Frank S. Washington, Thu, 12 Nov 2009 09:34:46 PST
ATLANTA -- I took a Mercury Mariner from here to New Orleans on an extended road trip to visit family and friends. All-in-all the Mariner accounted itself well. There were some good points and some so-so points, but nothing that would make me say ugh.
First, my Mariner was powered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine that made 240 horsepower and 233 pounds-feet of torque. The engine was mated to a six speed transmission and the vehicle had all-wheel-drive. It was enough power to cruise at 75 mph effortlessly. Gear shifting was smooth but the Mariner could stand a bit more sound proofing in the engine compartment. I could hear the engine when accelerating and it was more of a strain then a rhythm of power. Still, it was an adequate powerplant.
The ride was pretty good. It was smooth without being cushy and firm without being harsh. However, I could feel the almost 200 extra pounds of weight because of the AWD system when going over bumps but it wasn't all that much. That is almost always the price of AWD, unless the manufacturer puts enough extra beef in the suspension to handle the extra weight. However, that creates other engineering challenges.
Speaking of weight, I spent some time giving my brother and his wife a tour of New Orleans. In other words, the Mariner was carrying three people on the often crested and pocked streets of the Lower Ninth Ward, Gentilly and New Orleans East to name a few neighborhoods. The engine didn't strain, the vehicle remained level and there was plenty of room, particularly in the front seats carrying two grown men.
It's almost 500 miles to the Crescent City and I found the Mariner to be very comfortable. Aesthetically, the vehicle was stunning. It had cashmere (white) bucket seats with black carpet, dash board, instrument panel frame and a black lacquered template over the center stack.
The Mariner was comfortable and though black and white its interior was still visually soothing.
But white seats invite trouble in terms of smudges, spills, dirt and who knows what else over the long haul. Still, coupled with a white exterior, the Mariner looked a lot better than you'd expect of Mercury.
The Mariner is a five seat crossover with plenty of interior space. I got a sizable duffle bag and two roller bags behind the deployed second row seats and probably could have wedged in a bit more stuff, if needed.
Of course, I remained aware of the gasoline burn. The Mariner model I drove had an EPA rating of 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. Mercury said the expected range is 14/20 mpg city/hwy driving. Either is not all that great when gasoline is hovering at $4.00 a gallon but I paid from $1.91 to $1.47 per gallon, depending on my location.
I did a lot of driving, thus I burned a lot of gasoline. But I never paid more than $22.00 to fill the Mariner's tank which had a 16.5 gallon capacity. My point is that Mercury needs to outfit the Mariner with one of its upcoming EcoBoost engines that increase fuel efficiency and reduce
emissions but delivers the power and performance of a much larger engine.
Although the Mariner's fuel economy isn't bad, it wasn't good when pump prices are high. And many would agree that fuel prices are going back up, it's just a matter of when.
The Mariner has the SYNC system. There' is a video at www.syncmyride.com that can explain it. But in a few sentences the system, developed by Ford in partnership with Microsoft, allows users to access their MP3 players and navigate by song, artist, album or playlist using simple voice commands.
It also covers how Ford customers can use almost any Bluetooth-enabled phone with SYNC to make hands-free calls. SYNC will even read text messages over the vehicle's speakers so drivers can keep their eyes on the road.
Other equipment on my test vehicle included satellite radio, a moon roof, 17-inch chrome wheels, and a navigation system with traffic alerts and heated front seats. With a base price of $32,425, the Mercury Mariner Volga had a lot of stuff at a reasonable price.