2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid: In the Autobloggreen garage, Day 3-4

For our second installment of the Mercury Mariner Hybrid review, we'll be spending some more time inside the car, and driving the car. For the average sized family, the compact Mariner SUV should be adequately spacious. Even if you are over 6 feet, and you are sitting behind a tall driver, you should have sufficient space in the car. If you are moving down from a full size SUV, you'll have to leave the second cooler full of your favorite beverages home when embarking on your next family vacation. A bit of creativity with roof racks and trailer hitch bike carriers should make this size car versatile enough to fit your needs. If your mother in law asks you to go pick up the antique desk she bought at the local auction house, you should be able to fit it in by folding down the seats to create a nice flat loading floor.

Read on for more about the Mercury Mariner Hybrid after the jump

After looking a little more closely at the feature list of the Mariner, I still was not impressed. For starters, the climate control system is of the manual variety, and there is no separate adjustment for driver and passenger. The radio, with the integrated navigation system and information displays that deal with fuel economy and hybrid drivetrain operation, suffers from a major case of button overload and includes a fairly small LCD display. The CD changer is located under the passenger seat, which isn't at all convenient. The GPS navigation system is CD based, meaning you will be swapping navigation discs if your route takes you across more than just a few states. The whole system needs an update, period.

The radio lets you display your instantaneous and average fuel consumption. A separate display shows you whether you are being propelled on gas or electric power, or both. Arrows on the display show which way the energy is flowing, and they change in size to visualize the amount of power flowing. While the radio includes all the bells and whistles, it's poorly integrated, and the displays look a little too much like a 1980's Atari game. An analog gauge on the dash shows you weather the electric motor is assisting or regenerating, complimenting the digital display that is part of the radio. If you choose not to include the upgraded audio system, all the information you get about the hybrid drive is the analog gauge.

For those of you that expect "Back to the Future"-type experiences when driving a hybrid, you will walk away very disappointed. Driving the Mercury Hybrid is very much like driving any other car. The devil really is in the details. Driving away from a stop will often have you moving along very quietly in full electric mode, until you either floor the pedal or reach about 25 mph, which is when the gasoline engine starts up. The brake pedal, which will command regenerative braking and compliment it with traditional friction brakes if needed, takes some more effort than a traditional pedal, but this is nothing you wouldn't get used to pretty quickly. At any other time, the hybrid powertrain does its job unnoticed by the driver. The combined power of the gas engine and electric motor gives it adequate power to move it along at a reasonable pace, but the development focus of the Mariner was definitely more geared towards fuel economy and not performance, like some other hybrid vehicles available in the market. When pushed hard, the Mariner somewhat reluctantly responds, with a pretty noisy engine. Overall, the powertrain refinement is good, especially considering the fact we are dealing with a non-traditional vehicle. The Mariner handles well for an SUV, but does not come equipped with a stability control system.

Read on tomorrow for more about the Mariner's fuel economy.rcury

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