NEW YORK -- It was a nice car in the way that a normal day is nice. It was free of drama, absent of surprises. It was pleasant in its predictability. The 2002 Mercury Sable LS Premium sedan. Some people call it boring. But what looks like boring at dawn can be a comfort at sunset, when you end the day with a smile instead of a groan.
The Sable LS provided that comfort.
My colleague Martha McNeil Hamilton and I didn't want flash. We didn't want a car that would attract attention, or demand the same in terms of care and feeding. We wanted something to get us in and out of New York with maximum safety at minimum hassle and cost. The Sable LS did that. Therein lies its virtue -- and value.
The car's goodness is hidden in conventional wisdom. It is produced by Ford Motor Co., which lately has been having a bad time of it in the media. The company made some serious mistakes in quality. In terms of public relations, it handled those errors badly. It was pilloried in the press, and everything connected with Ford, including the Sable and its mechanically and structurally identical twin, the Ford Taurus, suffered in consequence.
There also is the perception of "loser," as measured in artificially segmented sales numbers. It is a silly practice that draws participants from everywhere in the auto industry. The secret flaw in the sales tally is this: The annual "best seller" often is a best seller by product name only.
For example, the Honda Accord was the best-selling mid-size car in 2001, with sales of 414,718 automobiles, according to Automotive News Data. The Toyota Camry came in second, with sales of 390,449, and the Ford Taurus came in third, with sales of 353,560. The Sable finished out of the running, with sales of 102,646.
But those numbers are misleading because they are based on nameplates, not vehicle platforms. There is only one Accord brand and one Camry brand. But Ford sells the same cars, the Sable and Taurus, under two different names. Combined Taurus/Sable sales last year totaled 456,206, easily surpassing the "leader," the Accord.
The point is this: Consumers aren't stupid. Taurus/Sable cars have been selling well since their introduction in 1985 as 1986 models. There is a reason for their continued success, and it all comes down to perceived value.
Look at the Sable LS Premium. It comes loaded with standard equipment, including a 3-liter, 24-valve, 200-horsepower V-6. There are amenities aplenty, including leather-faced seats, remotely operated door locks with anti-theft alarms, power seats and windows, adjustable brake and gas pedals to improve behind-the-wheel comfort for short drivers, fog lights, an electronically controlled automatic transmission (four-speed with adaptive shift control), and power-operated side-view mirrors.
The Taurus/Sable also gets the government's top rating for occupant protection in frontal crashes of 35 mph. It gets an "average" three-star rating for occupant protection in side-impact hits.
The standard installation of side air bags could improve the side-crash ratings of the Taurus and Sable. But what the tested Sable offers now for a base price of $22,170 is very reasonable.
Compare it with a similarly equipped Honda Accord EX V-6 sedan at $25,300 and a Toyota Camry XLE V-6 sedan at $25,405. The Sable is a contender here.
There's also this: According to industry figures, thieves take Accords and Camrys far more often than they steal Sable or Taurus models. Thus, Martha and I were reasonably certain that we would leave this city in the same car in which we drove here.
Normalcy. Peace. No unhappy events interrupting an important business trip. That's what we wanted. That's what we got.
Nuts & bolts
2002 Mercury Sable:
Even if it boosts the price a bit, Ford should offer standard anti-lock brakes and side air bags on the Sable, especially the top-of-the-line LS Premium. Selling those components as "options" on such a model is inexcusable.
The Sable and Taurus represent two of the best values available in the U.S. market for mid-size family sedans (and wagons). They should be on the shopping list of any family seeking a quality mid-size car.
The tested Sable LS Premium, with the exception of its polished chrome wheels, looks like a rental car, feels like a rental car. Ditto the Taurus and its various iterations. So what? Rental cars can save you a lot of fancy-car headaches.
Ride, acceleration and handling:
Excellent ride and straight-line acceleration. Handling is compromised by some excess body movement in curves. Take the curves gently and be happy.
The Sable LS Premium seats five, but rear space could be a little tight for the fifth person. Cargo capacity is a generous 16 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 18 gallons of gasoline. Regular unleaded is OK.
We averaged 26 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving with a fully loaded trunk.
The tested Sable LS Premium sedan has a base price of $22,170 and a dealer invoice price of $20,353. Price as tested is $24,640, including a $625 destination charge and $1,845 in options -- which makes it still a better deal than the Accord or Camry. Price does not include applicable taxes and fees.
The comparable Ford Taurus SEL carries a base sticker of $22,445, which also makes the Sable version look good.
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