What's New for 2006
The Convenience and Premier trim levels have been dropped, leaving the former midgrade Luxury as the only trim. The optional heated/cooled seats are available with either leather or suede inserts, and a leather and wood steering wheel is now standard.
The minivan bar rests at an all-time high these days, and keeping up with the competition is only getting tougher. The Nissan-engineered Mercury Villager sold from 1993 to 2002 was never a leader in the minivan segment, so Mercury returned to the minivan game in 2004 with the all-new Mercury Monterey, a corporate twin of Ford's Freestar.
Considerably larger than the Villager, the Mercury Monterey incorporates most of today's minivan essentials. It offers fold-flat third-row seating, which can flip over to a rear-facing position for tailgate parties, front and rear parking assist sensors and optional heated and cooled front seats (the only minivan to feature cooled seats). Additionally, the cabin includes many more storage areas, and there's an optional DVD entertainment system to keep the kids occupied. There is no navigation system available, however, and that's a big problem in this segment.
Ford claims to have tripled its budget for interior design over the last several years and Mercury vehicles like the Mountaineer and Milan are obvious indications that the money was well spent. The Mercury Monterey also reaps the rewards of the company's new attention to interior design. The Mercury's interior has a bit of European flair and a clean, uncluttered overall appearance. Unfortunately, the good looks are barely skin-deep, as the materials still feel subpar. And although important safety features like stability control and three-row side curtain airbag coverage are available, in most respects, the Monterey lacks the day-to-day functionality of other vans. It's attributes like this that make the 2006 Mercury Monterey merely competent rather than standout. From our standpoint, minivan shoppers shouldn't have to settle. Better-qualified minivans like the Town & Country, Odyssey and Sienna represent more compelling purchases.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Mercury Monterey minivan comes in one size and one trim level: Luxury. Standard equipment includes 16-inch wheels, dual power-sliding side doors, a fold-flat third-row bench, a power driver seat with memory, dual-zone air conditioning, an in-dash CD changer, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, full power accessories, cruise control, front and rear parking assist. Additional goodies include a leather/wood steering wheel with audio controls, power-adjustable pedals, side-impact and head curtain airbags, and a power driver seat. Optional upgrades include driver and passenger heated and cooled seats, front-passenger power seat with manual lumbar adjustment, first- and second-row leather seats with perforated suede or leather inserts, automatic climate control, a power liftgate, a rear DVD entertainment system and self-sealing tires.
Powertrains and Performance
The Mercury Monterey has just one available engine: a 4.2-liter V6 engine that delivers 201 horsepower and a generous 263 pound-feet of torque. A standard four-speed automatic transmission directs power to the front wheels. EPA fuel estimates are 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, which is below average in the minivan segment.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution are standard on all Monterey models. Side curtain airbags that span all three rows of seating are also standard, and the AdvanceTrac stability and traction control system, which incorporates a panic brake assist feature, is optional. The Mercury Monterey earned five stars across the board in NHTSA front- and side-impact crash tests, and picked up a "Good" rating (the highest), as well as a "Best Pick" designation, in 40-mph frontal-offset crash testing by the IIHS.
Interior Design and Special Features
Mercury designers equipped the Monterey with a shapely dash and steering wheel. It's an attractive ensemble, but many of the materials used are subpar for this segment. The fold-flat third-row seat allows for flexible use of the interior space, but unfortunately, the seat folds only as a single piece, rather than allowing a 60/40-split as in most other minivans. Legroom in the second row can be tight for adults and children alike, and the seats themselves are hard to remove when you need to make way for large amounts of cargo.
With driving characteristics nearly identical to those of the Ford Freestar, the 2006 Mercury Monterey offers adequate power and a comfortable ride. Handling capability is also satisfactory, but ride quality is not quite as composed as that of minivans with true fully independent suspensions. The Monterey's torque-rich engine provides plenty of initial grunt, but runs out of breath at higher engine speeds and turns in disappointing fuel mileage.