2009 Mercury Mariner

The fiscally responsible SUV

2009 Mercury Mariner
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For the last 12 months it’s been fashionable to criticize the Big 3 automakers for building large gas guzzling SUVs and pick-up trucks, “that nobody wanted to buy.” The inconvenient truth, however, is that they’ve been building gas guzzling SUVs and pick-up trucks that everyone wanted to buy. And they built more of them than all the other car companies combined, and sold more of them too. They also made huge profits on them over the last 15 years.

FAST FACTS

1. For 2009 the 4-cyl engine gets 18 horsepower more for a total of 171 ponies. V6 models get 240hp.

2. Both 4-cyl and V6 engines get a new six-speed automatic transmission.

3. 4-Cyl 4WD models get 19/25 mpg (city/highway) with FWD models rating 20/28 mpg.

4. A base model Mariner will cost you $2,215 more than a base model Escape.

The problem was that they couldn’t anticipate that oil traders and investment banking houses (some of which are now out of business) would manipulate the price of oil, and send gasoline prices jumping from around $2 a gallon to over $4 a gallon in the span of months. They also couldn’t anticipate that the entire banking and financial system would melt down at the same time, causing the world’s economy to tank and sales of everything from cars to refrigerators to electronics to come crashing down. Sales of large gas guzzling SUVs are down across the board, including those from Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mercedes, BMW and every other manufacturer.

Instead of just shutting down the assembly lines of those SUVs, which by the way, people still want to own and drive, Ford has been trying to make their vehicles compete in the marketplace by offering smaller, more fuel efficient engines to make these vehicles more affordable to own and operate. Case in point; the 2009 Mercury Mariner, and its sister vehicle the Ford Escape. I spent a week with the Mariner Premier 4WD, and found it to be a pleasant and fiscally responsible SUV.

4-CYLINDER ENGINE MORE LIVEABLE THANKS TO INCREASED POWER

For 2009, the new 2.5-liter engine gets increased horsepower (171hp up from 153hp) and an increase in torque to 171 ft-lbs at 4500 rpm. Ford also replaced the old 4-speed transmission with a new 6-speed unit, which aids fuel economy significantly.

On top of this, Ford worked with Michelin to produce a new tire that adds 1 mile per gallon to the economy figures. The Latitude Tour Tire has a lower rolling resistance, is quieter, lasts longer, and provides better grip in wet and snowy conditions, all the while delivering more precise handling in dry conditions.

As for the powertrain, it incorporates electronic throttle control (ETC) for improved efficiency. This technology replaces the manual linkage between accelerator and throttle with a control unit that calculates the optimal throttle position from a number of sensors.  The result is an EPA estimated 19 mpg city and 25 highway. The front wheel drive model achieves 20 and 28 mpg respectively.

In real world driving, you won’t get neck-snapping performance, but the little four-banger delivers reasonable acceleration to satisfy almost any soccer Mom, in all driving conditions. The one trade-off for having a small powerplant is noise. Under moderate to hard acceleration, you’ll hear the motor in the cabin winding up until it reaches the desired speed, and then it settles down nicely, for a quiet ride whether on the highway or suburban roads.

A 3.0-liter, 240 hp V-6 is available for those looking for more power or to tow up to 3,500 lbs, and a hybrid engine option is also available to boost mileage to 34 city and 30 highway for front-wheel drive models, and 29/27 for 4WD models.

ROOMY AND LUXURIOUS CABIN

The cabin of this Mercury SUV is nicely appointed and comfortable. There is plenty of headroom for driver and passengers, and the seats are quite comfortable. The Premier model I drove was finished with a quality paint job and featured two-tone leather seats. The center of each seat was upholstered in a light suede-like leather, surrounded by a darker smooth leather. That two-toned theme carried over onto the door trims, as well as the dash and console trim, making a very handsome, upscale looking interior. The test car had a large moon roof and overhead console for sunglasses.

The rear seat can accommodate three people, but the center seat won’t be comfortable for long rides. There is a 60/40 split bench in back, and the rear seating portion lifts and folds forward to allow the rear seatbacks to fold forward and completely flat for carrying cargo. Even with the seatbacks in their upright position, there is almost 30 cubic feet of usable space. A convenient hidden-under-the-cargo-floor tray allows you keep some smaller items away from prying eyes. The rear lift gate also has a split feature, so you can open just the window portion by itself.

My tester came with the Navigation System (a $1,995 option), Dual Auto Temperature Controls, and the back-up sensor control. The Nav system was fairly easy to use (I give it a 4 on a scale of 5). I did however manage to cause it to freeze up when trying to enter an address that it couldn’t handle, which proved particularly frustrating as this prevented me from even turning on the radio (which is part of the Nav system controls). After about 15 minutes, the system cleared itself, and all controls became operational again. There is also a redundant set of radio controls on the steering wheel, along with telephone and cruise controls.

IMPROVED HANDLING BUT STILL SUV-LIKE BODY ROLL

The steering system of the Mariner has been retuned for better control and tighter cornering capability. Also improving handling is a new 18.5 mm rear stabilizer bar, as well as revised suspension tuning – not to mention the larger 17-inch painted aluminum wheels that were equipped on my tester.

The independent suspension was up to the challenge of rough potholed roads, and delivered a smooth ride on the highway. There is too much body roll in hard cornering, but that’s endemic to all SUVs that provide a longer suspension travel than cars, to allow for the occasional off-road excursion.

For safety and piece of mind, the Mariner is equipped with Ford’s exclusive AdvanceTrac with RSC (Roll Stability Control).  It’s the only available electronic stability control system with two gyroscopic effect sensors. Ford Motor Company has more than 80 patents for this innovative system, which features roll-rate sensing and stability enhancement capability, offering assistance to the driver in maintaining vehicle control during extreme maneuvers. The system automatically engages counter measures to help the driver maintain maximum control and reduce the risk of rollover. ABS brakes are also standard. Overall, the Mariner felt more car-like than truck-like.

THE VERDICT

The Mercury Mariner is a sensibly sized, comfortable SUV. It has an upscale look inside and out, and delivers very good gas mileage for its class. With a tow package it can handle up to 1,500 pounds in 4-cyl trim (or 3,500-lbs with the V6 and 4WD), so you can pull a motorcycle, ATV, or personal watercraft with it. It has light off-road capabilities, and will pull you through the snow in the winter, and provide reasonable large cargo capacities for a family vacation, especially if you utilize the roof rack. It’s a good all around vehicle. The base price is for the Premier model with 4WD is $26,515. Price as tested was $29.690.

PLUS

Handsome, comfortable, upscale interior.
Ample cargo room
Sophisticated stability control for safety

MINUS

Engine is noisy under hard acceleration.
Navigation system costs $1,995

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