New Car Review

1997 MERCURY MOUNTAINEER

by Tom Hagin

Mercury

SEE ALSOL Mercury Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 29,240
Price As Tested                                    $ 30,950
Engine Type                             5.0 liter V8 w/EFI*
Engine Size                                 302 cid/4942 cc
Horsepower                                   210 @ 4600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               275 @ 3200 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   111.5"/70.2"/188.5
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     4250 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  21.0 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
Towing Capacity                                 6500 pounds
     * Electronic fuel injection

Most automakers who don't already have a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) are scrambling to get one. Fortunately for Lincoln-Mercury, its close ties with Ford Motor Company has allowed it to capatalize on the SUV craze, which shows no signs of slowing.

The Mercury Mountaineer, now available at dealers nationwide, appears just in time, as Ford studies show that as many as 35,000 potential Lincoln-Mercury buyers looked elsewhere for a new vehicle, simply because L-M didn't have an SUV to sell. Mountaineer is based on the hugely successful Ford Explorer, and comes in two or all-wheel- drive. This week we test a fully loaded all-wheel-drive version.

OUTSIDE - The tall SUV has lots of glass area, which greatly aids in outward vision, along with a two-piece rear door, where the glass raises independently, or together as a liftgate. Mountaineer features a fine-toothed chrome grille and wrap-around headlamps, a new luggage rack and bodyside molding, and slightly reworked front and rear bumpers. Fitting Mountaineer's V8 engine in a space previously occupied by a V6 required reshaping the floorpan sheetmetal around the transmission, but the alteration goes virtually undetectable. While Mountaineer is indeed an SUV, it qualifies only in the modern sense. With just 6.5 inches of ground clearance, it will hardly be the choice of serious off-road enthusiasts - and Mercury hasn't intended it to be.

INSIDE - If you've seen the interior of an Explorer, you know what the Mountaineer looks and feels like inside. Mountaineer standard equipment includes power windows, outside mirrors and door locks, cruise control, air conditioning, an upscale stereo and full instrumentation. Mountaineer is a tall vehicle, and its height translates into lots of interior room. Comfortable seating positions offer plenty of head and legroom, while cargo space behind the seats is abundant - even more so with the seats folded flat. Also, handy cargo tie-down hooks in back are designed to accommodate a grocery net, and an extra door lock button is located in the cargo area.

ON THE ROAD - In keeping Mountaineer further upscale from its Explorer sibling, the 5.0 liter V8 engine that's optional in Explorer is standard fare with all Mountaineers. Previously powering many Ford vehicles, including the Mustang GT, it produces 210 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque - more than enough to make a noticeable difference from V6-powered Explorers. Although it's offered with 2WD, ours came with full-time four-wheel-drive, and with the help of a special viscous coupling, power delivery is alternated between the front and rear axles. During everyday driving, 65 percent of the power is transferred aft, but when conditions warrant, up to 95 percent can be seamlessly put to the axle with the most traction. All Mountaineer models use Ford's smooth- shifting electronic four-speed automatic transmission, while a limited- slip rear differential is standard.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Even though Mountaineer rides on a truck-like full frame, its highway manners resemble that of a car. But don't expect sports car handling, as things get touchy if it's thrown recklessly into corners. Conventional double-wishbone suspension replaces the venerable twin I-beams used on Explorer models for years and the Mountaineer uses this new suspension too. There is a noticeable improvement in handling, along with the added benefit of being able to lower and push rearward the V8 engine. Mountaineer is extremely well-suited for slippery, mud and snow-covered roads, and since there aren't any buttons to push or levers to pull for 4WD activation, it is a vehicle of choice for the snow regions. Crawling over boulders and fording streams isn't one of its strong suits, however, and Mercury likes it that way. Braking duties are handled by four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), both of which are standard.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, ABS, and side-impact beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Our test vehicle came fitted with upscale bucket seats at $995, and the preferred equipment package ($580), which includes a luggage rack, floor mats and running boards.

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