2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid Test Drive – 2006 Mercury Mariner SUV Review

21 Dec 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid Test Drive – 2006 Mercury Mariner SUV Review
Mercury Mariner

Hauls like an SUV, drinks like a car

The Mercury Mariner Hybrid is a more luxurious version of the Ford Escape Hybrid, with some cosmetic alterations to the exterior.

The Mercury Mariner Hybrid is a more luxurious version of the Ford Escape Hybrid. Like its sibling, the Mariner Hybrid excels at everything most owners require of a compact SUV, and does so while using less fuel and producing less pollution. Noisy acceleration is its only vice, one you’ll easily get over when you realize how much the Mariner Hybrid can cut your fuel bills.

It’s a great little SUV. $29,840 base, $34,220 as tested, EPA fuel economy estimates 33 MPG city/29 MPG highway.

First Glance

If there’s one clear disadvantage to SUVs, it’s fuel economy. Their boxy shape, big size and all-wheel-drive hardware may put the U in SUV, but they also add weight and aerodynamic drag, both sworn enemies of gas mileage.

A fuel-saving hybrid powertrain makes sense for an SUV. While the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX400h use their gas-electric powertrains to improve acceleration, the Mercury Mariner hybrid employs a four-cylinder engine and a smarter way of doing things: The system not only boosts power output but also allows the engine to run in the most efficient manner possible. The result is a roomy compact SUV with more-than-adequate acceleration and fuel economy rivaling (or bettering) many mid-size sedans.

How economical is it? I averaged 28.2 MPG during test week. In all my years of road testing, the best fuel economy I ever recorded in an SUV was 25.6 in a 2002 Toyota RAV4 with 5-speed manual transmission and front-wheel-drive.

For the Mariner Hybrid to beat it by more than 10% is pretty impressive, especially when you consider that the roomy Mariner has an automatic transmission (actually a continuously variable transmission, or CVT), all-wheel-drive, and no shortage of space or scoot.

In the Driver’s Seat

Mariner’s dashboard features a well laid-out array of digital and analog displays.

photo #169; Aaron Gold

I found the Mariner’s cabin to be exceptionally pleasant. As with most modern hybrids, there’s little in the cabin to distinguish the gas-electric Mariner from conventionally-powered versions. Matter of fact, the biggest difference is in the cargo bay – specifically below the floor – where the battery pack lives. (Like other hybrids, the Mariner gets its electricity from batteries that are charged as the vehicle slows down.) The battery pack actually has little impact on useful cargo space, a definite feather in its cap.

My tester was loaded to the gills; a $3,795 Premium Package included heated leather seats, upgraded stereo with 6-disc CD changer, side airbags for the front seats, side-curtain airbags for all rows and a GPS navigation system. (The stereo, airbag package and nav system are also available separately.) The navigation system’s color display was smaller than most units, but the crisp graphics and clearly spoken directions made it easy to use. Mariner Hybrids equipped with the navigation system also have a display that shows when energy is being drawn from the gasoline engine, batteries or both.#13;

On the Road

There’s been a misconception in the press – I had it wrong too, until an astute About.com reader set me straight – that Ford uses a licensed version of Toyota’s hybrid system. It doesn’t. Ford licensed some technologies from Toyota (concepts they patented first), but the hybrid system is all Ford’s and they have several of their own patents.

Mercury Mariner

It does work a lot like the Toyota system, however, with a 2.3 liter four-cylinder gas engine and electric motors that power the Mariner individually or together. Like Toyota hybrids, the Mariner shuts off the gas engine at stoplights and can run in electric-only mode. Unlike the Toyota hybrids, the Mariner’s electric motors seem to have more torque, allowing moderate acceleration up to 25 MPH or so without using the gas engine.

I was able to make several circuits of my neighborhood on battery power alone.

The Mariner Hybrids’s transmission is a CVT, which drives like an automatic with an infinite number of gears. The special Atkinson-cycle engine revs quite high under moderate acceleration. It’s unnerving at first because the engine is so loud, but I quickly got used to the occasional racket. Under most circumstances the Mariner is quiet; in fact at low speeds it’s darn near silent.#13;

Journey’s End

Mariner’s compact size conceals a very room interior, with ample cargo and passenger space for most purposes.

photo #169; Ford Motor Company

I’m an outspoken critic of SUVs that get poor fuel economy while offering little useable space. The Mariner Hybrid is the exact opposite, and that’s why I’m such a big fan. Its hybrid system strikes a perfect balance between power and economy.

Equipment-wise, the Hybrid’s single trim level is similar to a conventionally-powered all-wheel-drive Mariner Premier V6 ($27,400) without leather interior. Since leather isn’t a stand-alone option on the Hybrid, there’s no direct comparison. So let’s say the hybrid price premium is about $2,500.

Most hybrids require several hundred thousand miles of driving to make up the price difference, but with uncertain fuel prices and the V6 Mariner’s less-than-stellar fuel economy, a Mariner Hybrid owner stands a better chance than most of making up the cost.

But saving money isn’t the only reason to buy a hybrid. Oil is a non-renewable resource, and the Mariner Hybrid uses less of it than most SUVs (not to mention many mid-size cars). And the Mariner’s ability, better than any hybrid I’ve driven, to tool around the neighborhood on battery power means cleaner air where our kids are playing. All reasons why, if I was going to buy a compact SUV, the Mariner Hybrid would be my number-one choice.#13;

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