The Mercury Mountaineer is essentially a premium version of the Ford Explorer. It shares its structure and most major components with the Explorer. Mountaineer's adventurous, geometric, architectural looks set it apart as a premium SUV, however. While the best-selling Explorer seems designed for generic utility, the Mountaineer offers a more machined, technical appearance.
The Mountaineer boasts an innovative chassis with an independent rear suspension that allows for a nice, smooth ride and better handling. At the same time, its body-on-frame construction preserves the big load capacity and towing capability that some families need.
Its interior is thoughtfully designed, offering luxury features that make long trips more relaxing. Mountaineer's come standard with a V6 that delivers plenty of power for everyday driving, and its five-speed automatic is smoother and more responsive than a four-speed. A V8 engine is available to provide the extra torque needed for towing. Its third-row seat folds flat, disappearing into the cargo floor when not needed. In short, this is a versatile mid-size SUV, capable of hauling a family and pulling a boat great distances.
For 2005, Mountaineer comes standard with AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control. This system uses electronic controls and active intervention to reduce the chances of an untripped rollover accident. The new system is in addition to Ford's existing safety features, which include a boxed frame, energy absorbing front crush zones, side impact steel bars in the doors, and four wheel ABS. Mountaineer was re-engineered with a new frame, a new independent rear suspension, a new front suspension, new steering, new seating formats, and a raft of new standard and optional features for the 2002 model year.
Mercury Mountaineer comes in two models: two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. Each is available with a 4.0-liter V6 or a 4.6-liter V8. All Mountaineers come with a five-speed automatic transmission. All have seating for seven, using a third seat that folds completely flat to make room at the rear for large cargo.
All Mountaineers are built to a relatively high specification: Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and a tire-pressure monitoring system are standard. All have the SecuriLock passive anti-theft system and remote keyless entry, and approach lamps on the bottoms of the side mirrors that illuminate the sides of the vehicle when the key fob button is pressed. A standard battery saver turns off the dome light and approach lamps after five minutes.
The Mountaineer is available with Convenience, Luxury and Premier trim packages. Pricing varies according to whether you opt for the V6 or V8. The Convenience Package includes 16-inch aluminum wheels with P235/70 tires, fog lamps, remote keyless entry system with driver side keypad, split lift gate, power mirrors, roof rails, intermittent wipers, single CD/AM/FM stereo, power locks, third-row seating, cloth sport bucket seats, power windows, and message center with compass and outside-temp display.
The Luxury Package adds dual-zone automatic climate control, audio and climate controls on a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual powered heated mirrors with security approach lamps, auto-dimming rearview mirror, two-tone leather sport bucket seats with heat and power plus memory on the driver's side, optional power-adjustable pedals with memory, a universal garage door opener, and color-keyed running boards. Wheels and tires upgrade to P245/65R17.
Premier Package adds color-keyed front and rear fascia and lower body trim, satin aluminum exhaust tip, satin aluminum roof rails, unique badging, reverse sensing system, Safety Canopy, in-dash six-disc CD changer and power moonroof.
Options include the Safety Canopy side curtain air bag system, Reverse Sensing system, auxiliary climate control ($650), Audiophile sound system ($495), rear-seat entertainment system with overhead DVD player ($1,250), second-row captain's chairs, a class III/IV trailer package ($400) and dealer-installed SIRIUS Satellite radio.
As mid-size sport utilities go, the Mountaineer is a substantial vehicle. Its size is tempered by its waterfall grille design, multi-element headlamps, and use of matte aluminum exterior trim, including horizontal cages around the tail lamp assemblies. For 2005, a redesigned roof rack, with raised side rails, and satin aluminum exhaust tips are available.
Its relationship with the Explorer can be seen on the rear two-thirds of the vehicle. But the Mercury Mountaineer's expressive design distinguishes it in a sea of SUVs. The styling is intended to be up-market and consistent with the Mercury brand identity.
Mercury has been working hard on color combinations and offers a pleasing pallet. For 2005, there are Designer Series options, which include Preferred Suede interior trim, Mountaineer scuff plates and 17-inch chrome clad wheels.
Getting in is easy. Mountaineer's big over-or-under door handles can be operated easily with gloved hands, preferable to the small lever-style handles that sometimes snap away from your fingers when you're in a hurry. The optional running boards are convenient for those of smaller stature trying to enter and exit gracefully.
The Mountaineer's interior looks terrific, with matte-aluminum trim on the door panels, steering wheel, instrument panel and dashboard. The aluminum trim extends to the main gauges, the tachometer and speedometer, which are done in black-on-white graphics that turn orange-on-white when the lights are on. The thick steering wheel creates a substantial contact point and a secure, in-command driving feel.
This is an easy vehicle to operate and live with. It takes only a couple of rides to find all the controls quickly and easily. Switches, buttons and levers are large, well marked and easy to use. The center console is generous, with lots of storage space, and houses ventilation and storage for second-row passengers as well as an extra 12-volt socket for whatever you need to power.
The front bucket seats are good, long, thick and comfortable, but relatively flat, with no side bolstering. That makes them easier to slide into, but less supportive in corners. The eight-way adjustable power driver's seat is optional. The seat heaters that come on Luxury and Premier models warm the seats quickly, but the buttons are mounted on the side of the seat and can be difficult to find and distinguish from the seat-adjustment switches; fortunately, an indicator on the dash shows when the seat heaters are on.
Third-row seats are cramped for adults, but the second row is accommodating. On 2005 Mountaineers, the outboard seats on the 40/20/40 split second row recline, addressing comfort issues for taller back-seat passengers. Second-row bucket seats are available on Luxury and Premier.
The second- and third-row seats are easy to fold away, which creates an 81.4 cubic-foot cargo bay. We found the seats to be easy to restore to their upright and locked positions.
The optional rear-seat entertainment system includes an overhead DVD player with a pull-down seven-inch color screen; the system comes with two wireless headphones, remote control and a universal jack.
The Mercury Mountaineer offers a combination of refinement and utility that puts it near the top of the class of mid-size SUVs. Its smooth, refined ride is a result of a clever independent rear suspension, which reduces hopping and jarring for rear seat passengers especially.
The standard V6 delivers good performance, and you're not likely to need the optional V8 unless you tow or live at high altitude. You can hear and feel the V6 under full throttle acceleration. The 4.0-liter V6 with overhead cams and aluminum heads is rated at 210 horsepower at 5100 rpm, and 254 pound-feet of torque at 3700 rpm.
The 4.6-liter V8 has a lovely intake roar at full throttle, yet is supremely smooth and quiet. It works well with the five-speed automatic transmission to move this 4500-pound machine effortlessly over flat territory. As the transmission settles into fifth-gear overdrive at highway cruising speed, the tachometer drops well below 2000 rpm, and the engine is just there, in the background, working noiselessly until you downshift with the tip of your toe. Throttle response lacks some verve in hilly terrain. Here it's best to lock out the overdrive fifth, and let the engine rev a little higher in fourth on the way up a long hill. Hook up a trailer and you'll know it's back there when you head up a long grade.
The Mountaineer is very stable and inspires confidence. Its rack-and-pinion steering minimizes wandering on the highway. Body roll, or lean, is controlled well in fast corners. Its rigid, boxed frame lets its fully independent suspension soak up bumps, potholes and tar strips.
All-wheel drive adds a significant level of safety and confidence in snow, rain, mud, wet leaves, ice, and gravel. It dramatically improves handling balance whenever it's slippery. All-wheel drive eliminates wheelspin by splitting the power to the front and rear tires as needed. In normal driving, the system biases torque 35 percent to the front and 65 percent to the rear to minimize understeer. (Understeer is when the front tires slip before the rear tires, causing the vehicle to push toward the outside of a turn.) The system relies on an open differential with a viscous coupling; a clutch pack distributes power between the front and rear wheels based on traction needs. But you don't need to understand any of that. There are no switches or levers for the driver to operate. There's no low range for the steepest kinds of unpaved trail driving either.
Mercury Mountaineer combines convenience and versatility with luxurious accommodations. It's comfortable on long trips, while features and ergonomics make living with it a very pleasant experience. All-wheel drive is available, making it a confident vehicle in nasty weather. We like the V6 engine, but a V8 is available for more power in hilly terrain, high altitudes, and towing.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw is based in Dearborn, Michigan, with editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|
|Mercury Mountaineer 2WD ($29,525); AWD ($32,030)|
|210-hp 4.0-liter sohc 12-valve V6; 239-hp 4.6-liter sohc 16-valve V8|
|Safety equipment (Standard):|
|ABS, EBD, dual-stage frontal airbags, AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability control (electronic stability control), tire-pressure monitoring system|
|Safety equipment (Optional):|
|Safety Canopy side-curtain airbag system|
|3 years/36,000 miles|
|Louisville, Kentucky; St. Louis, Missouri|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):|
|Mercury Mountaineer AWD ($32,030)|
|air conditioning, premium AM/FM/CD audio, automatic power door locks with illuminated controls, fog lamps, illuminated glove box, remote keyless entry with driver-side keypad, power windows, speed control, security approach lamps, compass and outside temperature display, automatic headlamps, dual power heated mirrors, dual illuminated vanity mirrors|
|Options as tested:|
|Luxury 4.6L package ($3,575) includes 4.6L V8 engine, auto-dimming mirror, 17-in machined aluminum wheels, 245/65R17 all-terrain tires w/17-in spare tire w/steel wheel, dual power, heated mirrors w/security approach lamps, color-keyed running boards, dual-zone automatic temperature control, two-tone leather trimmed sport bucket seats w/adjustable head restraints, 8-way power driver seat w/power lumbar, 6-way power passenger w/manual lumbar, heated driver w/memory and heated power passenger seats, color-keyed, leather-wrapped steering wheel w/speed control, steering column lock/ignition security, column tilts and mounted audio and climate controls; moonroof ($850); power adjustable pedals w/memory ($225); audiophile system w/in-dash six-CD changer; rear-seat entertainment system ($1,295)|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:|
|Price as tested (MSRP)|
|4.6-liter sohc 16-valve V8|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):|
|239 @ 4750|
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):|
|282 @ 4000|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:|
|81.7 cu. ft.|
|independent, upper and lower control arms, coil springs|
|independent, upper and lower control arms, coil springs|
|disc/disc with ABS, EBD in.|