The Mercury Sable was a mid-size (model years 1986–2005) or full-size (2008–2009) upscale sedan car model created by the Ford Motor Company and sold under the Mercury brand. It served as a rebadged variant of the Ford Taurus, with a few cosmetic changes.
The Sable was a milestone design for both Mercury and the entire American automotive industry, as well as a very influential vehicle in the marketplace, with Mercury assembling 2,112,374 cars during its first 20 years of production through 2005. The Sable's design was so futuristic, that it was called by the press "The car that came from the moon". An important feature of the Sable's design was its front "lightbar", a low-wattage lamp between the front headlamps. This later became mainstream for Mercury's line-up, and was copied by many automakers in the early nineties.
The Sable was refreshed in 1992 and received its first complete redesign in 1996. The 1996 model remained the basis for the vehicle up through the 2005 model year. A major sheet metal and interior redesign occurred in 2000, softening some of the controversial design vestiges of the 1996 model which the Taurus also endured. Minor styling changes in 2004 further refined the car.
The Sable station wagon ended production in 2004 and sedan production ended on April 29, 2005. The Ford Taurus remained in production through the 2007 model year, primarily for service as a fleet vehicle. Taurus production ended on October 27, 2006.
At the Chicago Auto Show on February 7, 2007, Ford CEO Alan Mulally unveiled a refreshed version of the Mercury Montego sedan and announced that the new name of the car would be "Sable," due to customer recognition and dealer demand.
However, sales never met expectations and the full-size Sable ended production (permanently, this time) on May 21, 2009. Its Taurus counterpart continued on and was redesigned. The Sable's second counterpart, the Ford Taurus X, ended production on February 27, 2009.
Ford had lagged in introducing mid-size front-wheel-drive cars to compete against General Motors' Chevrolet Citation and its best-selling Chevrolet Celebrity/Pontiac 6000/Oldsmobile Cutlass/ Buick Centry quartet as well as Chrysler's well-received K cars and Japanese offerings from Honda, Datsun/Nissan and Toyota. The Mercury brand suffered even more from this delay. In 1983, Ford launched the redesigned Mercury Cougar to start a reinvigoration of the Mercury brand with new aerodynamic designs, and started development of the Sable. Because of this design, the Sable was a resounding success and launched Mercury into a new design era, as well as influencing the other American automakers to follow suit and create more aerodynamics cars, thus ending the "boxy" cars of the 1970s and 1980s.
The Taurus and Sable siblings used flush aerodynamic composite headlights. Ford was the first to produce and sell vehicles with such headlights in the U.S., when it introduced the Lincoln Mark VII in 1984. To do so, Ford (among other automakers) had to lobby the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to have them approved. The Taurus and Sable were the first domestically produced, mainstream sedans to use the new lights. They also went beyond the Audi 5000, with which they were often compared, to adopt a grille-less "bottom breather" nose, first pioneered by the Citroën DS in the 1950s, and also used briefly on the Mustang.
The Sable was unveiled along with the Taurus in a resounding fashion. For its aerodynamic shape, the launch was held in MGM Studios Soundstage 85, where Gone with the Wind was filmed. Ford workers came into the room, which was decorated in space-age decor, holding cups shaped like flying saucers and the Taurus and Sable were sitting behind a curtain, their outlines silhouetting. Then, with the flashing of strobe lights and a drum-roll, the curtain was pulled back and the two cars were revealed to the public.
The bodyshell was smooth and aerodynamic. The Sable twin had a wraparound "lightbar" with two headlights and a low-wattage stretch in between. Aircraft-style doors were used to reduce wind noise, and the handles were recessed. The Sable also had large glass areas with slim pillars, and were flush with the body. The rear glass wrapped fully around, and the B-pillars were painted black to give the illusion that the front and rear glass were connected. The interior was available with bucket seats — very rare for most U.S. midsize sedans — and the dashboard wrapped around the driver and fed into the door panels to create more of a "cockpit" feel.
The Sable was first introduced as a 1986 model in December 1985, to strong sales and fanfare. It came in two models, base GS and high-end LS. Initial Sable sales were strong, and the Sable sold around 300,000 units its first year.
For the first year on the market, Sable buyers had the choice of a 90 hp (67 kW) HSC 4-cylinder mated to a three-speed automatic transaxle or a 140 hp (104 kW) Vulcan V6 with a four-speed automatic, with the latter having much higher sales. 4-cylinder Sable sales were so poor that the engine was dropped in 1987 (it remained an option for the Taurus until 1991). Ford's 3.8 L Essex V6 was added to the line-up in 1988. Although the power output was rated at the same 140 hp (104 kW) as the 3.0 L engine, this large V6 produced 215 ft·lbf (291 N·m) of torque, a welcome addition, especially in the heavier station wagons. However, the 3.8 suffered from premature head gasket failure, which was primarily a fault with Ford's supplier of gaskets, not with the engine itself. Some also attribute this to reduced under-hood cooling. Unlike the Taurus, no manual transmission was offered in the Sable.
The Sable had just received small changes over the years, mostly in terms of equipment and cosmetics. In 1991, sales dipped to just over 100,000 units, so a new generation of Sable was launched.