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2008 Mercury Mariner Premium 4WD Review

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2008 Mercury Mariner

  • SEE ALSO: Mercury Specs, Pics and Prices - Mercury Buyers Guide
  • Cute Compact SUV
    By Steve Purdy
    Detroit Bureau

    Ford is really missing the boat here. The Mercury brand used to be a Ford with lots of extra style. I’m thinking of the late 50s particularly when Mercury featured slanted rear windows, plenty of extra chrome and interiors that would knock your socks off. Not so much any more. Now, a Mercury is a Ford with just a hint of extra style and not much else – an example of classic “badge engineering.”

    I guess that’s not all bad, particularly since Ford has some pretty good vehicles upon which to lay the badge. In this case we’re testing the new Mercury Mariner, a nearly identical twin of the Ford Escape compact SUV – or, to some, a “cute-ute.” Mostly these are small, upright, 5-passenger, car-based people and cargo haulers, about as efficient a package as can be developed, think RAV4, Mazda CX7, Satrun Vue. Both Escape and Mariner, by the way, are freshened substantially for 2008. Nearly every manufacturer has an entry in this category since developing one from a car platform is fairly simple.

    Mariner comes in 4 iterations: a basic 4-cylinder version starting at $21,300, a V6 for a grand more, a Premium beginning at $24,200 and the popular Hybrid at $27,340. Our tester shows a base price of $25,380 which includes optional 4-wheel drive. The Premium designation gets us a leather steering wheel, fog lamps, safety canopy/side curtain air bags, automatic headlamps, 6-way power driver seat and privacy glass. Listed as options are: a Heated Package (mirrors and seats) at $295, a moon roof, roof rack and Sirius radio package at $1,165, rear cargo accessories for $195, unspecified trailer towing feature at $395 and the Navigation system for $1,995. With the $665 destination charge and a discount on one of the packages worth $470, our bottom line on the sticker is $29,620.

    First impressions were very favorable as I picked up the Mariner in the city. This one is a classy-looking “black pearl slate” with clearcoat. Kinship with the Ford Escape is obvious. From the rear it is plain as white bread but the front has a more stylish look with the Mercury ‘waterfall’ grille. Standard 16-inch aluminum wheels with P235/70 tires fill the wheel wells nicely. Overall, the look is conservative but attractive, in my subjective view.

    The interior is stylish with generous, comfortable, two-tone black and grey with leather seats. At first blush the materials looked to be of good quality with good fit and finish. Of course, no modern car maker could get away with anything less these days. No grab handles are provided in front – probably because of the side curtain air bags – so my regular passenger, father-in-law Herb, who is 87 and feeble, will be disappointed. Controls are laid out well and I had no trouble at all finding everything I needed to get on down the road toward home on a beautiful spring day with my favorite talk station on the radio. I’ve become fond of Ford’s easily managed navigation system, audio controls and the “Info” system that includes trip odo, fuel mileage, miles to empty and a few other key tidbits of useful knowledge.

    Power is adequate, though certainly not awesome. The 3.0-liter V6 makes just 200 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. When we put our foot in it entering I-94 westbound coming out of the cloverleaf we have no trouble moving into the tightly spaced, fast traffic – mostly big trucks. Upon less aggressive acceleration it feels a bit tepid. Weighing in at 3,380 pounds the Mariner it is not particularly overweight for a small SUV, so those 200 horses pull it along nicely enough.

    Getting that power to the ground is a basic 4-speed automatic with overdrive mated to an automatic 4-wheel drive system. The transmission shifts at a rather leisurely pace. With this V6, 4-wheel drive setup we can tow 3,500 pounds. The 4-cyliner is only rated to tow 1,500 pounds. Fuel mileage for the V6 is rated at 17-city and 22-highway. We averaged near the high end of that during our week of 2/3 highway driving. We got 21.7. With a fuel tank holding 16.5 gallons we can expect an average cruising range of about 300 miles. The Hybrid Mariner with CVT, by the way, is rated at 29-city and 27-highway.

    Packing the cargo area is easy with a generous rear hatch and 29.2 cubic-feet of space behind the second seat. With the second seat folded we have 66.3 cubic-feet to fill with our stuff. Folding that second seat is fairly easy – not the best system I’ve seen, but far from the worst. Overall we’d have to give the Mariner good marks for handiness.

    Warranty is 3-years/36,000-miles, bumper-to-bumper and 5-years/60,000-miles on the powertrain.

    Mariner is right in the meat of the compact SUV market, both in terms of price and content. Now, if only the good folks at Ford could add a substantial measure of panache they’d have a real winner.

    Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved.