2008 Mercury Mariner Premier 4WD Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2008 Mercury Mariner VOGA Edition(shown)

SEE ALSO:Mercury Specs, Pics, Prices - Mercury Buyers Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2008 Mercury Mariner Premier 4WD

A writer might associate the word "ancient" with "mariner" in deference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". That's a correct association in literature, but incorrect in connection with cars or small SUVs, where "Mariner" brings to mind Mercury. The Mercury Mariner is not exactly ancient, having been introduced in 2005. And besides, it gets a suite of major updates for 2008.

Most apparently, both the exterior and interior have been restyled. "Freshened styling" is a typical mid-product life cycle occurrence in the automotive industry, but here there is a bit more than mere "freshening". More external sheetmetal has been changed than not, and inside, the 2008 Mariner is meant to foretell the look of future Mercurys. As ever, that interior has more space than might be imagined looking at the compact exterior, and some trick new standard and optional storage schemes.

While the chassis platform and drivetrains are familiar, with choices including 2.3-liter four-cylinder and 3.0-liter V6 engines, and a hybrid drivetrain based on a modified, Atkinson-cycle version of the four in both front- or automatic four-wheel drive form, electric power steering replaces the old hydraulic system and the suspension has been retuned. A number of individually small revisions have resulted in reduced road, wind, and engine noise. Safety equipment levels are high, with the full complement of airbags and foam padding and structural reinforcement in strategic places in the interior in all models, and the parent Ford's AdvanceTrac(r) with RSC(r) roll and stability control system standard on all non-hybrids.

In the gas-only Mariner lineup, the four-cylinder models occupy the entry-level slots, with the standard V6 above them. At the top of the line are the front- and four-wheel drive Premier models, with more upscale interior appointments and the "Reverse Sensing System" rear sonar system among the standard upgrades. I've been driving a nearly fully-equipped 4WD Premier for the past week. As ever, it's a convenient size with very good space utilization, for easy maneuverability and parkability in its natural urban/suburban habitat. The new interior is its most impressive feature, and says good things about Mercury's future direction. It looks good, it's functional and convenient, and it points to a good new direction for Mercury.

APPEARANCE:

Details make all the difference. Although the newest Mariner's basic shape is unchanged, and it will immediately be recognized as a Mercury Mariner, all of its body panels have been restyled. It's still a crossover SUV, but now the emphasis is on crossover, not SUV. Body cladding, faux skid plates, and other offroad-look styling devices are absent. The front and rear fascias, headlights and taillights, liftgate, and hood are completely new, and there have been changes to the roof. The signature Mercury chrome waterfall grill is still present, but here it's bolder, with larger vertical bars, more space between them, and it extends lower into the front fascia. It sits in a lower extension of the prominently raised hood, and is flanked by large rectangular foglamps. The sides feature large wheelarches and a high beltline. A useful roof rack is an optional accessory. At the rear, the liftgate incorporates a window that can be opened separately, for quick access, and contemporary clear-covered taillights. Chrome trim on the rear bumper is a reprise of the front grille.

COMFORT:

Details make even more difference inside. This is not your grandfather's Grand Marquis. The seats, door and other trim panels, and console are new. My Premier test example had the black and gray color scheme, with black for the instrument panel top, main door panels, and seat bolsters and gray for the instrument panel face and main seating areas. Silvery plastic ("Satin Pewter") trim brightens the doors, center stack, and console. The redesign adds visual space and gives a fresh, contemporary look that is not a copy of any other car. New features expected to be found in future Mercurys are the information display at the top of the center stack, near eye level for easy visibility, "ice blue" instead of green lighting for the instruments and switches, and the instrument panel and stack designs. The front seats are above average in comfort, with leather bolsters and Alacantara suede-like main cushions and backs. In Premier models, the driver's seat cushion is power-adjustable. Leg and especially headroom is excellent. The rear seat has a little less headroom - remove that top hat, maybe - but is in no way cramped. It has the usual split foldability for cargo times. The new console includes the best feature of the Mariner's interior, a huge console box that can be configured in several ways. Two inserts organize things inside, or they can be used elsewhere in the cabin, for storage or waste basket duty. There is enough space under the main insert for medium-sized items like a camera or small purse, and a small laptop can fit with the inserts removed. For additional hidden and extra storage, the "Rear Cargo Convenience Package" adds organized storage under the rear load floor. The load area carpet is reversible, with easy-to-clean rubber on the back side. My test Mariner had the optional DVD-based navigation system. It was easy to use, and incorporates an upgraded, Sirius satellite radio-ready audio system with AM,FM, MP3-capable 6 CD changer, and auxiliary jack inputs.

SAFETY:

Standard safety equipment for the 2008 Mercury Mariner includes improved front airbags, knee bolsters, and seat-mounted side airbags for front passengers, "Safety Canopy" side curtain airbags to protect all outboard passengers, and the AdvanceTrac with RSC stability control system, which has extra hardware and software to detect possible rollover situations and control the brakes and/or engine power output accordingly. It integrates the antilock braking and traction control systems with gyroscopic yaw-rate sensors.

RIDE AND HANDLING:

The `08 Mariner's MacPherson strut front, multilink suspension design is familiar, but changes to spring and shock rates and stabilizer bar size give a softer, more comfort-oriented ride that is still relatively responsive. Electric power steering, speed-sensitive, replaces hydraulic, for lower maintenance costs - no power steering fluid - and a better feel. Thicker side glass, new windshield molding, revisions to the roof, and redesigned mirrors help lower interior noise levels, raising passenger comfort.

PERFORMANCE:

If the exterior and interior are new, the engine compartment is familiar. The Mariner's V6 is the venerable 3.0 liter twin cam, 24-valve alloy Duratec. With 200 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 193 lb-ft of torque (at 4850), it has plenty of power for everyday use, and revisions over the years have improved refinement levels. The four-speed automatic transmission is well-suited to the Mariner's niche in life. Ditto for the "Intelligent 4WD" four-wheel drive system. It operates in front-wheel drive mode most of the time, and uses a computer-controlled center clutch to engage the rear wheels as needed. Input from sensors at each wheel and the accelerator pedal allows the computer to determine the necessary torque split, transparently to the driver.

With the V6 and the available towing package, the Mariner's towing capability is 3500 pounds, usefully high for a crossover SUV.

CONCLUSIONS:

The 2008 Mariner points to fresh new directions for Mercury.

SPECIFICATIONS

2008 Mercury Mariner Premier 4WD

Base Price			$ 25,570
Price As Tested			$ 29,445
Engine Type			dual overhead cam, 32-valve aluminum
				 alloy V6
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 181 cu. in.
Horsepower			200 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			193 @ 4850 rpm
Transmission			4-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		103.1 in. / 175.2 in.
Curb Weight			3,600 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		18.0
Fuel Capacity			16.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires				P225/65 TR17 Michelin CrossTerrain
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Ground clearance 		8.1 inches
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, automatic
				 part-time single-range four-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17 / 22 / 18
0 to 60 mph				est. 9.0  sec
Towing capacity			3500 lbs. with towing package

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Roof rack with satin crossbars			$  175
DVD Navigation and Radio System - includes:
  Audiophile 320-watt 7-speaker 
  AM/FM/aux/6CD MP3-compatible/aux input
  audio system, DVD-based touch-screen
  navigation system				$ 1,995
Sirius Satellite Radio				$   195
Rear Cargo Convenience Package - includes:
  cargo area cover, Interior Cargo Management System,
  lockable wet storage area			$   195
17-inch alloy wheels 				$   650
Destination charge				$   665

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