Like the related Ford Explorer, the redesigned 2002 Mercury Mountaineer went on sale in early spring 2001. Both midsize sport utility vehicles have since vied against both the new-for-2002 models from General Motors and the sizable SUV lineup from import brands. According to Automotive News, Mercury sold 45,574 Mountaineers during 2001, but Ford moved more than nine times as many Explorers in the same period.
Both the Mountaineer and the less-costly Explorer use body-on-frame construction. In response to past complaints about ride quality, Mercury engineers devised an innovative independent porthole-in-frame rear suspension that features half-shafts that poke right through holes in the chassis. In addition to making the ride smoother than in earlier Mountaineers, this configuration allowed a lower step-in height for easier entry and exit. As a bonus, this design yields additional space for the installation of a standard third-row seat, which allows for a seven-passenger capacity.
The Mountaineer is offered in a single basic trim level, and it comes with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). Mercurys SUV has gained a number of standard features for 2003, including power-adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, a keyless-entry keypad on the drivers side, a compass and outside-temperature display, and power heated mirrors. Luxury and Premier versions gain running boards and an Audiophile sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer. A power moonroof is now standard on the Premier edition.
New options for 2003 include a DVD rear-seat entertainment system. A Security Group includes a Safety Canopy system, as well as a Reverse Sensing System that detects obstacles to the rear while the vehicle is backing up. Center armrests are softer for 2003, and leather seating surfaces may be specified at no extra charge for the Luxury and Premier models.
Despite minimally changed dimensions for its 2002 redesign, the Mountaineer looks and feels larger than its predecessor. Built on a 113.8-inch wheelbase, the SUV stands 71.4 inches high and measures 189.5 inches long overall thats close to the measurements of the rival GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada.
The Mountaineers bumpers were lowered by 2 inches, which makes the SUV roughly comparable to a midsize sedan in the event of a collision. Machined-aluminum wheels hold 16-inch tires. Fog lights and a luggage rack are standard, while running boards and a power moonroof are optional.
Seating for seven occupants in three rows is standard in the Mountaineer. The third-row seat folds flat for extra room. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, an anti-theft alarm, an overhead console, cruise control, a power drivers seat, privacy glass, remote keyless entry, a rear-window washer and wiper, a tilt steering wheel, and power windows, door locks and mirrors.
The AWD model includes an auxiliary climate control, as well as Luxury and Convenience packages that feature heated power front seats, two-tone leather seating, dual-zone electronic automatic temperature control, a keyless-entry keypad and premium machined-aluminum wheels. The Mountaineers cargo volume reaches 81.3 cubic feet when the second- and third-row seats are folded down.
Under the Hood
The Mountaineer may be equipped with either a V-6 or V-8 engine. A 4.0-liter V-6 develops 210 horsepower, and the optional 4.6-liter all-aluminum V-8 produces 239 hp. A five-speed-automatic transmission is the sole transmission available.
Antilock brakes are standard, and a Reverse Sensing System is optional. Side curtain-type airbags for first- and second-row occupants may be equipped with a Safety Canopy.
The Mountaineer is more pleasing on the road than the Explorer, which is an impressive SUV on its own. The Mountaineers available V-8 engine definitely delivers more oomph than the V-6, but the V-8 gets taxed considerably in mountainous terrain.
The Mountaineers ride quality is lovely, thanks to the nicely cushioned, highly absorbent fully independent suspension. Despite its gentler ride, the Mountaineers handling actually feels a trifle more stable than the Explorers. Mercurys permanent AWD system works effectively and without a thought by the driver. The full gauges are well calibrated and easy to read. Attractive, comfortable leather upholstery in the AWD model helps to hold occupants in place through swift curves.
Like the Explorer, the Mountaineer faces considerable competition from General Motors and other auto manufacturers. The third-row seat and independent rear suspension are a bonus, and new safety innovations should also help to attract customers.