2009 Mercury Mariner Premier FWDPosted on November 17th, 2008
Stylish sport-utility vehicle gets a new, fuel-efficient engine.
By Nina Russin
The compact Mercury Mariner is the stylish sibling to the Ford Escape: a
Peter Horbury design that reflects his European flair. This year, the Mariner gets a power boost, thanks to a new inline four-cylinder engine that replaces last year’s 2.3-liter unit.
A six-speed automatic transmission gives the new engine better fuel economy as well: about twenty eight miles-per-gallon on the highway. Like the Escape, the Mariner comes with Ford’s safety canopy as standard equipment. The tethered airbag keeps both rows of occupants in place in the event of a rollover collision.
The peppy Mariner is a great package for small families who need a tall, versatile cargo area for carrying gear, as well as eight inches of ground clearance for winter travel. Though the front-wheel drive Mariner doesn’t meet our active lifestyle off-road standards, it’s fine for graded dirt roads.
Mercury’s standard keypad entry system is ideal for families sharing the car: it allows passengers to use a numeric code in lieu of a key to unlock the doors. A capless fuel filler door eliminates a piece of hardware that frequently gets lost.
The capless seal eliminates a frequent refueling problem: drivers replace the filler cap improperly and get a confusing “check engine” light on the dash. The capless setup seals the filler neck to prevent vaporized gas from leaking and setting a trouble code in the car’s computer.
The test car is the upscale premier grade that retails for $24,425, not including a $725 delivery charge. An optional power moonroof, audio upgrade, navigation system and seventeen-inch wheels bring the price as tested to $29,340.
The new 2.5-liter engine is notable for not doing what most four-cylinder powerplants are guilty of: it doesn’t act anemic on the low end, and the transmission doesn’t hunt excessively during hard acceleration or on hills. In fact, the engine feels very much like a six-cylinder, but with better gas mileage.
The Mariner’s gauge cluster includes a tachometer for drivers who want to keep the revs down to conserve fuel. Ford is a major supporter of the current eco-driving initiative.
The overdrive gear on the automatic transmission makes it possible to maintain speeds over seventy-five miles-per-hour, with the engine revving below 2500 rpm. While the engine will reach speeds close to peak torque during wide-open throttle, it’s feasible to accelerate up to highway speeds while maintaining considerably lower engine speeds.
Engineers revised the car’s front and rear spoilers to reduce its coefficient of drag: aerodynamic improvements reduce wind noise as well. New fuel efficient tires, a joint venture between Mercury and Michelin, reduce road noise, making it easier for passengers to converse on the highway.
A new rear stabilizer bar reduces roll during hard cornering, while the fully-independent suspension produces a car-like ride. Power rack-and-pinion steering provides plenty of assist on the low end, while maintaining a positive on-center feel as speed. A thirty-six foot turning radius makes it easy to do the occasional U-turn in traffic.
Standard four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the Mariner in a firm linear fashion. Traction control with roll stability control prevents the wheels from spinning out on slippery surfaces, and protects occupants against rollover accidents on uneven roads.
An audible back up warning system alerts the driver about objects to the rear that may be below his line of vision.
The Mariner’s two-tone interior has a decidedly urban edge, with two-tone fabric and leather trim. Colored ambient lighting in the floor and center console brightens up the interior at night.
As with many Mercury products, the Mariner appeals to women buyers with ergonomics suited to smaller drivers. The steering wheel is relatively small, yet includes redundant Bluetooth, audio and cruise controls to minimize driver distraction.
Both front passengers have easy access to the center stack, with dual-zone climate controls, hard and touch-screen audio controls, and the navigation system. A split-screen design displays navigation maps together with radio channel information and song lists. Digital indicators show both inside and outside ambient temperature.
Ford’s Sync system that allows the driver to use vocal commands for the car’s navigation and audio functions is standard. USB and MP3 ports at the base of the center stack allow drivers to download tunes into the hard drive, or simply broadcast media player music through the Mariner’s speakers. A twelve-volt powerpoint on the center stack recharges electronic devices on the go.
Ample bins and cubbies throughout the interior provide storage for maps, purses and small electronic items. There are two cupholders on the floor console, and two on the center console bin lid to service both rows of passengers. All four doors have map pockets but not bottle holders.
Second-row passengers should find adequate legroom in all three seating positions, since there is no floor tunnel. The optional moonroof brings extra ambient light into the second row. Both first and second-row passengers get overhead reading lamps.
Versatile cargo area
Second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor for larger items. While it’s not a difficult operation, folding the seatbacks flat requires flipping the seat bottoms forward and removing the headrests. It puts the Mariner on the cusp in terms of our bicycle-friendly standards.
Smaller drivers will appreciate the Mariner’s low liftover height that makes it easier to slide large items in back. The rear glass can open separate from the liftgate for stashing small items. A storage area under the cargo floor keeps valuables out of sight. A standard tonneau cover hides items stored in the regular storage area.
The Mariner’s spare tire is mounted under the truck. The arrangement maximizes cargo space, but it’s harder to reach the spare during an emergency.
Standard roof rails make it easy to add an overhead rack for carrying large items.
The fuel-efficient Mariner is on display at Mercury dealerships nationwide.
Likes: The new 2.5 liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission provide ample power with excellent fuel economy. The passenger cabin is nicely configured for five adults, with features such a Sync, available satellite radio and navigation, that will appeal to tech-savvy buyers.
Dislikes: Folding the second-row seats flat requires several steps, including flipping the seat bottoms forward and removing headrests. The spare tire under the chassis is hard to reach.
Model: Mariner Premier FWD
Base price: $24,425
As tested: $29,670
Horsepower: 171 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 171 lbs-ft. @ 4500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 20/28 mpg city/highway
Comments: The six-cylinder Mariner equipped with the towing prep package meets our minimum 3500-pound towing standard.
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