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subscribeThe leaves are just approaching their peak of color as we
wend our way through western
In more recent times, Mercury has lost
its luster, its sales and market share plunging. As the decade began, Ford was
giving serious consideration to the idea of abandoning the Mercury division. It
would have vanished along with the likes of such once-grand
Mercury was given a last-minute reprieve, but now it has to earn its way back into the heart and mind of the typical American motorist. And its revival will depend on an array of new product Ford has in the pipeline, six cars, trucks, and crossovers set to hit the road during a four-year blitz. One of the most important is the new Mariner, a compact sport-utility vehicle that Mercury General Manager Darryl Hazel declares a “game-changer.”
To see if it lives up to expectations,
TheCarConnection.com took a long drive through
Double déja vu
At first glance, one might get a double sense of déjà vu. The Mariner’s basic shape — as well as most of its mechanical underpinnings — are shared with the popular Ford Escape. The front and rear, however, clearly bear the familial look of the “new” Mercury, introduced on the latest incarnation of the bigger Mountaineer SUV. There’s the waterfall grille, with its satin-aluminum finish, the fog lamps integrated into the front fascia, and the aluminum-look bumper inserts.
2005 Mercury MarinerEnlarge Photo
Our Premier Edition also featured aluminum exhaust tips and satin-aluminum brush guards over the taillights, again echoing the look of the larger and more expensive Mountaineer.
An exterior keypad provides a functional distinction from the Ford Escape. It provides easy keyless entry for those who might choose to leave their keys in the car. Questionable logic, perhaps, but this has always been a popular feature with Mercury buyers.
In its heyday, when Norman Rockwell was still doing covers for the Saturday Evening Post, Mercury had an image of building somewhat sportier and more exclusive products than those marketed by its sibling division under the Ford oval. That’s the look the troubled brand hopes to evoke with the ’05 Mariner’s interior.
The reasonably roomy cabin is nicely outfitted, especially when you consider the base price of $21,995. The leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum and chrome accents add a touch of elegance, though the chintzy black plastic used in the center stack nearly defeats the effect. Our top-line model was handsomely outfitted with optional two-tone seats, trimmed in leather with suede inserts. Overall, we much prefer the Mariner interior to the Escape’s.
Like the Escape, Mercury’s new Mariner offers a mix of powertrain packages, including both front- and all-wheel-drive, and a choice of two engines. The 2.3-liter Duratec in-line four is an acceptable choice for those on a tight budget — or looking to minimize fuel consumption. It makes 153 horsepower and 152 lb-ft of torque. But we’d otherwise recommend upgrading to the still efficient and economical V-6, a 3.0-liter Duratec that boosts output to 200 hp and 193 lb-ft.
You will sacrifice some mileage, but with the V-6, towing capacity makes a significant jump, from 1500 to 3500 pounds. And during our day of driving, we found that the V-6 delivered a lot more driving fun. It was not only quicker, but a lot less likely to shift back and forth, struggling to stay in the right power band. One thing we’d prefer is a five-speed automatic, but the lower-cost four-speed is not a bad compromise in a product where price is a major buyer consideration.
For the money, the Mariner comes with a solid list of safety features, starting with a well-engineered body structure, and adding anti-lock brakes with brake assist, dual front airbags, and the Safety Canopy system, which includes both side-impact and rollover protection. The new Roll Stability Control system, a standard feature on the Mountaineer, is not offered, unfortunately, though we’d not be surprised to see it added, at least as an option, in the next year or so. The Reverse Sensing System, which uses sonar to spot objects hidden behind the vehicle, is available, however.
The Mariner’s suspension is, once again, shared with its Ford near-twin. The four-wheel-independent, front strut and rear multi-link arrangement translates into a generally sure-footed ride, though on some of the unexpected dips we experienced along our drive, the ute would occasionally show a tendency to wallow a bit. On especially tight turns, there was a fair amount of body roll.
2005 Mercury Mariner - rearEnlarge Photo
We didn’t have a lot of opportunities to test out Mariner’s intelligent all-wheel-drive system. But even we couldn’t go off-roading, we found the package commendable when it came to handling everyday driving hazards, such as wet leaves on sharp, fast corners.
When the original Escape came out, a few years back, we found it unacceptably tinny and cheap. The second-generation model was notably improved, more solid and reassuring. The interior may not be quite as upscale as some of the imports, but the overall feel is more solid.
The Escape and Mariner are not just “cute-utes.” Add the upscale touches of the Mercury and this is now the sort of compact sport-utility vehicle we’d recommend putting on one’s shopping list.
The Mariner alone won’t bring back the Mercury brand, but along with an assortment of other new products, such as the new Montego sedan, Mercury is beginning to rebuild its identity.
2005 Mercury Mariner
Base Price: $21,995– $26,995
Engine:2.3-liter in-line four, 153 hp/152 lb-ft; 3.0-liter V-6, 200 hp/193 lb-ft
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, front- or all-wheel drive
Length by width by height: 174.9 in x 70.1 in x 69.7 in
Curb Weight:3261 lb (FWD in-line four) – 3464 lb (AWD V-6)
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): N/A
Safety Features: Anti-lock brakes with brake assist, dual-stage front airbags, Safety Canopy providing side-impact and rollover protection, child safety seat tethers
Major Standard Features: (base model) Power windows, locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry, exterior keypad, tilt wheel, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD player, cruise control; (Premier) add leather seats, privacy glass, power seats, folding rear seat
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles