New Car/Review

1997 MERCURY MOUNTAINEER

By Matt/Bob Hagin

Mercury

SEE ALSOL Mercury Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 29,240
Price As Tested                                    $ 32,465
Engine Type                             5.0 Liter V8 w/EFI*
Engine Size                                 302 cid/4942 cc
Horsepower                                   211 @ 4600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               274 @ 3200 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  111.5"/70.2"/188.5"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     4250 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                    21 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P235/75R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc-(ABS)/disc-(ABS)
Drive Train                    Front-engine/all-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                 90 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            14/18/16
0-60 MPH                                        9.0 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16.9 seconds @ 81 mph
Max towing capacity                                6500 lbs
     * Electronic fuel injection

(The Mercury Mountaineer makes no bones about being a rebadged, upscale Ford Explorer. Bob Hagin lauds this move by Ford to provide a way for Mercury "loyalists" to stay in the fold while son Matt likes the idea that it's the same as an Explorer - but different.)

MATT - One of the things that we "Generation X'ers" like is to be a little different and driving a Mountaineer helps. Its clone, the Ford Explorer, is one of the best selling sport/utility vehicles in the country but one of its drawbacks is that there are so many of them on the road, they all just blent together. It's nice to be cruising around in a vehicle that's not quite the same as what everyone else is driving.

BOB - When I was a kid, it was popular to customize your car by molding in the grille from another brand and mounting "spade" bumpers from a third. That's what Mercury did with its Mountaineer. It has its own distinctive grille and bumpers and lots of "specialized" trim that makes it different from the Explorer. The Mountaineer only comes with the ubiquitous 5.0 liter Ford engine which means that there's no downsized V6 to spoil the image. And although it's been around a while, the engine has been updated to 211 horsepower by means of a roller cam system and other internal "goodies." Unfortunately, there's no manual transmission available. Having a stickshift would make this SUV more capable of handling really rough off-road situations.

MATT - Dad, the Mountaineer wasn't conceived to be a jungle safari wagon or for grinding through the uncharted wastes of Alaska. It has full-time all-wheel-drive that puts 65 percent of the power to the rear wheels but in a worst-case scenario, it changes. When the Mountaineer is driven in snow, rain or over mean roads, the system takes power away from wheels that have lost traction and puts it to the wheels that grip. It's also useful when towing a recreation or boat trailer. Its towing capacity is 6500 pounds and the buyer can order one with a comprehensive towing package all ready for a hookup. Its major marketing target is families in the upper income bracket, one child and a head-of-household between 35 to 49 years of age. There's also an integral kid seat that's an option, which means that it's not a racer in disguise.

BOB - Actually, it doesn't go along badly, Matt. It will do 0 to 60 in nine seconds and hits 81 MPH in the quarter mile. It handles pretty well, too, considering that it's high enough for the driver to look over the roofs of most other vehicles in traffic, and the suspension has a decidedly "boulevard cruiser" ride. The full-time all-wheel-drive system helps handling, even on dry pavement. And I may be showing my age, Matt, but it's pleasant to get up into a vehicle that has running boards. They're part of the Preferred Equipment Package that came with the Mountaineer that Mercury loaned us, which also included a luggage rack. On a fancy carriage-trade rig like this one, I doubt that many of its owners will ever strap much in the way of lumber, fertilizer or other do-it-yourself home improvement stuff up top.

MATT - But what you're forgetting, Dad, is that while this Mountaineer is aimed at families with fairly young kids, Ford market researchers have determined that lots of them are into outdoor family sports like skiing and snowboarding, which is where the roof rack comes in handy. It's easy enough to mount ski racks on top, which leaves lots of room behind the rear seat for the rest of the ski gear. The all-wheel-drive system makes driving up to the resorts over ice an snow- covered roads a snap because the driver doesn't have to contend with any knobs or levers when additional traction is needed. Tom and I took it up to the Northern California slopes with our ladies for a day of downhill skiing when we had it and the trip was worry-free.

BOB - It occurred to me when I was going over our test notes and reviewing Mercury history that since the Mountaineer is based of the Ford Explorer, it the first truck to ever wear the Mercury badge.

MATT - Besides the upcoming full-sized Mercury Navigator, I think it's the only one that ever will either, Dad. Somehow I can't picture and upscale, leather-upholstered Mercury moving van.

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