What it is
2009 Mercury Mariner Preview – 2008 Chicago Auto Show: It’s like that party Uncle Bert had when you graduated from beauty school. Sure, not a lot of people came or seemed to care, but those who did will get free haircuts forever! For those who were there to see the recently announced upgrades to the Mercury Mariner, they may not get free haircuts…but they did get to be the first to know about Mercury’s powertrain upgrades and new capless fueling system. The important thing, of course, is the power upgrade: 30 more horsepower (to 230) from the V-6, and a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivering 170 horsepower. Mercury also upgraded the transmission from four to six-speeds. Other changes included some slight mods to the front fascia. Now all they have to do is fix that interior, and who knows? Perhaps the Mariner and its Ford Escape twin will flee the doldrums of slow sales and consumer neglect.
Why it Matters
More and more of us are opting for crossovers rather than minivans and SUVs, so the category that the Mariner once shared with a select few is burgeoning with new arrivals. To remain competitive, Mercury needed to update its five-passenger Mariner, with features important to buyers, namely power and refinement, without sacrificing fuel economy. As truck and large SUV sales continue to decline, the appeal of the Mariner crossover becomes increasingly important to Ford Motor Company’s bottom line.
What's Under the Hood
Mercury will offer the 2009 Mariner with two engines: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that replaces the outgoing 2.3-liter version, and a 3.0-liter V-6 that now pushes 230 horsepower versus 200 horses for the 2008 model. The four-banger boasts 170 horsepower, 166 lb.-ft. of torque, a slight gain in fuel economy, variable-valve timing, and will serve as the base engine for the Mariner Hybrid. Also new for 2009 will be a six-speed automatic transmission, a refined suspension system including a new 18.5-mm rear stabilizer bar, and for hybrid versions, a smoother regenerative braking system.
What It Looks Like
Recognizing the differences between the 2008 and 2009 Mercury Mariner will be pretty darn difficult, given that they’re almost non-existent. Slight modifications have been made to lower body panels to improve aerodynamics, and the Mariner rolls on different tires.
What Mercury Says
Sue Cischke, Ford’s senior vice president of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, says “Ford Motor Company is increasing fuel economy and cutting greenhouse gas emissions with affordable technologies for millions of customers. In the near term, we will leverage existing technologies to achieve those goals, including advanced engines and multi-speed transmissions. The 2009 Escape and Mariner are great examples of how we’re delivering today. More than ever, the Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid are the ultimate vehicles for commuters in the daily battle with urban traffic congestion.”
What We Think
Among a vast sea of competitive models, we haven’t been terribly impressed by the Mariner in recent years. It’s a fine vehicle, but the materials, engines, and lack of innovative features have left us wanting, especially when compared to younger alternatives. The 2009 model’s boost in power and refinement will address these issues head on, though a complete redesign might’ve had the best chance of propelling the Mariner to the front of the pack. With that said, the Hybrid model is a good little driver, with adequate power and commendable fuel economy, making it an attractive alternative to gas-only crossovers. But two primary questions remain: Do most people realize that Mercury is still in business? Do they care, especially since the short lineup consists entirely of slightly-disguised Fords? The short answer is no.
Photos courtesy of: Thom Blackett and Ford Motor Company