Twin of the Ford Taurus offers a lot of car for the money

SAN FRANCISCO It's a large, nearly 17-foot long, smooth-riding sedan with generous interior space, a huge trunk, commendable V-6 power and top safety ratings. In fact, the Sable, which was resurrected in the 2008 model year after a hiatus from the market, is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which notes this four-door car emphasizes comfort.

Still, the Sable lives under the shadow of its better known twin, the Ford Taurus, which tends to get all the attention.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, front-wheel drive Sable is $24,530 with standard six-speed automatic transmission. One of the few non-luxury cars of its size offered with all-wheel drive, the 2008 Sable starts at $26,380 with all-wheel drive.

It's true that both starting prices are higher than the comparable Tauruses. But the difference is slight.

The base Sable is only a $295 premium over the base front-drive Taurus, and the all-wheel drive Sable is only $295 more than a comparable Taurus.

It's also worth noting that base prices of Sable undercut many smaller sedans with V-6s, including the 2008 Honda Accord and 2008 Nissan Maxima, whose base prices are at least $2,065 more.

The test Sable excelled in providing a nice, compliant ride. Don't expect a sport sedan ride with a firm, stuck-to-the-road feel.

Instead, the Sable easily rolls over and above road bumps and almost, but not quite, cushions passengers from them. This isn't a floaty ride, but it's a notable, modern-day version of a plush sedan ride, and it makes for peaceful and unfettered long highway drives.

The Sable uses a MacPherson strut front suspension with stabilizer bar and isolated subframe. At the back, an independent, coil-over-shock suspension is at work. The power, rack-and-pinion steering has a mainstream feel, and the turning circle is sizable at 41 feet.

The test car, in Premier trim, rode on 18-inch tires, but there wasn't much road or wind noise to be heard. The interior is quiet. I did hear the 263-horsepower, 3.5-liter, Duratec V-6 every time I accelerated, and it sounded confident and unstressed.

Even at a weight of more than 3,700 pounds, the Sable moved strongly to merge into traffic and in passing maneuvers. It conveys that it's a substantial car -- from the thud of its doors closing to the palpable heftiness of its size. There were a couple instances when the six-speed automatic could have downshifted quicker to provide quicker response and power on mountain roads.

Torque in the Sable peaks at 249 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm.

The federal government's fuel economy rating for a front-wheel drive Sable is 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway. This is on par with smaller, V-6-powered sedans such as the mid-size 2008 Chevrolet Malibu and 2008 Saturn Aura.

Indeed, the Sable, with its big, 21.2-cubic-foot trunk, has a higher mileage rating than a six-cylinder-powered 2008 Volkswagen Passat sedan and 2008 Chrysler Sebring sedan.

Not unexpectedly, with all-wheel drive, the Sable's fuel economy rating drops slightly to 17/24 mpg. This is the same rating that the government gives the 2008 Subaru Legacy with four-cylinder engine and manual transmission.

The Sable's recommended fuel is unleaded regular.

The best part of the Sable, however, is the interior: The driver's seat position is elevated for a good view out and people in the back seat have stretch-out room. Second-row legroom is a full 41.2 inches, which is more than what's in the second row of an extended-length, Cadillac Escalade ESV.

It can be difficult for the driver to see what's directly behind and close to the rear bumper of the Sable when the car is backing up. So I'd advise getting the optional reverse sensing system, which has a retail price from the factory of $295.

Other nice additions that can improve comfort and functionality include power adjustable pedals which raise and move closer to the driver, for $195, and a cargo management system to help keep items from rolling around that big trunk. It retails for $200.

The Sable doesn't attract looks, and the front, bar-like grille can look inelegant when the headlamps are on. Mercury's parent company, Ford Motor Co., has made much of the fact the Taurus -- and the Sable -- have crash test ratings that make them "the safest full-size cars in America."

And it's true that both sedans received the top, five-out-of-five-stars rating in frontal and side crash testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But electronic stability control, which is standard on every Hyundai, is an option on the Sable and is retail priced at $495. Standard safety equipment includes curtain air bags, seat-mounted side air bags for the front seats, antilock brakes and traction control.

Some knowledgeable car buyers may remember that the Sable was discontinued from the market for about a year because of slow sales. It was supposed to be replaced by the Mercury Montego.

But Montego sales were poor, too, so company officials decided to revive the Sable as a remade and much-improved Montego in the same way the 2008 Taurus is a remade Ford Five Hundred. So far this year, sales of the 2008 Sable total about 1,000 a month, while the tally for the 2008 Taurus is 4,500 a month.

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