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New Car Review

1996 Mercury Mountaineer

by John Heilig

SEE ALSOL Mercury Buyer's Guide


    ENGINE: 5.0-liter V-8
    HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 210 hp @4500 rpm/280 ft-lbs @3500 rpm
    TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic
    FUEL ECONOMY: 14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway, 14.3 mpg test
    WHEELBASE: 111.5 in.
    OVERALL LENGTH: 188.5 in. in.
    OVERALL HEIGHT: 66.7 in.
    OVERALL WIDTH: 70.2 in.
    CURB WEIGHT: 3930 lbs
    FUEL CAPACITY. 21.0 gal.
    LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 42.6/81.6 cu. ft. (rear seat up/down)
    TIRES: P235/75R15
    INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure,
    battery voltage, digital clock.
    EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, air
    conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
    STICKER PRICE: $31,000 (est.)

My daughter said she's the one who invented it, but like most unrecognized geniuses, she forgot to patent the idea and never put it in writing. "It" is the tissue dispenser in the armrest of this week's test car, the Mercury Mountaineer. It's just one of the neat features that make the Mountaineer a neat vehicle and more than just a V-8 engined Explorer.

Sure, the Mountaineer is based on the Ford Explorer and is virtually identical to its stablemate except for some minor sheetmetal changes and detail trim. Among the detail trim, besides the tissue dispenser of course, is full instrumentation and a full list of goodies.

The Mountaineer has everything a modern sport-utility owner would want: power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, AM-FM stereo sound system with a cassette player, good heating and cooling system, cruise control with the switches on the steering wheel, and plenty of storage capacity.

The individual seats are high-backed buckets with minimal side support. The seats also have nice "Mountaineer" logos sewn into the backs. The rear bench seat holds three passengers and there is an enormous amount of carrying capacity behind that seat.

You can fold the rear seats down to provide a flat cargo area, which is what we did primarily. We used the Mountaineer as a truck and carried a lot of chairs and furniture in the process of helping some friends to move. Because of this move we discovered great utility in the Mountaineer that we might not have noticed in another vehicle.

Mountaineer, like Explorer, seems to be extremely large, relative to cargo capacity and relative to its competition. That may be one of the reasons Explorer has become such a big seller. Many SUV owners say they like the safety of being higher in the air than most cars and appreciate the extra feeling of safety this affords them. These owners also have expressed the benefit of being able to see what's happening several vehicles ahead of them because of this elevated riding position.

A friend had the embarrassing experience of turning a Mountaineer on its side during the press launch of the vehicle in Colorado. "No problem," she assured us later. "I climbed out with no damage to either me or the vehicle, other than a bruised ego."

Mountaineer is powered by a 5.0-liter V-8 engine that is rated at 210 horsepower. Like the upscale Oldsmobile Bravada, Mountaineer has full-time all-wheel drive through a four-speed automatic transmission, so you don't have to worry about pushing buttons or shifting the transfer case levers. Power is always directed to the wheels with the most traction. Mountaineer is primarily a rear-wheel drive vehicle, but it can also be frontwheel drive if that's what the conditions demand. All-wheel drive is a nice package, and it provides the driver with the added convenience of not having to worry about whether or not to shift into 4WD.

Mountaineer is quiet as well. It is well-insulated and even under hard acceleration there isn't a lot of engine noise. That's an advantage, of course. So many sport utility vehicles are still very truck-like. But the expanding market for SUVs is drawing people whose primary experience has been with automobiles, and they want a more car-like ride and feeling. One of Mountaineer's main assets is its car-like feel and car-like sound.

Let's get back to the arm rest. Besides the tissues, it has a huge carrying capacity, including a pair of cupholders. In front of that is a cubbyhole that is lined to make carrying small articles easier.

Yeah, the Mercury Mountaineer is probably just an upgraded Explorer. But that's not too shabby. Bravada's nothing more than an upgraded Blazer, but that's not too shabby either. In the world of sport utilities, as in the world of automobiles, there is room for several grades. Mountaineer has several standard features that are options in the Explorer that make it more attractive and make it a more desirable vehicle.