My wife and I test drove nearly every mini-van on the market before visiting a Mercury dealer. To be painfully honest, we found some entry-level models of GM and Chrysler vehicles downright cheesy, although their upscale models were "acceptable". But the Villager Estate stopped us in our tracks.
The Villager Estate appeared sportier and more luxurious than anything else we had driven. More importantly, it rode and drove more like a conventional sedan, with plenty of acceleration from its standard 3.3 liter 170HP OHC V-6 with 4-speed automatic. The engine is the same as that of the Nissan Pathfinder. Earlier models of the villager had a 150HP 3-liter engine which they shared with the Nissan Maxima.
The gas mileage is rated at 17 MPG city / 24 MPG highway, and that is the honest truth. It is possible to drive the mileage down to around 15MPG if you take very short intercity hops, and 25 MPG is possible on long trips.
Standard features include: power windows/rear vent wings, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, dual air bags, roof rack, 16-inch alloy wheels, cupholders everywhere, cargo netting, a three-position package shelf behind the third seat, etc. Options include: ABS brakes, digital instrumentation with trip computer, climate control, air filtration system, power driver seat, deep tinted glass, "smart" lighting group, overhead console, remote keyless entry, anti-theft system, electric sunroof, and leather seating.
We have two children aged 12 and 15. We added the optional sound system with 6-disc changer and rear seat controls strictly for their benefit. This enables the rear seat passengers to listen to a completely different CD than is playing in the base radio/CD player. Likewise, the rear seat passengers can change tracks or control the volume on their headsets from a console above the left rear door. Rear seat climate controls are above the right hand rear door. Of course, the driver still has the ability to veto poor choices. Incidentally, the quality of the sound system is superb!
Whereas some may find the standard driver side sliding door a definite advantage, we did not place much importance on having a fourth door. I am relieved that I wasn't allowed to opt out. The fourth door has since proven very beneficial when removing the second row of bucket seats (quite easily accomplished).
We ordered the Deep Jewel Green with Harvest Gold and the golden mink interior. With the "gold" trim and 16-inch gold trimmed alloy wheels, I don't think that there is a better looking mini-van on the planet. Villager Sport models are the same price as the Estate and the primary differences are the color of body trim and the lack the gold trim on the 16" alloy wheels.
My wife liked the hinged glass in the tailgate, since she was accustomed to that feature on her old Sable wagon. The down-side is that the rear window wiper comes to rest on the paintwork whenever you open the glass hatch. No scratches yet, but it is only a matter of a few years.
The base price of the Villager Estate was around $25,000, but we managed to tickle the underbelly of $30,000 after adding options such as a digital dash, 6-disc CD changer, towing package, and several dealer-installed items. The only options that we did not add were leather seating (I conceded defeat to my wife on that one) and the power moon roof. Together those would have brought the price to $32,000, so after a bit of wrangling we settled on a final lease price of just over $28,000.
The Villager is essentially the same vehicle as the Nissan Quest, although the Quest is slightly less expensive due in part to minor interior differences. Since they share the same chassis and drive train, their ride and performance are essentially identical.
Aside from a minor misunderstanding with the dealership that delayed installation of two dealer-installed options, we only have one complaint. The ratchet mechanism on the console-mounted driver side cuholder broke shortly after taking delivery.
There was also a recall on this model year, which involved an insufficient quantity of lubricant on a rear seat latch. Since it was not worth the effort of taking the vehicle to the dealer, I elected to slather on some grease and tear up the notice.
Arrangements were originally made through Autobytel, although their "added value" was of minimal benefit since they directed us to a dealership 40-miles away when another was located about 12-miles from our home.