From the April 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

Looking for new deals on wheels? Ford and Mercury have launched their most ambitious program yet of new and upgraded vehicles. All but one are 2005 models on sale this year.

The best news for entrepreneurs is the array of passenger cars. In early 2005, Ford is scheduled to unveil the Futura, accompanied by a hybrid version. Meanwhile, Mercury debuts its first small SUV, the 2005 Mariner, based on Ford's Escape.

The stylish Futura is powered by lightweight, fuel-efficient I-4 and V-6 engines with a choice of manual, automatic or CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) transmissions. Targeted to the business market, the Futura's hallmarks are comfort, roominess and affordability. The gas/electric hybrid version can run on battery power, gas or a combination of both.

Brand new in dealerships are two business sedans: the 2005 Mercury Montego and Ford's luxurious flagship, the Five Hundred. High-quality, affordable and generously proportioned, they have enormous 21-cubic-foot trunks. On both, the front passenger seat folds down flat to serve as a desktop; and two power points, in the center console and on the dashboard, are handy for plugging in computers, phones and faxes.

Mercury's Montego sells in two models, Luxury and Premier, and Ford's Five Hundred in three, SE, SEL and Limited. All are loaded with the latest safety technology, including all-speed traction control, anti-lock brakes, power assist steering and front air bags. Optional are four extra air bags, all-wheel drive and a reverse-sensing system. The engine on all versions is a 200-horsepower V-6 with a six-speed transmission. The interiors are ornate with leather, satin and aluminum chrome, and wood-grain trim. Both have some crossover (sedan/station wagon/SUV) vehicle features, such as higher-than-average seats for a better view of the road, a stiff suspension (borrowed from Volvo) for better ride and handling, and large wheels and brakes.


Editor and consultant Jill Amadio has been reporting on the automotive industry for 25 years.