06/05/07 — 2008 Mariner attractive at new price

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2008 Mariner attractive at new price

Mercury Mariner (2008)

Over the years Ford has a penchant for getting a head start on the competition.

For example, the company started shipping the 2005 Escape in the winter of 2004. Going back a decade, Ford introduced the all-new 1997 F-150 pickup in January of 1996.

Mercury Mariner, a compact sport utility based on the Ford Escape, gets the jump start this year. The 2008 Mariner started showing up in showrooms this past winter.

Mercury Mariner, 2008

We’re not sure why Ford markets some of its products this way, but we can see an advantage for the dealer who doesn’t have to clear the decks of current-year models in September and October to make way for the new stuff. In the case of the Mariner, the newest stuff is already sitting on the lot.

Because the 2008 Mariner has arrived six-to-ten months early, you may jump to the conclusion that it’s an all-new vehicle.

But if you are looking for a new generation of crossover in the 2008 Mariner, you won’t find it. What you will find is a revised version of the five-passenger high-rider that Mercury has been selling since the 2005 model year. The underpinnings of the Mariner including the transmission and V-6 engine go back to the start of the decade when the first Escape was introduced, but it’s still a viable choice against the new crop of small sport utilities and crossovers.

What helps make the updated Mariner an interesting alternative in a segment bristling with new and attractive products is price.

Mercury has reduced the price of the Mariner by an average $1,300 while adding more standard features. For example, a well-outfitted Premier with V-6 and all-wheel drive previously started at $27,515. The 2008 edition begins at $26,045 including a $665 destination charge. Our research shows that the starting price of the 2005 Premier was nearly identical to the new vehicle.

The base Mariner with a 153-horsepower 4-cylinder now begins at $21,395, a decrease of $410.

We recommend the 200-horsepower V-6. and the base six-cylinder model now begins at an economical $22,395, a $1,295 decrease from 2007.

The value is even greater when standard safety equipment — some of which was optional on all but the top trim level in 2007 — is figured into the equation.

In fact, nearly everything that the Mariner offers in terms of safety is now standard across the lineup including canopy side air curtains, side-impact air bags, ABS, tire pressure monitor system and Ford’s AdvanceTrac anti-skid system. Rear parking sensors are available on the Primer trim level.

Factor in the Mariner’s top crash ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Mercury has a strong selling point. The Mariner has earned a top five stars from NHTSA for both front and rear-seat passengers in side-impact crash tests when equipped with the now-standard curtain airbags, and the second highest rating from IIHS in offset frontal impact tests.

Price and safety will help sell the Mariner, but how it feels behind the wheel may be the ultimate factor. We’ve always liked the seating position in the Escape/Mariner. The driver sits up high, a desirable trait in a sport utility, and visibility is good in all directions.

Mercury has done a good job quieting the interior, but we feel not enough effort has been put into eliminating road and wind noise.

The Mariner drives as small as you would expect it would. While the turning circle is a longish 39 feet, the small Mercury is still maneuverable in the mall parking lot.

Rear seating is comfortable for two people who will find very adequate legroom and ample head room. And rear storage measures 29 cubic feet, very generous for a small SUV. With the second row folded, maximum cargo capacity is a decent 62 cubic feet.

The Mariner for the most part has a pleasing upscale interior. The stylists created a more Lincoln-like cockpit look for 2008. Satin-aluminum and chrome accent the center stack and console. Chrome-ringed gauges, redesigned for 2008, are attractive. Leather seats with contrasting suede insets have been a pleasing styling cue for the Mariner since its inception.

We were not happy, however, with the new small and incomprehensible controls that come with the automatic climate control system. For the sake of styling, Mercury has taken a step backward. The center stack, made up of more than a dozen unattractive flat black audio and climate control buttons and knobs, is an exercise in bad design.

What may be the Achilles Heel to some shoppers is the aging drivetrain. That being said, the 200 horsepower and 193 pound-feet of torque emanating from the 3.0-liter V-6 mated to a four-speed automatic is adequate to motivate the Mariner in an acceptable manner. The SUV feels sprightly in around-town stoplight-to-stoplight driving, but it’s in the merging and passing aspects of daily driving that the engine may be a letdown on occasion.

When this engine/transmission combination hit the market in 2000, it was near the head of the class. But the competition has caught up with five-and six-speed transmissions and engines approaching 250 horsepower.

Gas mileage, as measured using the new 2008 standards, is an acceptable 17 city and 21 mpg highway with the all-wheel drive version and 18/23 front-wheel drive. Note that the EPA is changing the way it determines mileage starting with 2008 models. In most cases mileage numbers will fall from 10-to-20 percent. For 2007, the V-6 was rated at 19/23 with all-wheel drive and 20/24 with front-wheel drive.

If you can afford the $1,000 difference between the base engine and the V-6, we highly recommend purchasing the V-6. It will yield more satisfying and quieter performance. Both engines operate on regular 87 octane gas.

In addition to the aforementioned safety equipment, standard amenities on all Mariners include power windows and locks, stereo with CD player and MP3 capability, keyless entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control and air conditioning.

DVD-based navigation and Sirius satellite radio are available for the first time as options. A rear entertainment system is still not on the options list, however.

Our well-outfitted Premier edition, which included navigation, carried a sticker price of $28,540.

A hybrid version of the Mariner is also available starting at $26,430.

The 2008 Mariner has a lot to offer in safety, comfort and practicality particularly at Mercury’s new price point.

Jim Meachen can be contacted at meachen@mac.com.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on June 5, 2007 9:45 AM