2011 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. The Mariner is based on the superb Ford Escape.
The Mariner has a bit more truck-style flair than some of its competitors; its ride height and seating position, for example, are higher than that of the Honda CR-V or Nissan Rogue, and it can tow up to 3,500 pounds, which is substantially more than most vehicles in the class. Still, the 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. 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 a typical sedan. The finish is upscale and pleasing, and feature function and switches are among the best. Standard safety features include AdvanceTrac electronic stability control with Roll Stability Control.
The base four-cylinder engine 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. 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, 153-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, the Mariner is intended to offer a step up in status over the Ford Escape. Yet it's worth noting that the Escape can be equipped identically to the Mariner, and with the same level of features the prices are essentially the same. In either case, a leather-upholstered V6 4WD, with premium audio, navigation, dual-zone climate control and other options will be over $30,000. At the higher end of the product line, the differences between the Mariner and the Escape really come down to styling details.
For 2010 the changes are worthwhile but not major in nature. An Integrated Blind Spot Mirror, MyKey programmable vehicle key, Rear View Camera System, and Active Park Assist are now available, and the Mariner also features hands-free SYNC with Traffic, Directions & Information. All the features improve safety, reduce driver distractions and help drivers on the road.
The 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.
The base Mariner ($23,035) and base Mariner 4WD ($24,785) come with a 171-hp 2.5-liter inline four with 171 lb-ft of torque, matched to a six-speed automatic. A 240-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.
Options for the base Mariner include the Preferred Package 101A ($1,315), which includes a moonroof and illuminated visors with mirrors; and the Preferred Package 102A, which adds leather, six-way power driver?s seat, driver?s lumbar support and ambient lighting. Stand-alone options include towing ($395), side step bars ($445), remote start ($345), and a dual-headrest DVD entertainment system ($1,995).
The Mariner Premium ($25,105) and Premium 4WD ($26,855) offer upscale trim, with leather seating, a six-speaker sound system, auto-dimming mirror and other features included.
Options for the Premium level include the Preferred Package 201A ($1,190), which includes the moonroof and Premium sound system with seven speakers; the Preferred Package 202A ($1,845), which adds the reverse sensing system, dual automatic temperature control, and universal garage-door opener; and the Preferred Package 203A ($3,840), which adds navigation, Sirius Travel Link, touch-screen monitor, subwoofer, and 40GB hard-drive. There are also numerous stand-alone options.
The Mariner Hybrid ($29,995) and Hybrid 4WD ($31,745) are equipped similarly to the Premium models, with the hybrid powertrain replacing the V6.
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), and AdvanceTrac electronic stability control with Roll Stability Control. 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.