing the Montego’s biggest shortcoming, the revamped vehicle now featured the larger 3.5L Cyclone V6, first introduced on the 2007-model year Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX, and Lincoln MKZ. Producing 263 horsepower and 249 pound-feet of torque and mated exclusively to an all-new GM-Ford co-developed 6-speed automatic, the new powertrain was much better-suited to handle the car’s bulk.

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An exterior facelift brought the Sable more in line with the Mercury’s other vehicles (sans Grand Marquis), and in your author’s opinion, gave the Sable a considerably more refined and elegant appearance than the Montego. Featuring redesigned front and rear fascias, all sheetmetal from the A-pillars forward was new and not shared with the Ford version.

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The Milan-inspired front fascia was bolder, highlighted by a larger satin-aluminum finish waterfall grille and flanked by upswept twin-projector beam HID headlights. The new hood had the slightest hint of a power bulge, and a new lower fascia exuded a greater degree of distinctiveness.

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Moving around the sides, the Sable added further satin-aluminum accents to the exterior mirrors, door handles, and window surrounds. The Montego’s bodyside moldings were eschewed in favor of a small “SABLE” badge on the front doors. 17-inch and 18-inch wheel designs were also new, with the Sable Premier’s available 7-spoke chrome wheels particularly attractive.

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Around back, the license plate cutout was relocated from the trunk lid to the bumper, replaced with a large Mercury logo and a thick aluminum band across the bottom. Taillights, still full-LED, were now clear lensed for a sophisticated “iced” appearance similar to Saab. As before, the somewhat confusing duo of Luxury and Premier trims were offered, with Luxury being the base model and Premier the more luxurious trim.

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For better or worse, the interior was little-changed over the Montego. Much like the exterior, it sported a balanced, no-nonsense design, with well-laid out controls. As with its predecessor, the Mercury was differentiated over its Ford sibling by two-tone color schemes, an analogue clock, real chrome and brushed aluminum accents, and different trim trim options, including available faux carbon fiber, macassar ebony wood, and guitar maple wood.

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Leather, which was standard on the Premier and optional on the Luxury, was of a new, somewhat suppler-looking grade and included contrast-stitching. The widely-spaced perforations, however, were somewhat unusual.

Sable full interior

Befitting of its market positioning, a comfortable, quiet ride was among the Sable’s most endearing qualities. Capitalizing on the already growing preference for the ride height of crossovers, the Sable featured a high “Command Seating” position, with the front H-point some 4.5 inches higher than most competitors. Rear seat bottoms were also positioned higher than the front, giving passengers better support and visibility. Interior volume was the largest in its class by far at 129 cubic feet, with 108 cubic feet of cabin space and a 21 cubic foot trunk.

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The vehicle’s four-wheel independent suspension was also revised for 2008 to enhance ride quality and comfort. Up front, its MacPherson struts gained 10% more travel, while the multi-link rear received re-tuning, along with new dampers and spring rates. Furthermore, extra sound deadening materials were added all around, including expandable foam pellets in the A-pillars to reduce wind noise. All-wheel drive was also still available on both Sable models. The same computer controlled Haldex system used by Volvo, it was capable of transferring 100-percent of torque to either the front or rear axle.

Sable interior with SYNC

Like its predecessor, the Sable received high safety ratings and was named a top safety pick by the IIHS. Four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist and traction control were standard, with electronic stability control optional. Six total airbags were standard, consisting of dual frontal impact with occupant-sensing technology, front side-impact, and side curtain. A panic alarm and engine immobilizer were standard on both trims, with a anti-theft alarm system standard on Premier, optional on Luxury.

Sable SYNC

The 2008 Sable was one of the first vehicles to feature Ford’s SYNC infotainment technology, which bundled mobile phone, radio, music from external devices, available navigation, as well as a number of apps for functions such as weather into a Microsoft-developed system, operable by touchscreen interface, traditional buttons on the center stack and steering wheel, and voice command. Other notable tech options included an in-dash navigation system tied in with SYNC, a rear DVD-based entertainment system, and object-detecting backup sensors.

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The story of the final 2008-2009 Mercury Sable has an unfortunate bittersweet ending. Despite all the many things it had to offer—its space, its safety, its long list of features, and its positive reviews—the throngs of buyers Mercury needed just didn’t come.

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Some of this wasn’t Mercury’s fault, as the full-size segment in general was losing market share to crossovers and ever-larger midsize sedans. Additionally, the Great Recession, officially lasting from late 2007 to the second quarter of 2009 (with effects being felt long after) put a huge damper on all new car sales in the United States. Total fifth generation Sable sales in the U.S., at 32,847, were in fact lower than the Montego, which sold 63,068 during its run. Somewhat conversely to these figures, 2008-2009 Sables seem to be all over the place here in eastern Massachusetts, as I see them on a nearly daily basis.

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The basic Ford car itself was a competitive full-size family sedan that was much improved over the original 2005 vehicle. Granted they had little freedom to drastically change the car from the donor Ford version, Mercury put forth a respectable effort into making the Sable a stylish car with a distinctive upscale-modern vibe. The problem was, there just wasn’t that wow factor to make the Sable a compelling entry.

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Not all full-size family sedans need to be necessarily exciting, but given Mercury’s longstanding struggle to find a clear, purposeful identity, it was more imperative than ever that the Sable have some sort of emotional appeal in order to generate interest among buyers. The Sable did have many positive strengths, but few consumers failed to notice. What most did see was a conservatively-styled sedan based on an already three-year old design (with its greenhouse cribbed from the 1997 Audi A6). Although the “fancy” was more convincing than ever, to many the final Mercury Sable was just a fancy Ford Taurus, much as it had been for its whole life.

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The sixth generation Taurus was unveiled at the 2009 North American International Auto Show, but no redesigned Sable was shown. This fifth generation Sable quietly ended production in spring 2009, leaving a suggestive void in Mercury’s lineup for nearly a year, until the impending announcement came in summer 2010 that Mercury’s “New Doors Open” would soon close for good.

Related Reading:

1992 Mercury Sable

1996 Mercury Sable

2005 Ford Five Hundred

The Rise And Fall Of The Ford Taurus (And Mercury Sable) In American Popular Culture

2010 Mercury Milan