2002 Mercury Mountaineer
This 2002 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2005.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Since its introduction in 1996, the Mercury Mountaineer sport-utility vehicle has lived in the shadow of the Ford Explorer because it's been nearly identical to Ford's top-selling SUV, which has received the lion's share of promotion.
But things are different for 2002 because Ford Motor is seeking to make Ford and Mercury vehicles significantly different. Thus, the Mountaineer has slicker styling than the Explorer and a standard third-row seat, which is optional for the Explorer.
Both the Explorer and Mountaineer have a longer wheelbase, wider stance and independent rear suspension, which allows better ride and handling—and room for the third seat.
New, Modern V8
The V6 provides decent acceleration if the Mountaineer isn't carrying much of a load. But the V8 is smoother and quieter, although it's rather noisy during hard acceleration. However, it loafs at 2400 rpm at 75 mph.
Both engines are hooked to a responsive 5-speed automatic transmission, which allows quicker acceleration and better fuel economy than a conventional 4-speed automatic. The Explorer offers a manual transmission, but not the Mountaineer. That's just not its style.
Modest Fuel Economy
A Mountaineer with the V8 has towing ability of up to 7,300 pounds. But, unlike the Explorer, the Mountaineer has a distinctive all-wheel-drive system with no low-range gearing for rugged off-road driving. It's too genteel for the rough stuff.
The "invisible" all-wheel-drive system doesn't call for driver involvement and is offered with both engines. It distributes 65 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels during normal driving to provide a balanced rear-wheel-drive feel. When the system senses wheel slip or traction loss, it transfers torque to tires with traction. In extreme conditions, nearly all torque can be sent automatically to the front or rear wheels by a viscous coupling.
Stopping distances are comforting with the standard 4-wheel disc brakes, equipped with an anti-lock system.
The Mountaineer comes in one trim level, whereas the Explorer is sold in a variety of trim levels to help it keep its long-standing position as the top-selling sport ute.
However, leather upholstery is $655 and a power sunroof is $800. Both options must be ordered with the $475 Convenience Group. But that's okay because that group doesn't cost much and has power-adjustable pedals to allow a more comfortable driving position for people of various sizes. The pedals also let drivers move a greater distance from the front airbag.
New Safety Feature
It is fairly easy to get in and out of the Mountaineer, although shorter folks may want the $395 running boards for easier entry and exit. Door handles are large, inside and out.
The quiet interior has comfortable front bucket seats. The second-row seat is split 40/20/40 to make it fairly easy to reach the third-row seat, which provides decent room for two adults.
There are front-door storage pockets and rear windows go all the way down, which isn't the case with many cars or trucks.
Folding Rear Seats
The large, wide cargo area allows easy loading, and the tailgate has a deep glass hatch that swings up.
Mercury did a good job with the new Mountaineer, making it a solid alternative to the Explorer for the very first time.