Mercury adds a brand-new compact sport utility vehicle to its lineup for the 2005 model year. Named the Mariner, it's related to the popular Ford Escape but gets Mercury styling cues. The Mariner is intended to be an "affordable" model that can attract young buyers.
A Safety Canopy rollover protection system and an all-new automatic "intelligent" four-wheel-drive system are available. Ford claims the four-wheel-drive system provides "neutral steer" characteristics that outperform "locked" four-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive vehicles in cornering tests.
Three Mariner trim levels are available: Convenience, featuring a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine; and Luxury and Premier, which get a 3.0-liter V-6. Sales began in fall 2004.
Designers sought a kinship to the Mercury family with the Mariner, which features distinctive front and rear fascias. In front, a "waterfall" grille is matched with clear, rectangular projector headlights and integral fog lamps. A U-shaped air intake helps define the front fascia. Color-keyed bodyside cladding panels are installed, and European-style turn-signal repeaters are mounted on the fenders.
Mercury says upscale touches include heated mirrors and a keyless-entry keypad on the driver's door. Aluminum wheels hold 16-inch tires. The Mariner has a fully independent suspension, front and rear. Built on a 103.1-inch wheelbase like the Ford Escape, the Mariner is 174.3 inches long overall and 67.9 inches tall.
Woodgrain and metal accents highlight the Mariner's two-tone interior. A console-mounted gearshift lever with a satin-aluminum knob is installed. Instrument dials have dark gray faces. In uplevel models, a multifunction message center features a two-line display.
Five occupants fit inside the Mariner, which may have fabric or leather upholstery. The folding rear seat has a 60/40-split design, with a removable cushion and integrated three-point seat belts for all three occupants. The cargo area contains four tie-downs and has a capacity of 29.3 cubic feet with the rear seat up and 66.3 cubic feet when the seat is folded.
Premium leather seats in the Premier model have suede inserts and front-seat heating. A Reverse Sensing System, for assistance while parking, is optional.
Under the Hood
The Mariner comes with a choice of two Duratec engines. The 2.3-liter four-cylinder in the Convenience model produces 153 horsepower. The 3.0-liter V-6 generates 200 hp and 193 pounds-feet of torque in the Luxury and Premier models. Both engines mate with a four-speed-automatic transmission. Automatic "intelligent" four-wheel drive is available. When properly equipped, a V-6-powered Mariner can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Antilock brakes with Brake Assist are standard. Side-impact and side curtain-type airbags are optional.
The Mariner has its own styling touches and interior features, so its Ford Escape foundation is largely hidden. The Mariner isn't as sporty as the Escape, and it maneuvers nicely and rides reasonably smoothly most of the time. Harsher pavement can roughen the ride, but control is seldom affected.
The easy-to-drive Mariner doesn't feel quite as confident as the Escape. Acceleration from a standstill with the V-6 is surprisingly spirited; unless you push carefully on the gas pedal, this SUV might take off faster than you expect. Automatic-transmission shifts are smooth and relaxed. Downshifts are prompt and smooth, but the V-6's higher-speed acceleration is on the tame side.
The gauges are somewhat unusual and not the easiest to read at a glance. Despite thick rear pillars, visibility is good in all directions. Front-seat space is more than ample, and the backseat offers more room than some larger models on the market — even the center rear seat is more than tolerable. For a carlike SUV, the Mariner emits some decidedly trucklike driveline noise, and it's quite noticeable in city driving.