2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid 4WD

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

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