• Jun 25, 2008

2009 Mariner Hybrid – Click above for high-res image gallery

Ford took pride in being the first automaker on the planet to offer a hybrid utility vehicle when it introduced the first battery-assisted Ford Escape in mid-2004. The Escape hybrid has had mixed success over the past few years, but with gas prices hitting $4 per gallon, the Blue Oval is selling every unit it can produce. For the 2008 model year, one in eight Escape sales are hybrids, which is impressive when you consider that it averages $30,000 per vehicle. In 2006, the Escape was joined by the lower volume Mariner Hybrid, giving Ford two entries in the hybrid soft-roader market, and a green model to sell at Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.

The Escape got a thorough makeover on the outside for 2008, but most of the mechanicals remain a carryover from the previous generation. For 2009, Ford finished the job on the Escape and its sheet metal sibling from Mercury and the hybrid models followed suit. The changes include a new engine that provides more power and improved efficiency, some cosmetic tweaks, and several technological upgrades. Ford is betting that the changes will improve their footing in the green scene, so we took a loaded Mercury Mariner hybrid into the Autoblog Garage to see if the fuel-sipping CUV could win us over.



All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.



Our loaded Light Ice Blue tester came equipped with leather seats, moon roof, Travel Link navigation, and a rearview camera, bring the grand total of the luxo-hybrid to a husky $33,000. But according to Mercury, buyers will be able to achieve over 30 mpg in mixed driving without having to sacrifice ride quality, refinement or aesthetics, something that's sure to please both soccer moms and the Sierra Club.

The Mariner Hybrid's new powertrain is a 2.5L four-cylinder running on the Atkinson cycle, which is mated to the same CVT as the last-generation model. The new mill is essentially a bored-out version of the outgoing 2.3L, though Ford added variable intake timing to improve power and refinement. The new engine is much smoother and more powerful than the previous powerplant, though fuel economy doesn't suffer as a result. The Mariner Hybrid keeps the holdover 330-volt Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack, though the energy-capturing electric brake system is new, recharging the battery pack, and unlike the outgoing model, it allows for stability and traction control.

The tinkering didn't end with the powertrain, either. Ford also added high-strength steel to the A-pillar, frame rails and cross members, which stiffens the Mariner's structure while providing a more comfortable ride around town. Several software enhancements were added to better-optimize efficiency and to make the shift from engine-power to battery-power and back smoother than before.

All those improvements translated well out on Michigan roads, as the 2009 Mariner Hybrid was much more refined than its 2008 predecessor. The new Mariner Hybrid is quieter, the engine turn-off isn't noticable and drivers can now go up to 40 mph without having to revert to petrol-power. In heavy traffic, we were so excited that we weren't using any fuel that we hardly noticed that our day was wasting away in a sea of metal and CO2, and it's nice to go through a fast food drive-through without contributing to global warming. If hybrids could only help us burn calories, we'd all want one.

Whether the engine was on or off, we were impressed with the newly solidified drive characteristics. While the 2008 model looked the part of an all-new CUV, it sometimes felt floaty and cheap on the road, but the 2009 model has better balance and all-around improved composure on the road. The 41 psi low rolling resistance tires didn't feel harsh on bumpy roads, which is a notable improvement over the jarring ride of its battery-assisted predecessor.

While our one week in hybrid land was generally problem free, we did experience about a day and a half when the battery didn't take over for us at all. While it pitched in with assistance at all speeds, it didn't shutter the engine at stops, and it didn't take over at low speeds. The battery never went below 50-percet utilization at any point, but after about 75 miles, everything went back to normal.

Over the course of our drive, we managed a combined 32 mpg in mixed driving (photo above was taken before we reset fuel economy info) which includes roughly a 50/50 mix of highway and city driving on our daily commute. While that tally is far shy of the 43 mpg we achieved with the Prius last year, it's far better than what we've gotten with most non-hybrid compacts we've sampled in the past, and it was substantially better than the 26 mpg we got with the Saturn Vue hybrid. Even when we did have to fuel up, the cap-less fuel system made the task a little easier.


On the inside, the Mariner had plenty of interesting features that should help make the daily drive more palatable. To begin with, Ford's new Travel Link navigation system is incredible. You can check sports scores, weather, gas station information, and movie theater times with minimum navigation. The GPS system works well for directions and maps, and the system comes with a ten-gigabyte hard drive for storing your favorite music. Fuel-conscious drivers can also keep tabs on fuel economy and battery charge by clicking on the info button. We spent most of our week staring at the efficiency display (when it was safe), which made us keenly aware of what our right foot was doing, causing fuel economy improved in turn.


Ford also does a solid job of keeping the driver comfortable with leather seating surfaces with good lateral support, a thick, comfortable leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a cushy resting place for our right arm. The gauge cluster is well lit and easy to read, and there is a meter on the RPM gauge to show when you're driving under battery power.

Our tester also came with a large moon roof that disappointingly didn't open up very far. The size of the opening doesn't justify the added cost and weight to the vehicle, and it doesn't bring in much fresh air. Storage space behind the second row is less than spectacular, and folding the back row completely flat into the floor requires that removal of the headrests. That's problematic because of the amount of effort it takes to get them off, but more importantly, there are a lot of people that will remove the head rests and forget to replace them when they put the seats back into the upright position.


After one week in the Autoblog Garage, we're confident that the 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid is a more competent, more refined, and more powerful vehicle than the model it replaced. It easily achieves the fuel economy most of us would kill for, and it looks good doing it. The only thing that would give many of us pause is the $33,000 price tag, but with gas prices on a seemingly unstoppable upwards trajectory, 32 mpg accompanied by plenty of amenities doesn't seem like a bad deal. And in the world of econ-conscious commuters, you could do a lot worse than the Mariner Hybrid.



All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.


Autoblog review of the 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 38 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      "Regenative" ? Heh... :P

      Seems like a decent vehicle !
      • 6 Years Ago
      I had a 2002 Mazda Tribute (same as the Escape/Mariner) and it was a pretty good little suv. It's only downfalls were the poor gas mileage, poor interior, and the gearing (too much of a jump from 1st to 2nd). I've seen the new ones and it seems like they fixed all my major concerns. The interior is excellent, it has a six speed auto, and they have the hybrid (for gas savings) and the updated 3.0L V6 (which is more powerful while still better on gas).

      All in all, if I was looking for a solid little suv it would definitely be on my list.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Chris Shunk wrote:
      "While our one week in hybrid land was generally problem free, we did experience about a day and a half when the battery didn't take over for us at all. While it pitched in with assistance at all speeds, it didn't shutter the engine at stops, and it didn't take over at low speeds."

      I think I may be able to diagnose this problem. Was the day the malfunction occurred a relatively hot one? The Mariner/Escape Hybrid utilizes a modern engine powered A/C Compressor, not an electric one. If the A/C was on with the ECON button on the Thermostat Console disabled, the engine will be forced to keep running in order to maintain the desired climate. When the ECON button is enabled it will turn the A/C off if necessary to achieve better fuel economy, thus putting the engine on stand-by, while still letting you keep the Climate Control System in its AUTO function.

      Let me know if that makes sense. -Matt
      • 6 Years Ago
      Pretty good for an suv but lets see this same drivetrain in a fusion. Too bad they never made a wagon version.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Actually you will, although I am not sure which autoshow it will be rolled out at.
        • 6 Years Ago
        of course 23/29 is pretty good for an suv, I never said otherwise. I only said that for those of us who don't need the ride height and more-truck-like aerodynamics it could only be even better in a vehicle that weighs the same, such as the fusion. So it would be a little less space traded for better driving dynamics and a little better mpg (and sleeker styling IMO). Why would people pass that up? Oh right, America is still suv crazy for the sake of it.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I understand what you're saying, but we still love SUV's and at 23mpg/29mpg we can still love them for a bit longer.

        The Wagon will be dynamically superior, but most Americans don't like Wagons and most don't care about the best handling, with the new sway bars in the back and stiffer structure the Escape will satisfy most that want an SUV like feel (which has always been the Escapes "thing") without the gas guzzling that goes along with most SUV's. The Escape/Mariner is pretty light too with decent towing on the V6.

        I just always hear these two together when we're talking about the US market, wagons and slow sales.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Apparently they sell like hot cakes. (The Escape version at least.)
      Order to delivery time is around 6 months now.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I know these are hard to get (and the Ford Escape Hybrid). Are the dealers marking up over sticker like they do with the Prius? I know the Prius gets better MPG but this is way better looking. I am willing to pay the extra cash for the nicer looking Hybrid. I also like the fact that it does not draw attention to itself as a hybrid like the purpose built Prius. Prius is a great little car and a good value but I prefer the Ford/Mercury.
      • 6 Years Ago
      23/29? The 08 FWD manual transmission Escape gets 22/28. The automatic gets 20/26. So for 09 we should see 21/27 NOT 23/29. The stick shift does not get a 6th gear.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The new Six speed automatic gets the extra 1mpg!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I wonder if Hummer will go hybrid as well? I kid, I kid

      Very nice nav, nice interior and pretty competent drivetrain from what's been said, but the design is a little bland and utilitarian (not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely not a car to make me fall in love)
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hardly somthing for one who loves to drive as an only car. I however, would be happy to have a Mariner Hybrid as an A-B car and a winter car.

      It looks pretty good, drives well (from what I am told), and is not foolishly expensive.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Your logic makes no economical sense whatsoever.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Awesome vehicle. ESP, SYNC, and a revised chassis and interior address all my complaints with the 2008 model.

      I wonder if EPA fuel economy ratings change for 2009. The '08 FWD already gets better city mpg than the Camry Hybrid.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Too bad Ford makes so few that you almost have a better chance of getting one of those Honda Claritys than a Mariner Hybrid.

      ...and a loaded Altima Hybrid costs $33k also, so the price isn't totall out of line.
        • 6 Years Ago
        From the article: "and it's nice to go through a fast food drive-through without contributing to global warming"


        Didn't you get the memo? Since the world has been cooling for 10 years now, the Goracle changed it to 'climate change'
        • 6 Years Ago
        A little work and you could get lucky like I did:

        Timeline:
        June 2009 - Decided time to replace 10 year old Astro getting 15 mpg in 80% city driving 15000/yr- convinced hybrid was most likely best way to go.
        mid-July 2009 - Decided Escape/Mariner/Camry/Altima were worth looking at more.
        Local dealers said Escapes and Mariners were on 16 weeks order to delivery dates - no hybrids available to test drive.
        July 20th - found dealer with 2008 Mariner available for test drive
        July 28th - test drove and liked it! Dealer indicated he had a 2009 coming in "one to two weeks" that had the options I was looking for.
        July 29th Morning- Visited Toyota Dealer to check out Camrys- I found out I my head hits the roof of Camrys with sunroof - Toyota does not sell high end Camry Hybrids without sunroofs.
        July 29th Afternoon- After checking other dealers, by 1pm, I called back and put a deposit on the Mariner.
        July 29th Evening - Dealer calls back and says the shipment with the Mariner just arrived.
        August 1st - Driving my brand new 2009 Mercury Hybrid for MSRP (no additional markup).

        2009 Escapes and Mariners are the only 2009 vehicles currently listed as qualifying for income tax rebates:

        http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=185050,00.html

        ----
        I do not expect anyone else to be as successful as me, but here are the keys to potential success:
        1) Call every Ford/Mercury dealer within 100 miles- more likely to have luck with a dealer that keeps one to test drive.
        2) Call them again - then give up, place your order and maybe you will get a Christmas present.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Although I am a GM fanboy, I can't help not to say that recent Ford designs are getting better and better. 32mpg is great for a car of this size. Ford's interiors are also really nice and high quality. I only wish Mercury had greater brand recognition and would finally see its sales pick up. Why not to make Mercury an all hybrid brand? Or maybe, a euro-import? Anyway, I think Mullaly is doing a great job at Ford, which now seems to be in far greater shape than GM. I really believe Ford is in the middle of what is one of the greatest corporate turn-arounds of the 21st century.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Mercury is dead meat. Lots of people have great ideas how to improve/help Mercury, but it is slated for the ashcan of history. The lack of any new models (other than straightforward Ford clones), no concepts on the board, and no supplier orders after 2012 all say it is toast. Ford is pulling in and killing Mercury softly.
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