The Mercury Mariner and its nearly identical siblings, the Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute, are grouped in the popular and competitive small sport utility vehicle class. The Honda Element and CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Saturn Vue and Subaru Forester are in the same category, and all have attractive attributes.
So in a category that includes more than 25 choices, how does the Mariner find its share of the market?
During the recent inaugural Tour of Missouri bicycle race, I drove the 2008 Mariner Premier with all-wheel drive nearly 1,000 miles in eight days. While crossing the state West to East on primarily high-speed highways, the Mariner performed well under nearly ideal late summer conditions.
The highway speed limit varies in Missouri, but I often used the cruise control (inset switches at the nine p.m. location of the steering wheel) and set it at the flow of traffic about 5 mph above the maximum. It worked with ease and was one of the smoother cruise control systems I’ve tested. The Mariner’s mileage estimates are 17 mpg (city) and 22 mpg (highway) and during my week with the vehicle, I averaged 20.6 mpg.
Although the only inclement weather I encountered were slight winds and a periodic drizzle on the night I arrived, the Mariner cruised down the road confidentially, particularly since the 2008 models now include electronic stability control.
The 3.0-liter 200 horsepower V6 isn’t the quickest SUV on the market, but nor was it ever sluggish. While changing lanes or accelerating on freeway ramps, the Mariner got the job done. I had good vision, with no blind spots. I also liked the console dials’ soft-tone green illumination during night driving.
Like its SUV siblings, the Mariner’s design isn’t eye-catching, but there’s nothing wrong with a straightforward design and a non high-tech approach. My test vehicle’s exterior color was metallic red (officially it’s called vivid red metallic clearcoat), and it was complemented by a black (black stone) leather interior.
The standard features list included: AM/FM radio with in-dish 6-disc CD and MP3 and four speakers, fog lamps, privacy glass, automatic off/on headlamps, remote keyless entry with keypad, reverse sensing system, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, compass and outside temperature display.
Several recent vehicles I’ve tested have also included side and rear sensing systems, and often they’ve been too sensitive. The Mariner’s system worked ideally. It engaged when an obstacle was on the near horizon, yet not too close, nor too far away.
The Premier, one of three models offered (there are also base and hybrid models), included the previously mentioned larger engine and all-wheel drive, among other upgraded features, like the navigation system, seven-speaker CD changer ($1,995), and four less-expensive pages: Sirius satellite radio ($195), rear cargo convenience package ($195), trailer towing package ($395) and heated seats package ($295). With the standard destination and delivery charge ($695), the 2008 Mariner’s total price is just under $30,000 — the average price of a new car in the United States.
And that’s just about right. The Mariner is satisfactory, albeit unspectacularly average — just like a lot of other small SUVs. And it will likely have to be satisfied with whatever part of the market share it can get.
The Weekly Driver: 2008 Mercury Mariner
Safety Features — Driver and front passenger dual-stage front airbags
Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 17 mpg (city), 22 mpg (highway).
Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 3/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles; 24-Hour roadside assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles.
Base Price — $25,380.00