Compact sport utility vehicles are popular because they are smaller and easier to park than midsize SUVs like the Ford Explorer. They're also lighter and have more fuel-efficient engines and, of course, they're less expensive. Yet they offer the utility of cargo space with fold-down back seats and that commanding view of the road that comes with a higher seating position.
The new 2005 Mercury Mariner is based on the Ford Escape, hailed for its responsive handling, smooth road manners and available V6 engine.
Mariner comes standard with front-wheel drive (2WD) and a four-cylinder engine. It's easily and affordably upgraded with all-wheel drive (4WD) for stable traction in the snow and a powerful V6 for more responsive performance.
The 2005 Mercury Mariner boasts a slick and clean design, with avant-garde styling cues. Inside is a pleasant and calming cabin with room enough for the kind of stuff people who are moving up from the Sable or retreating from the more truck-like Mountaineer need to haul around.
As part of a carefully scripted, and enormously expensive, re-birth and rejuvenation of the Mercury brand, the Mariner is intended to offer a step up in status over the Ford Escape.
It's a nice package. The size and basics are right. Fuel economy is respectable, and it's affordable even when fully optioned.
The Mercury Mariner is available with a choice of four-cylinder and V6 engines. All models come with a four-speed automatic transmission.
The Convenience model ($21,405) features comforts expected in prestige brand vehicles. Among them: air conditioning; power windows, mirrors and central locking; solar-tinted side glass; four-speaker stereo with CD-player; cruise control; and leather-wrapped, tilt steering wheel. Seats are upholstered in cloth, however, and the front seats are manually adjustable. The air conditioning is manual, too, and there's no upgrade to automatic climate control available, not even on the Premier. The Convenience model comes with the 153-horsepower four-cylinder engine. All-wheel drive is available ($23,155), which Mercury calls intelligent four-wheel drive.
The Luxury model ($22,995) comes the more powerful, 200-horsepower V6 and privacy glass. Options include leather-trimmed upholstery ($1,050). The Comfort package ($500) includes automatic headlamps, electrochromic inside rearview mirror, overhead console, message center with compass and illuminated vanity mirrors. The Luxury Enhancement package ($595) buys a six-disc in-dash CD changer, a power driver's seat with lumbar, and a perimeter anti-theft alarm system. Other options: a Class II Trailer Tow package ($350) with hitch and four-pin connector, and a power moonroof ($895) that includes a roof rack with cross bars. All-wheel drive is available ($24,745).
Premier ($24,745) is the top of the line, adding to the Luxury array of options a seven-speaker stereo with subwoofer; heated outside mirrors and driver's seat; power-adjustable front seats; a premium, suede-like upholstery; and polished wheels. Optional is a reverse-sensing system ($255). All-wheel drive is available ($26,495).
Options across the line include a Rear Cargo Convenience package with retractable cargo cover and cargo management gear ($135); roof rack with cross bars ($160); and side step bars ($325).
Safety features that come standard include dual two-stage frontal airbags; antilock brakes (ABS) with Brake Assist; and Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH). Side curtain airbags for head protection and front seat-mounted side-impact airbags for torso protection are optional ($595).
The Mercury Mariner is a compact four-door, five-passenger, sport utility vehicle. If you've seen the Mercury Mountaineer, you've seen the Mariner, albeit an unSanforized one after a trip or two through a hot-water car wash. Granted, the Mariner's headlights are more rectangular, and the fog lamp nacelles are more parallelogram than up-tipped eyebrow, but otherwise, and other than size, there's little visually to distinguish between the larger and smaller Mercury SUVs.
The trademark satin-finish aluminum vertical-bar grille sits on a matching bumper inset, turn indicator lights are housed where the headlamp lenses wrap around the fenders and the central recess in the hood imbues the front fenders with a subtle shoulder look.
Borrowing from European custom, small turn-indicator repeater lights are positioned in the front quarter panels just aft of and slight above the front wheel wells. Understated cladding preserves and protects the lower door panels and tie together the minimalist front and rear fender flares, nicely finishing the mid-door, horizontal character line optically connecting the front and rear bumpers. The tall glasshouse is properly proportioned to balance the body side panels. The angled C-pillar behind the rear side door accentuates the people-orientation of the Mariner while acknowledging it can haul cargo, too.
From the rear, the Mariner is, well, a sport utility vehicle. There's not much that can be done to stylize a liftgate, taillamps and bumper, other than with trim bits and pieces, and the Mariner's designers did their best with what they had. Tasteful, satin-finish, grille-like accents brace the taillamps. The side character line continues across the liftgate, swelling in the center to form a surround for the license plate recess. Yet another satin-finish inset separates the step-top of the rear bumper and the body-color lower fascia. Bright chrome exhaust tips finish the package.
To a large extent, what holds for the Mercury Mariner's exterior holds for its interior. If you like the Mountaineer's appointments and look, you'll like the Mariner's, as the designers have hewn closely to theme the larger Mountaineer established.
Seemingly central to the Mariner's essence is satin-finish aluminum, which abounds inside as well as out. From the instrument bezels to the center stack's vertical braces to the shift lever cap to the center console to the logo in the steering wheel hub to the flat surfaces on the door armrests, satin-finish trims and highlights. About the only interior metal surfaces that aren't satin-finish are the chrome inside door handles and accent ringing the shift lever in the center console. This isn't to complain, as the overall look is one of polish and refinement, which is helped by some wood-grain trim on the center stack and console.
Front bucket seats are nicely contoured and bolstered, and Mercury says advanced pressure-mapping techniques were employed to tune the seat foam. That may be, but the techniques used hadn't mapped our neighborhood, as we found ourselves squirming around in search of a more comfortable zone after only a short stay.
The rear seat, even though a split-to-fold 60/40 unit, is essentially a two-piece bench, as in, not the most accommodating for long drives. On the plus side, all five seating positions have three-point belts and adjustable head restraints.
That rear seat does fold almost flat, however, making for a commodious cargo space. Tie-down hooks are provided to secure odd-shaped or especially mobile objects. The rear quarter panel has open storage bins for smaller items. Front seatbacks host map pockets, as do both front doors. The overhead console (which the moonroof displaces) has two swing-down bins. The center console has two cupholders and a shallow bin forward of the shift lever.
Cruise control buttons are smoothly integrated into the sides of the steering wheel hub. Power window buttons, however, are of the old-school type, i.e., non-child/curious pet-proof. The stereo, too, shouts standard Ford gear; as functional and easy-to-use as its controls are, they don't quite make premium grade.
The Mercury Mariner is a sport utility vehicle, not a car, so you shouldn't expect anything like a boulevard cruiser ride. And you won't get one. But you will get one of the better rides in the Mariner's class of compact SUVs. Drawn as it is on the foundation of the number-one selling Ford Escape, which has been around in current configuration long enough to have thoroughly debugged the basic elements, the Mariner accounts for itself better than most in the class.
In the power department, the V6 delivers as expected, pulling readily and cleanly through the heart of the power band, if not with an abundance of gusto; this is a consequence, no doubt, of less-than-impressive torque. Also, and as most engines in its class do, it labors at the extreme top end, but few if any Mariner drivers are likely to explore that territory.
We haven't driven the Convenience model with the four-cylinder engine, but our experience in the identically powered Ford Escape showed that it delivers adequate power, but we recommend the V6 for its stronger response.
The four-speed automatic transmission works well with either engine, admirably holding the better gear for extended periods when stressed by terrain or load.
The all wheel-drive system (4WD) operates seamlessly, with no telltale hesitations as it re-routes power through its computer-controlled clutch to the rear wheels almost before the front wheels begin to lose grip. It will comfortably and confidently master snow-filled parking lots at the ski lodge and muddy driveways at the weekend cabin. However, the Mariner is not designed to navigate truly rugged terrain off road.
The Mariner tracks well and rides comfortably at highway speeds for a vehicle of its size and stature. Steering is certain, with good on-center feel. The suspension is tuned to conquer all but the truly egregious pavement pockmarks. There's little body lean in curves.
The brakes on our V6 model were responsive and the pedal feel was solid. We managed to avoid situations requiring the intervention of the ABS, but again, from experience with the Escape, should the occasion arise, you'll experience a well-modulated stop telegraphed by a slight pulsating of the pedal. You won't, however, enjoy the extra degree of safety provided by electronic brake force distribution, which the Escape now offers. Front disc/rear drum brakes come on the Convenience model with its four-cylinder engine. The V6-powered Luxury and Premier models come with four-wheel disc brakes.
Where the Mariner loses points is where its target buyers are most likely to notice: insulation from outside annoyances. For the most part, we found it at best only marginally quieter than the Escape, with road noise and tire hiss clearly audible, and noticeable, if barely, wind whistle from the side windows and mirrors. On the redeeming side, fit and finish in the cabin was up to par, with no buzzes, squeaks or rattles.
The 2005 Mercury Mariner fills a minor gap in Mercury's lineup, and it does so competently, if not with stellar success. It's as if somebody decided something needed to be done and right now, so how do we go about it? For now, the solid Ford Escape with Mercury styling will have to do. That said, the Mercury Mariner is a good choice among compact SUVs.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from San Jose, California.
|Model Line Overview |
|Base Price (MSRP) |
|Model lineup: |
|Mercury Mariner Convenience FWD ($21,405); Convenience 4WD ($23,155); Luxury FWD ($22,995); Luxury 4WD ($24,745); Premier FWD ($24,745); Premier 4WD ($26,495) |
|2.3-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4; 3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6 |
|4-speed automatic |
|Safety equipment (Standard): |
|dual two-stage frontal airbags; antilock brakes (ABS) with Brake Assist; LATCH |
|Safety equipment (Optional): |
|seat-mounted side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags; reverse sensing system |
|Basic warranty: |
|3 years/36,000 miles |
|Assembled in: |
|Avon Lake, Ohio |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): |
|Mercury Mariner Premier 4WD ($26,495) |
|Standard equipment: |
|air conditioning; power windows, mirrors, central locking and front seats; cruise control; AM/FM seven-speaker stereo with 6-disc CD changer and subwoofer; leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel; heated driver's seat and outside mirrors; Preferred Suede seat trim; automatic headlamps; electrochromic inside mirror; message center with compass display; keyless entry with driver-side keypad |
|Options as tested: |
|seat-mounted side-impact airbags and curtain airbags ($595); reverse sensing system ($255); side step bars ($325); power moonroof with roof rack and cross bars ($895); rear cargo convenience package ($135); Class II trailer tow package ($350) |
|Destination charge: |
|Gas Guzzler Tax: |
|Price as tested (MSRP) |
|all-wheel drive |
|3.0-liter double overhead cam 24-valve V6 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): |
|200 @ 6000 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): |
|193 @ 4850 |
|4-speed automatic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: |
|18/23 mpg. |
|103.1 in. |
|174.3/70.1/67.9 in. |
|Track, f/r: |
|61/60.4 in. |
|Turning circle: |
|35.4 ft. |
|Seating capacity: |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: |
|40.4/53.4/41.6 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: |
|39.2/49.1/35.6 in. |
|Cargo volume: |
|66.3 cu. ft. |
|Towing capacity: |
|3500 lbs. |
|Suspension F: |
|independent, MacPherson strut, coil springs, stabilizer bar |
|Suspension R: |
|independent, multi-link, coil springs |
|Ground clearance: |
|8.4 in. |
|Curb weight: |
|3520 lbs. |
|Brakes, f/r: |
|disc/disc with ABS and Brake Assist in. |
|Fuel capacity: |
|16.5 gal. |