2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid: Why Driving A Hybrid Is Different

May 26, 2009

Just like rich people are different from you and me, hybrid-powered vehicles are not exactly like the vehicles you're used to driving. After spending a week with a 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, the overall experience reminded me of just how different these vehicles are.

Here are six "did you knows" that generally apply to all single-mode hybrids:

1) These vehicles have something that functions as a transmission, but isn't a transmission in the conventional sense ( a device that has fixed or continuously variable gearing). In practice, you'll never feel a gear shift, because there aren't any. You'll just feel smooth, continuous acceleration. The over-simplification is that hybrids use an electric motor or two to handle the duties of a conventional transmission, but it's far more complex than that. Keep reading...

2) When you use the brakes in a hybrid, you may not be. Much of the braking in our 2010 Mercury Mariner Hybrid is achieved without the brake pads ever coming in contact with spinning brake rotors. The deceleration comes from the resistance caused by the motor/generator creating electricity.

Here's how it works; when the brake pedal is pressed, the electric motor in the transmission-that-really-isn't-just-a-transmission changes its operation to become an electrical generator. When it does this, the kinetic energy from the moving vehicle spins the motor/generator, which sends the electricity that it produces to the hybrid battery pack for storage and latter use. The force of the generator acts on the driveshafts to slow the vehicle.

Don't worry, even if the physical brakes aren't burning off speed, the brake lights still go on.

3) Hybrids don't have conventional starter motors. The electric motor in the transmission-that-really-isn't-just-a-transmission handles the starting of the internal combustion engine.

4) Hybrids don't have a traditional reverse gear. To make the vehicle go backwards, the hybrid motor in the transmission spins backwards.

5)  Hybrids don't have 12-volt batteries. Power from the high-voltage (often around 300 volts) is converted to run standard accessories like the radio and power windows.

6) Hybrids use electrically assisted power steering instead of hydraulic powered gears. The E-gears are powered by the hybrid's battery system, and this affords three main benefits; less power consumption, it provides assist when the gasoline engine is turned off, and it eliminates a stand-alone hydraulic system. Unfortunately, the system on the 2009 Mariner Hybrid feels rather Atari-like — as in disconnected —but electric steering gears are getting better, so we have reason to have hope.

2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid with 2005 Ford Escape

2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid with 2005 Ford Escape

Enlarge Photo

In order to meet new CAFE and emissions standards, the 2009 Mercury Milan Hybrid seems to be the kind of vehicle that we'll be seeing much more of in the near future. Even though it doesn't look much different from it's regular gas-engine stablemates, its hybrid powertrain achieves the highest mileage of any SUV; 34 mpg city, 31 mpg highway. Looking ahead, it seems like a good idea to get familiar with these vehicles.

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