2009 Mercury Mariner Expert Review:Autoblog
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
New Car Test Drive
A sensible SUV in a smart package.
The Mercury Mariner offers everything most buyers seek in a small sport-utility vehicle, including the high, commanding seating position and lots of cargo space, with more maneuverability and better fuel economy than behemoth, truck-based SUVs. For 2008, the Mariner simply does those things a little better than before. Like its corporate sibling, the Ford Escape, the Mariner has been thoroughly updated for 2008.
Improvements to the 2008 Mercury Mariner cover the spectrum, adding both safety features and refinement without altering the basic character that has made this small SUV a popular choice across the United States.
Mariner has a bit more truck-style flair than some of its competitors. The new look for 2008 replicates Mercury's mid-size, truck-based Mountaineer sport-utility. Mariner's ride height and seating position, for example, are higher than that of the Honda CR-V or Nissan Rogue. Mariner can tow up to 3,500 pounds, which is substantially more than most vehicles in the class.
Still, Mariner delivers the advantages of other unit-body, car-based SUVs such as the CR-V. The Mariner is more car-like on the road than the Jeep Liberty, for example. Its smooth ride and reasonably agile handling make for pleasant driving, and its compact dimensions make it easy to maneuver and park.
The Mariner offers comfortable seating for four, or five in a pinch, with more headroom than before. Folding the rear seats opens a good-sized cargo area with a flat floor, and space behind the seat surpasses that in the trunk of the typical sedan. Interior storage options have improved for 2008. The finish is more upscale and pleasing, and feature function and switches are among the best. New standard safety features, including a Roll Stability Control system, reset the class benchmark.
The engines are one of the few things carried over from the previous Mariner. The base four-cylinder is adequate, if not particularly exciting, and all variants, including the V6 and Mariner Hybrid, deliver good fuel economy ratings compared to the competition.
The Hybrid drives like a conventional Mariner, for the most part, and demands little additional effort or knowledge from the driver in exchange for improved mileage. Along with the Ford Escape, it's the only full hybrid available in the class. Like other Mariners, the gas-electric Hybrid is offered with either front- or all-wheel drive. The Hybrid models are powered by a more fuel-efficient, 133-hp Atkinson Cycle version of the four-cylinder engine that works in concert with a 70 kilowatt electric motor, all coupled to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. Unlike some mild hybrid SUVs, the Mariner Hybrid can run on 100 percent electric power up to about 25 mph.
In line with a plan to rejuvenate the Mercury brand, Mariner is intended to offer a step up in status over the Escape. Yet it's worth noting that the Escape can be equipped identically to the Mariner, and with the same stuff the prices are essentially the same. In either case, a leather-upholstered V6 4WD, with premium audio, navigation, dual-zone climate control and rear sonar sells for about $30,000. At the higher end of the product line, the differences between Mariner and Escape really comes down to styling details.
The 2008 Mercury Mariner is available with front-wheel drive or fulltime all-wheel drive, and either a four-cylinder, V6 or hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain. All models come with an automatic transmission.
Mariner ($20,920) and Mariner 4WD ($21,320) come with a 153-horsepower 2.3-liter inline four that generates 152 lb-ft of torque, matched to a four-speed automatic. A 200-hp, dual-overhead cam 3.0-liter V6 ($1,000) is optional. These base models come well equipped, with air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks, an AM/FM stereo with CD and auxiliary jack, rear window defroster, cruise control, privacy glass and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The V6 comes standard in the Mariner Premium ($23,820) and Premium 4WD ($25,570). This is the upscale trim level, with leather seating, a six-CD changer, automatic headlights and other features included.
Mariner Hybrid ($27,020) and Hybrid 4WD ($28,870) are equipped similarly to the Premium models, with the hybrid powertrain replacing the V6.
Options include the Cargo Convenience Group ($195), which adds a retractable cargo area cover and a compartmentalized rear storage bin. The Audiophile Package ($695) includes a high-power stereo with seven speakers, subwoofer and the in-dash CD changer. The Leather Trim package adds leather seating and adjustable lumbar support to the base model ($995) or Hybrid ($695).
The Audiophile and Navigation Package ($2,295, base, $1,995 Premium and Hybrid) includes the stereo upgrade and a touch-screen navigation system. In the Hybrid, it also adds a meter that graphically and immediately demonstrates the benefits of hybrid drive, and helps the driver maximize fuel economy. These are only the start of the packages, and there are also a host of stand-alone options for all trim levels, including CD changer ($295), a power moonroof ($795), floor mats ($75), 17-inch wheels ($650), and a Class II towing package ($395).
Safety features have been upgraded substantially for 2008, making equipment that was previously optional standard across the board, and raising the benchmark for small sport-utilities. Passive safety features include front- and side-impact airbags for front occupants, and curtain-type head protection airbags for all outboard seats. The side curtains can remain inflated for several seconds in the event of a rollover, and are designed to slide between the side glass and occupants if the people are oddly seated or resting heads against a window.
Active safety systems include four-channel antilock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control and a Roll Stability Control system. RSC adds a second gyroscopic roll-rate sensor to the typical stability control package, measuring the Mariner's roll angle and roll rate and applying countermeasures (such as braking one of the wheels or reducing power) to increase rollover resistance.
The 2008 Mercury Mariner has been substantially restyled, but it may be what isn't obvious to the eye that matters more. The most important changes could be functional rather than aesthetic.
The outside mirrors, for example, are larger than before, offering a broader view to the sides and rear. Yet Mercury engineers tailored the shape so the bigger mirrors generate less noise as air speeds over them. The roof, too, is designed to reduce interior noise. Recessed channels running its length are intended to move air more quietly over the surface. Horizontal ribs underneath the panel add structure, which limits flex in the metal and reduces booming noise inside at high speeds. In all, it's part of the overall refinement that makes the redesigned Mariner a more pleasant place to spend time.
We're not trying to minimize the changes to Mariner's styling, because they're significant. The front end, liftgate, headlights and taillights are different. The beltline, or that crease just below the side windows, has been raised, and none of the major body panels are common to previous Mariners. It's just that the redesign is evolutionary, with the most obvious changes in the details. In a general, impressionistic way, the new Mariner still looks a lot like a shrunken version of the larger Mercury Mountaineer SUV. And while it may have a sedan-style unitbody with fully independent suspension underneath, the Mariner has a more conventional, upright, truck-style look than a lot of its competitors.
It starts with the big, bold, waterfall grille, which immediately attracts the eye from any angle on the front of the vehicle. The new grille is larger than before, with wider openings between the bars. The badge in the middle is larger, too, and there are smaller Mercury badges integrated inside the headlight lenses. There's more brightwork on this Mariner front and rear, but it's mostly a satiny, aluminum finish rather than conventional chrome. It gives Mariner a more understated, slightly more upscale look than the closely related Ford Escape.
That higher beltline creates the impression that the windows are shorter or narrower, promoting a pillbox effect that emphasizes Mariner's truck look. The taillights have the same eyebrow shape as the headlights, which helps connect front and rear. The lenses are clear, with read and white clusters underneath.
We particularly like a couple of features in back of the Mariner. A step pad on the bumper provides secure footing for anyone who steps up to put something on the roof rack, and the two-piece tailgate is handy. The rear glass can be popped open with the key fob, so dropping smaller items like a gym bag into the cargo area is easier than it might be with some competitors, which require hefting the entire gate upward.
The 2008 Mercury Mariner features a redesigned cabin, and it contributes considerably to its overall refinement, increasing its appeal. This interior isn't a great leap forward in any particular fashion, but it's carefully thought out and well executed. Ergonomic function is best in class, and the visual impact is good.
The brushed, satiny aluminum trim that abounds outside the Mariner carries over inside, and anyone who likes the effect should find the Mariner a pleasant place to spend time. The look and feel of materials are improved throughout. The headliner is plush and molded to the contour of the roof.
The base seats have rich, suede-like Alcantara inserts; the optional leather upholstery is thick and tailored tautly around the seats. The most impressive feature may be the woven-look, rubberized trim on the dash and console. It looks sporty and suited to a more expensive car. The low point is the grained plastic on the door panels, which feels hard and looks a bit cheap. Fortunately, it's not enough to overwhelm the good stuff most everywhere else, and many others fall down in this area as well.
The front seats are smaller than those in a larger sport utility. We'd guess drivers with wide frames might find them small. There isn't an abundance of side bolstering, either, but that makes it easier to slide into the seats, and there's enough to keep occupants solidly in place for the type of driving a typical Mariner owner is likely to undertake. For most drivers, the seat should have enough cush to prevent butt numbing and enough support to limit fatigue during a long commute.
Gauges are clustered in a shaded binnacle that can be absorbed in a glance: Tachometer left, speedometer right, with fuel and coolant temperature in the middle, along with an easy-to-read trip- and systems-info display. We loved this, because it includes a menu that allows the driver to easily cycle through and change features like headlight-off delay and auto-locking.
The gauges and switches feature Ford's corporate signature backlighting style, which the company calls Ice Blue. No gripe here, as the bluish white is crisper and brighter than conventional green-yellow or orange lighting. We're not terribly fond of the speedometer script, however. It lacks differentiation beyond the big even numbers, so it's hard to tell quickly what speed you're driving unless you are traveling precisely 20, 40 or 60 mph.
The dashboard is tall and squarish, but attractive. Big vents at the ends move lots of air, and there are two more in the middle near the top of the center stack. These can be aimed to avoid blasting the driver's hands or face with a rush of air. At the very top, nearly eye level, sits a neat TFT display that shows compass direction, date and time, exterior temperature and interior temp settings.
Measured by the placement and function of switches and controls, the Mariner is first rate, and examples are easy to find. When the driver rests his or her left forearm on the door rest, the windows buttons sit almost perfectly at the fingertips. With elbows on the door rest and center console, arms are even and hands rest nicely at 9 and 3 on the steering wheel. The mirror adjustor sits on the door pillar, and it's easy to reach when the driver's head is in driving position. One easy-to-use stalk controls the blinkers and all wiper/washer functions. Steering-wheel controls for cruise and audio work without moving hands from the driving position.
The primary audio and climate controls are even better. The volume and station-selector knobs are good sized, but more importantly, they are raised substantially from the stereo plate, rather than nearly flat to the surface as they are in many vehicles. The radial switches for fan and temperature are also big and easy to find. Picking nits, the pushbuttons to control airflow direction and the rear defogger are a bit small, but they tend to.
The redesigned Mercury Mariner still seems a bit more like a real truck than competitors such as the Honda CR-V or Saturn Vue. That's partly due to Mariner's squarer, upright styling, but mostly because its ride height and seating position are higher than other small, unitbody (sedan style) sport-utilities. The difference is a character issue more than a genuine, functional phenomenon, and it's not bad at all. The 2008 Mariner never feels tippy on the road and it's quite pleasant to drive. Both the four- and six-cylinder engine deliver good response and adequate acceleration, and the high seating position simply offers a better view when scooting through traffic, which can be accomplished with the same confidence you might have in a standard sedan.
All Mariners, from front-drive four-cylinders to all-wheel-drive V6s to the Hybrid, have some of the best EPA mileage ratings in the class. All have a firm, comfortable ride, without the roly-poly mush quality or the jarring clanks that can characterize conventional truck-based SUVs with tall, off-road tires and long-travel suspensions. Improvements for 2008, including increased air-conditioning power, an electric power steering system, better noise management and changes in suspension tuning, raise the level of refinement above previous Mariners.
The Mariner Hybrid delivers essentially the same performance as the gasoline V6, with very little except improved mileage to give away its hybrid powertrain. Few drivers will notice any substantial, functional differences with the Hybrid in day-to-day use. This is a full hybrid, meaning it can run exclusively on electric power, but there's no power cord needed. The battery pack is automatically recharged by the gasoline engine and by regenerative braking, which captures energy that is otherwise wasted when a vehicle looses momentum, then sends it to the batteries for storage.
By combining a four-cylinder gasoline engine with the boost from an electric motor, the Hybrid can deliver a significant fuel-economy improvement and reduce emissions. The Mariner Hybrid can operate on the electric motor up to about 25 mph to maximize in-city fuel economy, and for 2008 it's available with all-wheel drive.
The Mariner Hybrid's primary source of power remains its gasoline engine. It's nearly identical to the 2.3-liter four in gasoline-only models, except that it runs on something called the Atkinson cycle, which improves its fuel efficiency but reduces horsepower by 20 (to 133). The companion, 70-kilowatt electric motor will kick in when a driver demands full acceleration and deliver more torque to the wheels, or it can power the Mariner Hybrid by itself in certain circumstances, such as creeping along in a traffic jam or rolling through a parking lot. Bottom line, the Hybrid model delivers acceleration times comparable to the gas-only V6, with a 55 percent improvement over gas-only four-cylinder models in city mpg, according to the EPA (34 city, 30 highway for the Hybrid 2WD).
The Hybrid delivers excellent acceleration at lower speeds. Floor it at 20 mph, and it will snap heads back toward head rests. Floor the Hybrid 2WD at a stop sign, and it can squeal its front tires like a hot rod. To be sure, its tires are harder than those on other Mariners and designed for maximum efficiency, which means less rolling resistance, and less grip. The only real performance issue compared to gasoline-only Mariners is a reduction in maximum towing capacity from 3,500 pounds for the V6 4WD (best in class) to 1000 pounds for the Hybrid (still enough for a personal watercraft or dirt bikes)
Few will notice a significant difference between the Hybrid and a conventional Mariner, except when the Hybrid shuts itself off at stop lights or glides quietly through a parking lot on electric power. Indeed, the Hybrid is a bit quieter, probably smoother, in all circumstances. In order to minimize the power lost as it transfe.
The 2008 Mercury Mariner offers front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, competitive four- or six-cylinder engines and the Hybrid package, which works essentially as the conventional models do. Fuel mileage for all models, and towing capacity, rank with the best in class. Substantial improvements for 2008 add safety features, refinement, comfort and more style. For all-purpose, reasonably efficient daily transport on the road, the Mariner rates among the best smaller SUVs. Shoppers seeking genuine off-road potential should look elsewhere.
J.P. Vettraino filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Mariner in the Detroit area.
Mercury Mariner ($20,920); Mariner 4WD ($22,670); Premium ($23,820); Premium 4WD ($25,770); Hybrid ($27,020); Hybrid 4WD ($28,770).
Kansas City, Missouri.
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($3,395) includes leather seating, GPS navigation system with seven-speaker audiophile stereo, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, roof rack with crossbars and retractable cargo cover; Hybrid Moon & Tune Package ($995) includes power glass sunroof with shade and Sirius Satellite Radio receiver with six-month subscription; 110-volt electrical outlet ($180).
Mercury Mariner Hybrid ($27,020).
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