2009 Mariner New Car Test Drive
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.