Back in the distant pre-SUV era, humungous gas-guzzling station wagons were the preferred mode of travel for growing families across America. The energy crises of the 1970s caused gas prices to spike and sparked seismic shifts in consumer preferences. In the years that followed, a growing number of American families chose to hit the road in more space- and fuel-efficient vehicles. Enter the minivan, and among them, the Mercury Villager. While those old station wagons were yacht-sized, the Villager was yacht-themed -- assuming you opted for the top-level Nautica trim that was, as its sales literature crowed, "inspired by the sea."
Mercury is, of course, a Ford subsidiary; the Villager wasn't Ford's first entry into the minivan market. Ford's initial answer to Chrysler's groundbreaking front-wheel-drive minivan was the truck-based Aerostar. Initially successful, its popularity dipped in of the wake of competition from the growing numbers of modern car-based designs from Japan and America. In 1993, Ford finally introduced a car-based van of its own with the Mercury Villager. The product of a joint venture with Nissan, the front-drive Villager attempted to inject a little pizzazz into the mostly staid minivan segment. The Villager was also intended to bridge the gap between Ford's aging rear-drive van and its forthcoming, freshly engineered Windstar.
Sharing its underpinnings and power plant with its Nissan platform-mate, the U.S.-built Mercury Villager differed mostly by exterior and interior styling details such as Mercury's signature light-bar grille, seen on early models. The Villager was available in three flavors of trim. The top-level Nautica Special Edition helped it stand apart from its rivals early on, with a classy two-toned paint scheme and leather-trimmed captain's chairs that certainly made it the minivan of choice for the preppy set. There was simply no Previa Tommy Hilfiger Edition or J. Crew Odyssey to compete with.
In an era in which many minivans had removable rear seats that were awkward to handle, the Villager was noted for its unique rearmost seat. This seat could easily be slid forward on integrated tracks to accommodate five passengers. The Villager also offered a sizable cargo area out back.
Another bragging point early on was its "in-between" size. The Villager was larger than a standard short-wheelbase minivan, but smaller than extended competitors like Dodge's Grand Caravan. Despite a freshening in 1996 and complete redesign in 1999, its size and seating configurations remained largely unchanged. Although second-generation vehicles provided a more balanced ride and handling, the Mercury Villager offered merely adequate power throughout its lifespan and was never a standout performer when pitted against its class-leading rivals.
Used minivan shoppers who find its size and amenities agreeable could consider a later-model Mercury Villager. However, we think there's greater utility and value for the money to be found in a Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna or in Chrysler's minivans. Budget-minded shoppers should also consider the Kia Sedona.
Most Recent Mercury Villager
The second-generation Mercury Villager spanned 1999-2002 and received few changes. Similar in size and appearance to its predecessor, it really didn't stand much of a chance, given its lack of refinement and compromised utility. At its dawn, the Villager featured a 3.3-liter V6 good for 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Ride and handling were improved from the previous van, as were interior ergonomics. Available in base, Sport and luxurious Estate models, the Villager offered new styling inside and out to complement the new second manual sliding door on the driver side. The Nautica model was scuttled during these years.
During this generation, there were a few minor additions and rearrangements of the equipment list. The only significant update occurred for 2001, when the exterior and interior were freshened.
Past Mercury Villager Models
The first-generation Mercury Villager debuted in 1993 for a six-year run through '98. It sat seven people, with a standard middle-row bench or available quad captain's chairs. Initially offered only in GS and LS trim levels, it was soon available in the popular Nautica edition. Although its body style lent utility and passenger space, the 151-hp 3.0-liter V6 offered only adequate power and lagged behind more powerful rivals as the years wore on. In an attempt to keep up, it was freshened for '96 with new exterior styling and an updated dash equipped with a passenger-side airbag. Automatic climate control and an integrated child seat were also newly available. Passenger comfort and convenience were further enhanced for '97 with rear audio and climate controls. Although it's attractive and comfortable enough, there are better alternatives from that era available. Still, a Villager in mint condition might be worth a look.