With fuel prices vacillating between unbelievable and surreal, cars are a hot topic right now.

Every week it seems Iím fielding questions from consumers looking to trade in for a model more fuel efficient ó and the conversation always shifts to cars.

The big surprise ó at least for me ó is how few people are aware of the major car developments that have been taking place within the Big Three.

Since weíre reviewing the 2008 Mercury Milan this week, letís focus in on Ford Motor Company.

During the last five years, Ford has been producing a number of world-class cars ó their mid-size platform (which includes the Milan) is one of them.

Yet there still seems to be an informational barrier thatís not reaching the general public.

GO DRIVE THESE CARS!

SEE FOR YOURSELF!

DRIVING IS BELIEVING!

Fuel prices are a factor when it comes to new vehicle purchasing decisions. So is safety, as well as styling, performance, comfort, technology and to a large degree, reliability.

On all fronts, the Big Three have made significant strides in producing cars that are capable of competing in the global market.

As I see it, the biggest challenge is getting people into the showroom to take a test drive.

Like I mentioned earlier, driving is believing.

The 2008 five-passenger, mid-size Mercury Milan is no exception.

It has the look and feel of a $40,000-plus vehicle, but with a base price starting below $20,000.

The Milan also provides consumers with a number of options. For starters, itís available in either front- or all-wheel drive.

You also have a choice of two pretty impressive powertrain options.

A 2.3-liter I-4 engine (160 horsepower/156 lbs.-ft. of torque) requiring regular unleaded gasoline is mated to either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. When coupled with the automatic, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and is rated as a Low Emissions Vehicle. When coupled with the manual transmission, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway.

Buyers also have the option of a 3.0-liter V-6 engine (221 horsepower/205 lbs.-ft. torque) mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Also requiring regular unleaded gasoline, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway (one mpg lower for AWD models) and is rated as a Low Emissions Vehicle.

Letís talk safety for a minute. The 2008 Milan has received the highest individual ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for frontal and side impact crash test performance. It has also received the national Highway Traffic Safety Administrationís five-star rating for driver side-impact crash safety (the highest rating given).

Standard safety features include tire pressure monitoring system, Fordís Personal Safety System which features dual-stage driver and front passenger airbags, thorax side airbags for front seat occupants, side air curtains, rear door child safety locks, LATCH child restraint safety system and Belt-Minder, to name a few. Itís also loaded with convenience features, including Fordís new Sync hands-free communication and entertainment system.

The 2008 Milan is a great mid-size vehicle. For those in the market for a new car, this is a terrific vehicle with an outstanding warranty that should be added to the test drive list.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 15 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. Comments may be sent to Neal at neal.white@waxahachiedailylight.com.