New Car/Review

1997 Mercury Mountaineer Sport-Utility Vehicle

by Carey Russ

Mercury

SEE ALSOL Mercury Buyer's Guide

Although sport-utility vehicles have a rugged, go-anywhere image, most never get used for anything further off the beaten path than shopping expeditions, taking the kids to school, or the occasional ski trip. These sort of uses put a premium on interior space, comfort, and all-weather traction, but not necessarily on serious wilderness capability with maximum ground clearance and approach angles and complex off-road four-wheel drive systems. Most of today's sport-utility buyers want a vehicle that combines the characteristics of the full-sized station wagons of their youth - space, comfort, and power - with all-weather traction. A vehicle like the 1997 Mercury Mountaineer.

Mercury is the upscale division of Ford Motor Company, and thus the Mountaineer is the upscale version of the best-selling sport-utility vehicle today, the Ford Explorer. The Mercury Mountaineer has its own grille and exterior trim. In standard equipment and interior appointments, it begins where the top of the Explorer line ends. Two option packages and plenty of stand-alone options allow custom tailoring. The Mountaineer is available in four-door form only, powered by the 5.0-liter V8 that is the premium Explorer engine. Two-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional.

The week I recently spent with a 1997 Mercury Mountaineer was a week of torrential rain and gusty winds. I didn't have to scale any mountains, but had ample opportunity to ford streams in what were usually dry roads. I stayed snug and dry, and appreciated the comfort, practicality, and spacious interior.

APPEARANCE: The Mountaineer is definitely a sport-utility and it is definitely a Mercury. Of medium size for a sport-ute, it has the basic, functional, two-box SUV shape. It is tall and boxy, with lightly-rounded edges and a well-raked windshield. A chromed panel incorporating a vertically-barred Mercury grille with the company logo and multi-element, wraparound headlights defines the front of the vehicle. Although the front and rear bumpers are plastic-covered, they are separate from the body material. This should decrease repair costs for minor parking lot damage. The bumpers, lower side panels, and running boards are a contrasting color to the main bodywork. A small bulge in the hood, slight fender flares, and large tires mounted on polished alloy wheels add the look of power. The windows are trimmed with anti-glare black, as are the mirrors and roof rack. The Mountaineer has a rakish but practical look.

COMFORT: The Mountaineer is a Mercury in the comfort and luxury departments. It is very comprehensively-equipped, with power windows, mirrors, and door locks, a tilt-adjustable, leather-covered steering wheel, privacy glass, accessory delay, and a rear-window wiper, washer, and defroster standard. The optional multi-adjustable leather front sports seats are very comfortable and supportive. The instrument panel is a modern, sculpted design with good instrument and control placement. Most control buttons are backlight for ease of use at night. The climate control system works quickly and well, and the sound system controls are easily used. The shift lever is column-mounted. Because the Mountaineer is a rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive design, there are no shift levers cluttering the floor. The central console provides a home for the CD changer. Rear seat passengers have plenty of room, and their own heater controls and audio controls with headphone jacks. The rear seat folds down with a 60/40 split, and the cushion automatically moves forward for a flat cargo floor. The full-sized spare tire is mounted underneath the vehicle, providing extra interior space and visibility. There is good cargo space behind the rear seat, and access is easy with a liftgate instead of the older-style fold-down tailgate.

SAFETY: Standard safety features in the 1997 Mercury Mountaineer include dual airbags and antilock brakes.

ROADABILITY: The Mountaineer is a sport-utility for city and suburban folks. It has a soft, smooth ride with little trucklike harshness in the suspension. It is quiet, with little mechanical or road noise, only some wind noise. Large tires and good ground clearance make negotiating frost heaves, potholes, and road debris easier than in a car. The Mountaineer's all-wheel drive (AWD) system is designed to automatically maximize traction in all road conditions. It is not really meant for serious offroad use, but should handle winter conditions, ski trips, and camping vacations on dirt roads with ease and comfort.

PERFORMANCE: V8 power, no waiting. The Ford 5-liter V8 once found in the Mustang now has a home in the Mountaineer. With 211 horsepower and 274 lb-ft of torque, the Mountaineer has no problem accelerating through city and highway traffic or climbing hills. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes help it stop.

CONCLUSIONS: It may not please grizzled old-timers, but the Mercury Mountaineer has everything to please today's suburban sport-utility buyer. It is a modern all-weather station wagon with space and style.

SPECIFICATIONS
1997 Mercury Mountaineer Sport-Utility Vehicle
                       
Base Price                  $ 29,240
Price As Tested             $ 32,260
Engine Type                 V8, pushrod ohv
Engine Size                 5.0 liters / 304 cu. in.
Horsepower                  211 @ 4600
Torque (lb-ft)              274 @ 3200
Transmission                4-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length          111.5 in. / 188.5 in.
Curb Weight                 4030 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower       19.1
Fuel Capacity               21 gal.
Fuel Requirement            unleaded regular
Tires                       P235/75 R15 Goodyear Wrangler RT15
Brakes, front/rear          disc / disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear      independent  / solid axle
Drivetrain                  front engine, all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed         14/18/15
0 to 60 mph                           10.7 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                       18.1 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)              0.40 

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