2008 Mercury Mariner Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 9, 2008

The 2008 Mercury Mariner is the nicest Ford Escape you can buy, but it remains a midpack performer in the crowded compact SUV/crossover class.

TheCarConnection.com's editors read the latest reviews on the new 2008 Mercury Mariner to write this comprehensive review. Experts from TheCarConnection.com also drove the Mercury Mariner, including the Mariner Hybrid (it has its own separate review), and have added opinions and details where relevant. This review also compares the 2008 Mercury Mariner with other vehicles in its class to give you the best advice even when other reviews present conflicting opinions.

In today's world of luxury bathroom tissue dispensers, fancy olive oils, and signature-series eyeglasses, one would think a fancier version of a solid SUV might be a hot seller. The concept sure works for the Acura RDX, which is a very nicely revised version of the Honda CR-V. So what's up with the 2008 Mercury Mariner?

For Mercury, 2008 is the year its compact SUV got a significant freshening. This effort coincides with an update of the Mariner's sibling, the popular Ford Escape. The 2008 Mercury Mariner's conventional powertrains--a 2.3-liter four-cylinder and a 3.0-liter V-6--are left unchanged and produce 153 and 200 horsepower, respectively. A five-speed manual is standard with the four-cylinder. A four-speed automatic is optional on the four and standard on the V-6. Front-wheel drive is standard, while all-wheel drive is optional.

So what changed on the 2008 Mercury Mariner? Cumulatively, the updates add refinement to the Mariner while sprucing up the SUV's style in the process. A new hood and front fender design totally change this compact SUV's profile, making it look a bit more squared off. New taillamps revamp the view from the rear.

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Some changes you can't see are truly transparent. One is the thicker windshield with an added noise-absorbing laminate. The second are the thicker side windows, also upgraded for noise abatement. To reduce sound levels even further, the doors have more sound insulation, the carpeting is thicker, and the headliner has an added acoustic barrier.

The 2008 Mercury Mariner interior is also significantly updated, with a completely new center stack, as well as revised seats and door panels. The new design puts the main display up near eye level, helping drivers keep their gaze higher and closer to the road. Digital readouts for the audio and climate control systems show up on top, but glare can inhibit visibility. Lighting for the entire gauge set is now blue; it's slick-looking and a true boon for those with color blindness (approximately 1 out of 100 males) that makes reading red LEDs all but impossible. The center console is also new and yawns widely enough to swallow a laptop. Room for passengers is generous for this size vehicle, but the 2008 Mariner is not the class leader in room or comfort.

TheCarConnection.com team spent most of its time behind the wheel of a V-6 Mariner and found its power to be more than acceptable, even with three passengers aboard. Merging onto quick-moving freeways was never an issue. However, while the engine was smooth enough, it sounded thrashy and not very refined when pushed hard. Like the engine, the ride was fine until you pushed this compact SUV a bit; then the chassis reacted with some bounciness and a general unwillingness to enjoy being driven with any verve.

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2008 Mercury Mariner

Styling

The 2008 Mercury Mariner sports a crisper style inside and out. 

Most reviews researched by TheCarConnection.com approve of the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid’s styling.

Motor Trend reports that the Mercury Mariner Hybrid "received a significant redesign for the 2008 model year, including all-new sheetmetal." According to Autoblog, "the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid's front fascia takes the brunt of the redesign, with the trademark 'waterfall' grill gaining more prominence, both in length and width." Jalopnik opines that the "Mercury Mariner Hybrid appears exactly as it should...the best looking of the trio, the conservative looks fare well next to luxury SUV offerings from Toyota and Acura."

Autoblog is less impressed with Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2008 interior styling it "reveals the designer's use of nothing but a straight-rule when it comes to the center console, a la S40." Edmunds more with the Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2008's "higher-quality interior...the cabin is tastefully accented with faux aluminum, chrome and wood-grain trim." According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2008 interior remodel to blunt growing consumer dissatisfaction with “discount-store interiors."

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2008 Mercury Mariner

Performance

While it isn't the worst, there are vehicles in this price range that offer better performance than the 2008 Mercury Mariner.

Auto experts at TheCarConnection.com advise those considering the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid that while it offers reasonable performance, the hybrid experience is different.

Autoblog provides detailed technical notes: "the Mercury Mariner Hybrid comes with a 2.3-liter DOHC 16-valve Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine and a permanent magnet AC synchronous motor." This source adds that the gasoline engine "produces 133 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 124 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm," while the electric motor "produces 70 kw @ 5,000 rpm and 330V maximum voltage," with a net result of "155 horsepower with 0-60 times comparable to a 200 horsepower V6 engine and a boost in city-driving fuel economy of nearly 75 percent." For those curious about exactly what an "Atkinson cycle" is, Motor Trend provides the following explanation: "the Atkinson cycle features a longer power than compression stroke, sacrificing power for greater efficiency—a process popular in hybrid applications." Cars.com reports that the Mercury Mariner Hybrids "run solely on electric or gasoline power, or on a combination of the two...you can drive up to 25 mph in electric mode; as in most hybrids, that happens in relative silence."

Motor Trend states that the hybrid power is transferred to the wheels using a "smooth-shifting, electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)...the only available transmission on the hybrid model." According to ConsumerGuide, however, "there's no rotating belt as in a conventional CVT. Instead, the motors work cooperatively with the gas engine through a planetary gearset to provide seamless power and maximum efficiency." Jalopnik complains that "the continuously variable transmission is less a gearbox and more a complicated way to suck just that much more fun out of driving."

Fuel economy is a strong point in the Mariner Hybrid—strong enough to earn an 8 rating for performance from TheCarConnection.com. It helps that the Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2008 "continues to be a 'full' hybrid'," according to Autoblog; "this means that, unlike other 'mild' hybrid vehicles, Mariner Hybrid can run on 100 percent electric power up to about 30 mph, maximizing in-city fuel economy." According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2008 "rates 29/27 miles per gallon on the government's city/highway cycle, compared to 17/22 for the Premier" V-6 Mariner.

Edmunds notes that "AWD Mariner Hybrids have a third electric motor that provides power to the rear wheels when extra traction or acceleration is needed...but it's not a true all-wheel-drive system, so buyers who require a serious snow vehicle are advised to look at the regular gas-powered AWD Mariner instead."

The Mariner Hybrid’s handling is capable in town, but it’s no enthusiast vehicle. According to Automotive.com, an "electric power steering pump also improves steering feel. With EPS, there's a nice balance between steering assist at parking-lot speeds and decent feel on the highway. The steering tracks more steadily than before, with less adjustment or correction." ConsumerGuide adds that the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid offers "moderate cornering lean, good balance, and firm, direct steering." The reviewer also notes "braking control is good, but some testers say panic stops induce too much nosedive." Of overall handling, Jalopnik "it'll do what you want it to do but in the least enjoyable and most perfunctory way possible...you're not going to brag about driving the Mariner to your friends."

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2008 Mercury Mariner

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Mercury Mariner is comfortable enough for lengthy commutes, but its materials could be richer.

The 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid offers a good level of comfort, but experts at TheCarConnection.com note that some may find cargo space lacking.

This is a "five-seat Mariner Hybrid," according to Cars.com. The word from Automotive.com is that the Mariner Hybrid’s seats "should have enough cush to prevent butt numbing and enough support to limit fatigue during a long commute." ConsumerGuide reports "adult-size headroom and legroom, but the optional sunroof trims head clearance a bit for tall occupants." According to Edmunds, the backseat is "roomy and comfortable enough to keep a pair of adults content on road trips," and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes that "with almost a flat floor, there's knee and foot room for the center passenger and, surprisingly, the designers also gave that person a reasonably comfortable seating position."

The Mariner Hybrid’s cargo and storage space is generous, but slightly compromised because of the need for battery storage under the cargo floor. Car and Driver complains that "cargo provisions aren't up to snuff," although according to Edmunds, "there are almost 28 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats with up to 66 cubic feet when folded."

The Mariner’s interior receives upgrades this year, but not all reviewers re convinced its a step forward. According to Cars.com, the "updated cabin still feels cheap, with missing convenience features and substandard materials." Edmunds notes a drawback unique to the Mariner Hybrid power system: "its lack of an electric air-conditioning compressor...means that the cabin only stays cool when the engine is running." Like most hybrids, however, the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid is exceptionally quiet; Autoblog says it's "12 percent quieter on the highway and 20 percent quieter in high velocity cross winds."

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2008 Mercury Mariner

Safety

The 2008 Mercury Mariner has much-improved safety scores and standard safety gear.

The 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid gets good marks for safety due to high test scores, but the lack of an electronic stability system is a surprising omission.

Cars.com says stability control “will be offered on the 2009 model, but there were complications engineering the regenerative brakes to work alongside the stability system.”

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2008 excellent (five out of five stars) ratings on front and side impact protection, unsurprisingly the SUV did not fare as well in rollover resistance tests, scoring only three stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not tested the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid.

Automotive.com notes that many "safety features have been upgraded substantially for 2008, making equipment that was previously optional standard across the board, and raising the benchmark for small sport-utilities." Autoblog reports that the Mercury Mariner Hybrid "has as standard safety equipment a side-impact protection system consisting of several components," including "Ford's Safety Canopy side air curtains," which "provide head and neck protection for the first- and second-row passengers, and side impact airbags deploy out of the upper portion of the front seats to protect the upper and lower torso of the driver and passenger." The Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2008 also features "occupant friendly door trims with softened armrests, side impact foam bolsters and intrusion door beams that distribute the loading during an impact to the hinge and B pillars."

Fortunately, visibility is not an issue in the Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2008; according to ConsumerGuide, it offers "fine all-around visibility."

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2008 Mercury Mariner

Features

The 2008 Mercury Mariner has a wide range of standard features and some luxurious options to make it feel plusher.

Again, auto experts at TheCarConnection.com note a good selection of standard and optional equipment for the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid.

The Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2008 reviewer at Jalopnik expresses either delight or sarcasm, depending on one's interpretation: "the [Mercury Mariner] Hybrid system is basically one big toy and with the navigation screen you get to watch as power is routed between the engine, motor and wheels. There's also a full 110v electrical output for keeping your iPod charged."

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes "a long list of standard equipment" for the base Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2008 trim that includes "automatic climate control, remote locking, 16-inch alloy wheels, V6 engine and leather upholstery."

According to Kelley Blue Book, 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid options "vary by trim but include an Audiophile 320-watt sound system with DVD-based navigation, a six-disc in-dash CD player, moonroof, premium leather seating, 17-inch wheels, roof rack with crossbars, a lockable wet storage compartment, heated front seats, integrated side steps and a full-size spare." The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel adds that their Mercury Mariner Hybrid included "a navigation system, Sirius satellite radio, heated mirrors and front seats, roof rack crossbars and a cargo cover." These Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2008 options add up quickly; all of them "brought the suggested delivered price up to $29,720."

The Mariner Hybrid’s options list does not include Ford’s SYNC entertainment controller and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. Those features are expected in the 2009 model year.

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7.6
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Styling 8
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 8
Features 8
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