You can't say Mercury isn't trying. Ford Motor Company's wayward little brand has a parade of new products on the way. Sure, they're mildly reworked versions of blue-oval-badged vehicles, but they all look good, and that's got to count for something. The Mariner compact sport-utility leads the charge this fall, with all the things that have made the Ford Escape and the Mazda Tribute successful behind a remarkably handsome new face. Choose front- or "Intelligent" all-wheel drive and four- or six-cylinder power. A year later, look for the gasoline-electric Mariner Hybrid, able to return between 35 and 40 mpg in the city.
ON SALE: Fall 2004
PRICE: $21,000-$26,000 (est.)
ENGINES: 153-hp, 2.3-liter I-4; 200-hp, 3.0-liter V-6
BOTTOM LINE: Mercury enters the compact SUV party a little late but makes up for it by looking mah-velous.