2005 Mercury Mariner
This 2005 review is representative of model years 2005 to 2007.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
If you could care less about driving a sport-utility vehicle that's big, bold and overbearing but you need a vehicle that's versatile and lets you ride above the traffic, the Mercury Mariner is for you.
Arguably one of the least-offensive SUVs in appearance, the classy-looking Mariner debuted in the 2005 model year as Mercury's first compact SUV.
It's also the brand's lowest-priced SUV, with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price around $21,500 for the 2005 model year. Mercury's other SUV, the Mountaineer, has a starting MSRP around $30,000 for the 2005 model year.
Escape, Tribute sibling
Inside, the Mariner's gauges and controls are straightforward, not gimmicky, and well-arranged. Suede seat inserts on upper-level Premiere models add a tasteful touch.
At introduction, the Mariner was offered with 4- and 6-cylinder engines, a single 4-speed automatic transmission and in 2- and 4-wheel drive.
But some consumers already are awaiting the gasoline-electric 2006 Mariner Hybrid which is set to debut in late calendar 2005. It is likely to boost the Mariner's top fuel economy rating of 22 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway for a four-cylinder, two-wheel-drive model, to get close to the 36/31-mpg rating of a Ford Escape Hybrid.
Sharing components and platform
But the base Escape doesn't have all the amenities and even sound insulation that comes in the Mariner. This helps explain the difference in starting prices.
Still, the top-of-the-line Mariner, the Premier 4WD model with gasoline V6, can be loaded with options and top out at more than $30,000, which is very nearly entry luxury level.
I tested a 4-wheel-drive, Premier Mariner with 200-horsepower 3.0-liter double overhead cam Duratec V6 that produces 193 lb-ft of torque at 4850 rpm.
There was decent power for regular driving. The power came on steadily. There wasn't some big, impressive power surge, and at times, I wished for just a bit more "oomph" as I merged into traffic, especially when the Mariner was loaded with five passengers.
I wondered how a Mariner with five folks and cargo inside would fare with the base engine, which is a 153-horsepower 2.3-liter Duratec 4 cylinder generating 152 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm.
Despite the sound deadening in the vehicle, I noticed wind noise at highway speeds and I heard the V6 in the test Mariner, even at idle. Alas, the sound was a bit rough and not as smooth and pleasing as it might have been.
This V6 is the same one that's in the Escape, where it produces 200 horsepower and 196 lb-ft of torque at 4850 rpm. Ditto for the 4-cylinder powerplant, though that one is available with a 5-speed manual in the Escape.
Nice, restrained interior
At 5 feet 4, I didn't have to climb up awkwardly to get inside. I just opened the driver door and set my rear on the seat and then situated myself behind the steering wheel.
There was no big jump to get out of the Mariner, either. I stepped down rather easily to the pavement. The tester had optional side rails, but I didn't need to use them.
As I drove, I could see traffic ahead and around me well. I looked over cars and through some minivans to see beyond the vehicles in front of me. But I couldn't see over or beyond full-size pickup trucks or large SUVs.
The ride was comfortable as the vehicle handled nimbly in city traffic. I pulled into parking spots without fuss, and the Mariner managed a good amount of road bumps with ease, just transferring mild road vibrations to passengers. Potholes were a different story, with riders feeling some impact.
The Mariner has a MacPherson strut front suspension and an independent, multilink rear and rides on 16-inch tires.
The 4-wheel-drive system doesn't require any input from the driver. It automatically monitors traction and transfers power to the appropriate wheels when needed.
Thanks to the V6, maximum towing capacity for the Mariner is 3,500 pounds, the same as the Escape's. Note that some other compact SUVs, such as Honda's CR-V, which comes only with a 4-cylinder engine, can tow up to 1,500 pounds.
The Mariner's rear seats have a flat, rather flimsy-feeling seat cushion.
To fold down the rear seats to enlarge the cargo area, a person has to lift up this cushion and then maneuver it to get it upright against the front seatbacks. It's not as intuitive a maneuver as I expected.
Also remember to remove the rear-seat head restraints, or the rear seatback won't lie flat.
There's a decent 66.4 cubic feet of cargo space in back with these second-row seats folded. This compares with 72 cubic feet in the CR-V, though. At 181 inches in length, the CR-V is a half foot longer than the Mariner.
The separate latches to open the Mariner's rear hatchback or, alternately, just the rear window glass, are clearly marked on the outside of the rear door, which is a thoughtful feature.
Stability control and traction control, other safety features that can help a driver avoid out-of-control situations, weren't offered for the 2005 Mariner. But they were standard on the new-for-2005 Tucson and all 2005 Toyota SUVs.