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2006 Mercury Mariner review

November 10, 2005 07:50 PM EST | Mercury , SUV's | Email to Friend | Comments (0)

View large imagePut a Ford Escape in a Mercury outfit and what do you get? An excellent small SUV in pretty dapper digs.

Pros
Powerful V6, large cargo capacity, comfortable and stylish interior, carlike handling, optional side curtain airbags.

Cons
Unconvincing faux wood trim, fuel-thirsty V6, four-cylinder feels unrefined at high rpm.

What's New for 2006
Changes this year are limited to minor trim and package revisions.

Introduction:
Ford introduced the Escape in 2001 to capture buyers in the rapidly growing small SUV segment. It quickly became a best-seller thanks to a desirable combination of size, power and ruggedly handsome styling. Mazda also sells a version of this vehicle, called the Tribute. Feeling a bit left out of the party (and in dire need of an affordable vehicle to get customers into the showroom), Mercury jumped on the bandwagon in 2005 with its own version of the Escape, called the Mariner. The Mariner shares the Escape's basic structure, platform and powertrains. What sets the Mariner apart, though, is style. The handsome front end is decidedly Mercury, and other unique exterior bits like distinctive wheels and sleek rocker moldings move this compact SUV upmarket a few notches. Differences are readily apparent inside, too. Plenty of metallic-look trim adds polish without appearing gaudy. Unfortunately, Mercury stylists couldn't resist the urge to throw some wood grain trim in there, too, and there's just a bit too much of it to seem convincing. Two-tone suede and leather seating steals the show, however, and combined with contrasting stitching, the look is very handsome. One of our main beefs with the Escape has always been its uninspiring style, especially inside. Perhaps unintentionally, Mercury has taken a huge step in the right direction with its upscale treatments. Before you scoff at the idea of a thinly veiled SUV gussy-up job, just think back to 1999 when Cadillac put some jewelry on a Tahoe and called it an Escalade. And we all know how well that idea turned out. Underneath the pretty layers, the Mariner is all Escape. This is a good thing. The Mariner is intended for those who want the styling and all-wheel-drive capability of a traditional luxury SUV combined with the size, price, practicality and driving characteristics of a midsize car. The Mariner is more suited to on-road driving than off-roading, due to its light-duty 4WD system and unibody construction, and isn't as rugged as compact SUVs like the Nissan Xterra and Jeep Liberty. To allay concerns about side-impact safety in small SUVs, full-length side curtain airbags (the Safety Canopy system) are optional. Although long-term reliability is not likely to be as good as that of its Japanese competitors, the well-rounded Mariner is still one of the best compact SUVs available. If you'd like a bit of class with your compact SUV, the Mariner should fill the bill quite nicely.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
Only one four-door body style is available with either front-wheel drive or automatic four-wheel drive. Three trim levels are offered: Convenience, Luxury and Premier. Base Convenience models start you out with a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine; 16-inch alloy wheels; a CD player; air conditioning; power accessories keyless entry; and cruise control. The Luxury adds a 3.0-liter V6, a power driver seat, a six-disc CD changer, an alarm system, message center with compass and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Premier models step up with machined alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, a MACH premium audio system with subwoofer and heated leather seats with contrasting suedelike inserts. Side curtain airbags and a reverse-sensing system are optional.

Powertrains and Performance:
Standard on the Mariner is a 2.3-liter, inline four-cylinder engine that makes 153 horsepower and 152 pound-feet of torque matched to a four-speed automatic transmission. A manual gearbox is not available. Standard on Luxury and Premier models is a potent 3.0-liter V6, which makes 200 hp and 193 lb-ft of torque. It's also paired with a four-speed automatic. With the V6, the Mariner can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Safety:
ABS is standard on all Mariners, and V6 4WD models have four-wheel disc brakes. A notable safety feature is the optional Safety Canopy system that offers full-length head curtain airbags in the event of a side-impact collision or rollover. The mechanically identical Ford Escape has done well in government crash testing, earning a perfect five stars for the driver in frontal impacts and four stars for the front passenger. In side-impact crash tests, it received five stars for both front- and rear-seat occupants. The Escape earned an "Acceptable" rating (the second highest) in frontal offset crash tests conducted by the IIHS. In IIHS side-impact tests, this small SUV earned a "Good" rating (the highest) when equipped with side airbags and a "Poor" rating (the worst) without the bags.

Interior Design and Special Features:
The Mariner boasts a stylish interior with satin aluminum, chrome accents and a two-tone color scheme. The 60/40-split rear seat includes three-point seatbelts and head restraints for all three seating positions. There is 29 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and you can fold them down to open up 66 cubic feet of capacity, a good figure for this class.

Driving Impressions:
Fun to drive, the Mariner offers impressive road manners for a compact SUV. It drives much like a tautly suspended sedan, with little body roll and responsive steering. Mercury provides generous sound insulation, resulting in a surprisingly serene ride out on the open road. The V6 is quite powerful, providing swift acceleration, but fuel economy is mediocre. The standard 2.3-liter four-cylinder delivers adequate acceleration and better mileage than what you'd get with the V6.

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