(first posted 11/20/2014) It is difficult to remember a time when the best-selling car in the United States wasn’t an Accord or Camry. For the past seventeen years, these Japanese (although mostly American-built) mid-sizers have kept the sales crown away from any American car brand. But this was not always the case, for prior to 1997, the best-selling car in the U.S. was actually American, and for the better part of the 1990s, it was the Ford Taurus.
Yes, there was actually a time when the Ford Taurus was a highly competitive, modern, and cleanly styled mid-size sedan, that just happened to be the best-selling car in the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave. In between the radical (for the time) first generation and the goofball third generation, Ford struck gold with a duo of sedans, whose “just right” qualities appealed to everyone from a Catholic nun to Conan O’Brien.
The Taurus’ Mercury sibling, and the subject of today’s post, was the Sable. While it didn’t come close to selling the approximately 400,000 units per year the Taurus did, the Sable still managed to sell between 110,000-140,000 units annually from 1992-1995. That’s pretty impressive for Mercury, a brand which never sold anywhere close to the volume of Ford, Chevy, Honda, or Toyota. For selling that well, however, these second generation Sables and Tauruses are becoming quite scare. They’re still there if you look hard enough, but are represented pretty thinly for cars that combined, sold about 2 million units twenty years ago. I feel like I see far more Camrys of this vintage roaming the roads.
That’s why seeing this second generation Mercury Sable GS on the walking portion of my commute in downtown Boston filled me with a bit of excitement. What’s more, is that it was a Sable with 1992-only pink accent body side molding and woodgrain dash trim!
The second generation Sable and Taurus’s styling was an evolution of the 1986-1991 first generation – so much of one that many believed the 1992s were merely face-lifted models. I’ll admit that in my childhood, and before the miracle of the Internet, I too believed this. In fact, every body panel on the sedans, save for the doors was entirely new. Notwithstanding their similarities, the 1992-1995 second generation carried a far more sleeker appearance, and one that still looked contemporary even a decade later.
Retaining its front “lightbar”, wraparound rear windshield, and skirted wheels, the Mercury Sable continued on slightly more highly-styled path than its more garden-variety Ford sibling. Overall, it looked a little more aggressive and a lot more space-aged. This second quality was only enhanced by the hint of rear fender skirts, which looked decidedly out-of-place and out-of-date on a modern ’90s sedan.
Looking under the hood would reveal one of two familiar V6 engines: the 3.0L Vulcan or the 3.8L Essex. Both engines made 140 horsepower, but the 3.8 added 50 lb-ft of torque, for a total of 215. A four-speed automatic was the only transmission. These cars were not sports sedans, and made absolutely no sporting claims. Those looking for a bit more thrill were best to head over to a Ford dealer and check out the Taurus SHO.
On a side note, Ford did make some prototypes of the Sable with the SHO’s 220-horsepower 3.2L V6 in 1994. Called the “Sable AIV”, or Aluminum Intensive Vehicle, it was an early experimental use of an all-aluminum bodied car. With substantial weight savings, the Sable AIV was more fuel efficient than a Vulcan V6-powered regular Sable. About 20 of these prototypes were made, and although they were never sold, some still survive today.
While Chrysler’s and GM’s mid-size sedans continued with their ’80s-looking boxy interiors, Ford took the Taurus and Sable’s already modern interior designs to the next level. With its sweeping curves, driver-focused layout, and door panels that blended into the dash, the Sable’s interior was among the most “cockpit”-like in its class, even with the standard front bench seats.
Although several parts, such as the steering wheel, lower dash, and available floor console on bucket-seat models were carry-over from the previous generation, they blended seamlessly with the new design. A Sable-only feature for 1992 was the swath of woodgrain dash trim on non-passenger airbag-equipped models. Mercury got rid of it the following year when they made a passenger’s side airbag standard on across the board.
It should be noted that at this point, Ford still invested in separate interior designs for the Sable and Taurus. The dashboards were different, and the Sable included several additional features, such as full instrumentation and integrated rear headrests. Seat fabrics also differed, with this vertical-pleated cloth upholstery exclusive to base GS models. Even in the early-’90s, Mercury still offered no short of five interior colors in the Sable, including this car’s “Crystal Blue” combination.
Exterior colors also included some expressive flavors, though this car sports more subdued “Silver Clearcoat Metallic”. Accent color paint stripes and bodyside moldings were another 1992-only feature. The hot pink on this one certainly spices things up quite a bit.
While this Sable has sustained some front-end damage (and presumably bumper cracking, as evidenced by the duct tape), surface rust was very minimal. Lack of widespread rust is something I’ve come to find common on most Tauruses and Sables I see from this era. You can’t say that about similar year Accords and Camrys, that’s for sure! Apparently the two-sided galvanized steel body panels and 10-layer paint process were formidable defenses against Northern climates.
Appealing styling, abundance of features, and maximum versatility were the perfect formula to make this second generation the high point of the Sable’s (and Taurus’) career. Regardless of their excellent sales record, there was something special about the years 1992-1995. It was an example of an American car company doing just about everything right in making a good mid-sized sedan, capable of competing in the same league as the increasingly acclaimed Accord and Camry. Only in the last several years has this happened again, by means of another Ford, the Fusion.
After 1995, Ford took the Taurus and Sable on a cheapened, funhouse-mirror path, resulting in their fall from grace. More concerned with building big and profitable SUVs, Ford turned focus away from its mid-size duo, relegating it to fleet queen status. Sales of the more “civilian” Sable took a harder hit, and the last Sable rolled off the assembly line in early 2005, as part of the planned phase-out of both vehicles.
The Sable would return less than three years later, but it was a half-hearted, obvious attempt at saving the floundering Montego with a name that had more relevance in recent memory. After a brief two-year run, the Sable was once again history, this time for good. The Mercury brand would soon follow.
To most people, their memory of Mercury vehicles will always be that of Fords with more expressive styling and slightly higher content, as well as lower sales figures. While that holds true for this car, there were several times when a Mercury proved it could make a very successful car in its own right, and not just “for a Mercury”. This Sable went above and beyond expectations for a typical Mercury, yielding stellar results.