Irrespective of the Mercury Mariner’s many fine qualities, it’s easy to feel fondness for a vehicle that wears the same badging as Ichiro.
The Mariner compact SUV, an upscale version of the Ford Escape and a member of the family triumvirate that also includes the Mazda Tribute, has been significantly redesigned for 2008.
On the outside, all-new sheet metal includes design changes to the front and rear fascias, rear liftgate, and headlamps and taillamps. The beltline has been raised, and there’s a bold new “powerdome” hood. Body-color molding and lower body cladding have been eliminated, and a unique satin signature waterfall grille adorns the nose.
The striking new grille is larger than last year’s, with bigger openings between the bars and an enlarged version of the Mercury badge in the middle of the waterfall.
Front and rear lights have an “eyebrow” design around the lenses, and the headlamps have a Mercury badge subtly integrated inside the housing.
More exterior brightwork increases Mariner’s eye-appeal and makes passing motorists take notice.
On the inside, satin pewter finishes and chrome accents have been added to boost the vehicle’s refined appearance. Ice Blue lighting replaces green on the gauges, and the new center console is voluminous. It can hold a laptop computer and includes two removable bins and three levels of storage space.
Steering has been improved with the inclusion of speed-sensitive electric power assist steering. A retuned suspension improves what was Mariner’s already refined car-like ride and smooth handling.
The passenger cabin has high quality fit and finish, and is wonderfully quiet. Its low noise, vibration and harshness are the result of a new roof panel and recessed channels on top, increased glass thickness, new window molding and additional sound-deadening material.
Rear-seat leg room is generous for a compact SUV. The rear seat is foldable, but not as easily as most. First, headrests have to be removed, then the seat cushions moved forward, and finally the seatbacks folded down.
The gas-powered Mariner (there’s also a Hybrid model) comes in base four-cylinder and six-cylinder versions, and an uplevel Premier model. Front-wheel or all-wheel drive configuration is offered on all models. Pricing starts at $21,585 for a four-cylinder model with 2WD.
The base engine is a 153-horsepower four-cylinder. The V6 generates 200 horsepower. EPA fuel economy ratings are 19/23 for the AWD V6, 20/24 for the 2WD V6, 21/24 for the AWD four-cylinder, and 23/26 for the 2WD four-cylinder. The Hybrid gets 32 mpg city, 29 mpg highway.
My tester was a Premier 4WD, which comes standard with dual zone climate control, remote keyless entry, six-way power driver’s seat, four-speaker audio system with six-disc changer and MP3, anti-lock brakes, fog lamps, traction control, roll stability control, front seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags, and power windows and mirrors.
Options on the tester included heated mirrors, heated front seats, Class II towing package, 17-inch aluminum wheels, roof rack, Sirius satellite radio, and a navigation system.