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- Gas mileage (better than most small CUV’s)
- Intuitive touch screen
- Ride quality
- Electric-only mode limited to very slow starts
- Noisy engine when pushed
I’ve driven both the last generation Prius, and did a road trip/review in the 2008 Civic Hybrid, but both left me longing for one thing: more space. The Mariner answered this question in abundance, and was a pleasant surprise to drive as well as sipping gas (for a vehicle in this class).
Driving around in the city was a pleasurable. One of the highest complements to the ride quality was from my girlfriend who’s ridden in most of the cars I’ve tested: “This has a really comfortable ride. I can’t believe it’s “American’.” Maybe it was the soft suspension, but I have to agree with her subjective evaluation. Acceleration is okay, but I think the weight of the vehicle and the 2.5 liter engine are not well matched. Flooring the accelerator around town produces a lackluster response. The overall driving dynamics of the Mariner are quite good as the steering has very little slack, and provides good feedback to the driver.
Ford has come a long way in making structurally sound vehicles, and the Mariner is no exception. The body feels rigid allowing the suspension to absorb road irregularities along with enough insulation to mute road and wind noise. Doors and windows close easily, and all of the interior and exterior panels mate together with no obvious defects. I appreciated the quality and feel of the HVAC rotary knobs and switchgear making it easy to adjust the temperature. I guess for safety reasons, engineering put the temperature display in the LED display on top of the dash … but didn’t notice that until I started looking around for the actual temperature. Oh well, once I figured it out, I could easily dial in the exact temp. The manual rear lift gate closes easily, and I never had to do it a second time.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The interior is spacious and welcoming with a dash design that’s rather plain. Ours had the navigation screen which incorporated many of the controls of the radio, nav, phone and vehicle/hybrid information. At night, the light-blue backlighting of the instrumentation is both pleasing to the eyes as well as easy to read. There are storage pockets on each door with the passenger side having the ability to store a larger plastic bottle which my girlfriend thought was a “great idea” (she tends to drink lots of water from large bottles). The power-driver’s seat provided all of the necessary adjustments, and the HVAC system worked well while driving around San Jose during a heat wave.
The navigation system worked wonderfully if not too well. It was easy to enter addresses and route to my destination, but I became annoyed by the frequent notification of the approaching destination. It felt like within the last mile, I got updates every 1/10 of a mile over the speaker system. Unfortunately, we were attempting to listen to a talk on CD and ended missing significant parts having to replay the section we missed after stopping the car. It would be nice to limit the amount of reminders or be able to configure the reminder frequency based on distance from the destination.
One other nitpick is the location of the steering wheel-mounted cruise control buttons. At the lower-left of the wheel, the buttons felt too far up and in for me to reach and adjust easily. Instead of simply sliding my hand along the perimeter of the steering wheel, and pushing the appropriate button, I had to lift my hand off of the wheel to hit the correct button with my thumb. Moving the buttons to one of the spokes rather than putting it between two spokes would make them more ergonomically available.
Weighing almost 3,400 pounds, the Mariner is no lightweight. With only 153 hp on tap, it accelerates slowly with the CVT spooling down to find the right ratio. At highway speeds, I had to prepare for passing, and overall it seemed to struggle at higher speeds (I did get it to 90mph). Engine speeds above 2,000-rpm’s elicit loud straining sounds from the engine compartment, sounds that are absent at slower speeds.
As mentioned above, the steering system is quite good for a small crossover. Driving and tracking (on the both city and highway) was easy and straight, respectively. Panic braking performance from high speed produced just that: panic! I was coming off of Hwy 85 at about 85mph, and slammed on the brakes as hard as I could (I do this for all cars that I test on the exact same off ramp), and the confident feelings I had at driving at lower speeds disappeared. The vehicle felt loose and shuddered under hard braking forcing me to let up on brake for my safety. Yikes. No other car has left me with this impression.
Both interior and exterior styling is rather simple and muted especially with the tan interior and silver exterior. The plastic dash is cleanly laid out, but the textured-dash surfaces look a bit out of place with too many vertical lines. Speaking of, the vertical slats in combination with single horizontal slat on the front grill look cute and remind me of the early Neon’s smiley fascia (but then again that was styling from years ago). From the Mercury upscale brand, I expected a little more differentiation from the Escape. I do like the rear seating area with the two-tone door panels which look a bit retro. Perhaps the available darker two-toned dash interior would have been more appealing.
This 2-wd Mercury was loaded, and at over $34k, was pretty expensive compared to others in the class like the RAV4 and CRV whose sticker prices for 4-cylinder engines start at about $10-grand less. The Ford Escape Hybrid sticker price starts a little lower than its cousin, and, in my opinion, looks a lot better. Is it worth the extra money for the Hybrid and associated gas savings? You’ll have to do the calculations, but if you own the vehicle for less than 5-years, I don’t think you’ll break even.
Tooling around town and transporting things are two strong points of this Mariner. Add to that the great city gas mileage (EPA of 34/31) allows it to beat most other crossover vehicles. I never saw those mileage figures, but came close to the highway figure when going to work cruising at 65mph. Its smooth ride and functional interior make it an appealing choice. The engine is nothing to boast about, but have a look and see if you like the styling.
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