In the 15-year span beginning in 1990, sales of sport utility vehicles grew at at alarming rate. In 1990, about 900,000 SUVs were purchased. By the end of 2004, about 28 percent of all new vehicle sales, or about 4.75 million units, were SUVs.
Luxury models to nearly subcompact SUVs, the versatility of the style continues to attract return buyers and newbies. But there’s a dichotomy. Manufacturers have diversified the SUV segment while simultaneously homogenizing it.
Many SUVs simply appear interchangeable, which is exactly the case with 2006 Mercury Mountaineer Sport Trac. Although it was redesigned, the Mountaineer is a retrimmed Ford Explorer, and the Ford Explorer is not too dissimilar from a half-dozen other manufacturers’ SUVs.
For 2006 (the vehicle’s 10th year) the Mountaineer is available in eight configurations, and with base prices ranging from $29,150 to $35,500. My weekly test drive was the most expensive model available, the AWD Premier. It features a 4.6-liter 292-horsepower V8 with a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive
As the top-of-the-line model, the Premier, in addition to a larger, more powerful engine than the Convenience or Luxury models, also includes as standard features: front and second-row side curtain airbags with rollover deployment, a rear-obstacle detection system, leather/suede upholstery, six-way power passenger seat, rear climate controls and a universal garage door opener.
Combined with the included long list of standard features from the less expensive models, the Mountaineer has few areas of technology or performance concern. It accelerates, corner and steers and brakes without issue, and it offers an above-average ride in terms of comfort and quietness. The six-seed automatic transmission shifts smoothly via an easy access cylindrical shifter.
The Mountaineer is among the most spacious of the more than 25 available midsize SUVs, not counting premium manufacturers’ models. With split, third-row seats that are raised or lowered flush with the push of a button, the Mountaineer is marketed as a seven-passenger vehicle, although it’s really roomy enough for six, good-sized adults.
My test vehicle’s “Satellite Silver” exterior nicely complemented the console’s straightforward, no frills black and silver console and instrumentation panels and its charcoal black leather/suede seats.
Among many available packages and “appearance and special purpose” options, my weekly driver included about $4,000 in additional features, including a $1,995 navigation system, a $1,295 rear seat DVD entertainment center and $695 power running boards. The running boards extended with the front door is opened and retract when the door is closed.
With a standard $645 destination charge, the 2006 Mercury Mountaineer extends just above $40,000. That places it in the same category as many other manufacturers seeking for SUV buyers, but with not much to differentiate the players.
Safety Features — Dual front, front side and second row side curtain side airbags with rollover deployment
Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 14 mpg (city), 20 mpg (highway).
Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles; Roadside (24-hour) assistance program, 3 years/36,000 miles.
Base Price — $35,500.00