If we’re all going to end up driving hybrids, the revolution should start in this class. I think the small cute-ute/crossover segment was born out of nothing but marketing departments, and these vehicles could all be replaced by hatchbacks and wagons with absolutely no ill effect. But consumers are hooked on the vehicles in this class, and there’s no way the American public will turn to hatchbacks and wagons overnight. So all these small sport-utilities and crossovers might as well go hybrid and save us lots of fuel. Heck, I wish every automaker could build a small SUV with this level of refinement and fuel economy.
I’m amazed by how seamless the transition between gasoline-engine and electric power is in the Mariner Hybrid. More than a few times I looked down to see that I was cruising at more than 30 mph and running without an internal combustion engine. I had no idea the internal-combustion engine (ice) switched off, which isn’t something that can be said for all hybrid vehicles. I’ve driven a few Japanese hybrids lately that were very unrefined. The Mariner isn’t very good at pulling away from a stop on electric power only, but that didn’t bother me after I noticed how often the ice cut out while cruising in the city.
The Mercury Mariner/Ford Escape hybrids are probably the best products in the Ford portfolio right now. They make sense for a lot of consumers, and the pricing isn’t insane. Sure, the steering is dead, you’re forced to have a continuously variable transmission, and there isn’t a ton of power, but that doesn’t matter. If you’re shopping for a cute-ute, you don’t care about driving for the sake of driving, and this Mariner does everything it’s supposed to do very well.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
Phil makes a good point; a hybrid drivetrain (and the efficiency mindset that goes with it) doesn’t really mesh with the heavy, impractical, inefficient-by-nature SUV, no matter how small. As such, I can’t help wondering just how much better the Mariner’s fuel economy would be if it were a tad smaller, a tad lighter, and less of a brick in the wind tunnel. It just seems too much like a stopgap, as if we’re kidding ourselves as to what we really ought to be driving. I feel wasteful, no matter how much less gas I’m using.
Still, the Mariner Hybrid is a relatively capable example of both the small SUV and the hybrid species, no matter how incongruous the pairing may seem. The chassis refresh has done good things for the Mariner’s road manners, and it no longer seems like the porpoising, fumbly vehicle it once was. It’s no sports car – or a Toyota Prius, for that matter – and the hybrid side of its personality still seems like a little bit of an afterthought (I drove with the lightest of all possible feet, and I rarely got the car to go full electric, despite not using any accessories or climate control), but it does its job well enough. Happily, the harsh interior plastics are finally gone.
Would I recommend buying one? Yes, but not until after someone had given me a couple of very good reasons as to why they needed an SUV rather than a car.
Sam Smith, Associate Editor
Count me as someone who understands why some people want to drive small SUVs rather than wagons or hatchbacks. The taller seating position, the extra cargo space, and the impression of greater overall safety (whether real or perceived) are reason enough to sway many buyers, especially those with families – and the fact that you can now drive such a vehicle and still get close to 30 mpg is a huge plus.
Ford has greatly improved the Mercury Mariner (and its twin, the Ford Escape) in the last two years, concentrating on the styling for 2008 and the mechanicals for 2009. The interior of the Mariner is greatly improved over what it was a couple of years ago, but there is still some evidence of cost-cutting, notably the cheap-looking plastic vent covers. Still, the overall look and feel of the interior is quite nice.
On the road, the transition between gasoline and electric power is practically unnoticeable. The trick is to get up to speed and tap the brake slightly, at which point the vehicle will switch to electric power, although you might not notice it unless you’re looking at the RPM gauge. It’s quite a difference from our long-term Toyota Camry hybrid, which noticeably surged and/or stuttered when switching between power sources.
Ford claims that the Mariner/Escape Hybrid is the “most fuel efficient SUV in the world.” That’s a huge selling point in today’s market – here’s hoping the price premium (an estimated $33,000 for the particular vehicle we tested) won’t turn away too many potential buyers.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I agree with my colleagues that the Mariner’s hybrid powertrain is surprisingly seamless; I was barely aware of transitions from gasoline engine to electric motor and vice-versa during a weekend of around-town and freeway driving.
The Mariner interior is pretty darn nice now, and our particular test vehicle, white on the outside and cream/tan on the inside, was particularly well turned-out; elegant, even. As others have pointed out, there are still a few pieces of cheap plastic here and there, but overall the quality level is quite high. One friend of mine, a 51-year-old contractor, got into the vehicle at night, noticed the high-tech navigation/audio/SYNC display screen glowing in the instrument panel, and said, “What does this vehicle cost? Eighty or ninety grand, I suppose?” Well, not quite, John.
I wish there were a more obvious display function showing instant and average fuel economy, as in the Toyota Prius. I have no idea what my fuel economy was over the weekend because I could never find a mileage display, although I imagine one can be accessed through the navigation screen. (I only thought to look when I was driving.) That nav screen, by the way, has a great user interface. Several passengers were impressed by the graphics and all the functions that are accessed through it. After a couple of tries, I managed to SYNC my cell phone with Bluetooth and was able to access my call history and my address book. The display splits your address book into six or eight subcategories, like ABC, DEF, GHI, etc., according to the last names of your contacts. But when I brought up my address book, it showed only some of the entries on my phone, not all of them. That was annoying. The call history function works well, though.
The Mariner’s headlights are not nearly bright enough, especially on high beam.
I disagree with my colleague Sam Smith, who pines for a Mariner that’s slightly smaller. The Mariner as it stands is just about right. I used it to move a couple of coffee tables at one point and then a four-foot collapsible desk at another. There may be room in the market for a smaller hybrid crossover than this, but some people are actually going to use this as a family vehicle, not just as a sole-person commuter, and they need every bit of room it has to offer.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
Driving this all-white Mariner Hybrid, with an interior all sweetness and light in taupe and beige with aqua lighting, makes me think I should be wearing a robe, angel wings, and a halo. But then I noticed that, in my 24 hours of pretend ownership, I screwed the cumulative average fuel economy achieved by our staff (and clearly displayed on the lovely SYNC screen) down a few tenths with my usual heavy right foot. But the Mariner Hybrid does respond best to a good flooring of the accelerator pedal.
The outside looks old, but Ford is doing very nice interiors these days, worthy of a second look. The three-hole 110V AC plug in the center console cracks me up. I’m waiting to see some oblivious girl, late to work, blow drying her hair. And talking on her phone. The good news is, her phone will be connected by Bluetooth to SYNC, so her hands will be free to do something else, other than driving, of course.
Have I said just how much I love SYNC? I do, I really do.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid 4WD
Base Price (with destination): $31,195
Price as tested: $33,190
** Vehicle sheet reads “This vehicle is not for sale: Prices are provided for comparison purposes only.”
-Navigation System w/ Audiophile – $1995
– 29/27 (city/hwy/combined)
-Duratec 2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve Atkinson cycle-Size: 152 cu. in. / 2.5 liters -Horsepower: 153 @ 6,000 rpm-Torque: 136 lb.-ft. @ 4500 rpm
– Type: Permanent magnet AC synchronous motor- Power: 94 hp @ 5,000 rpm- Voltage: 330V maximum- Transmission:Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (eCVT)
– 3829 lbs.
– 16-inch aluminum wheels,P235/70R16