Looks aren't everything, but almost...
The 2008 Mercury Mariner may still share its platform with the Ford Escape, but now looks decidedly different thanks to an interior and exterior facelift for the 2008 model year. The second-gen Mariner includes a cleaner and more modern exterior style, revised interior, new electric power steering and a choice between front-wheel and all-wheel-drive on the hybrid trim. Mercury says the new look will define many of the brand’s upcoming vehicles. The ’08 Mariner reaches showrooms in early 2007.
Mercury remains a fringe brand, identified primarily as a subsidiary of the ailing Ford Motor Company. The new Mariner represents an opportunity for this automaker to capitalize significantly on the crossover-utility-vehicle (CUV) craze that has influenced many former large-SUV buyers. The hybrid model, especially, combines efficiency and technology with upright seating, available four-wheel-drive and moderate utility. For Mercury, however, that’s not enough in a very tough segment. The automaker must also pay close attention to customer perceptions regarding styling, comfort, and ride quality if the Mariner is ever going to become more than just a Ford Escape with a water fall grille.
Except for Ford’s new Electric Power Steering (EPS), there are no significant changes under the hood for the 2008 model year. As currently offered, three engine configurations are available: The standard 2.3-liter four-cylinder that yields 153 horsepower and 152 lb.-ft. of torque; a 3.0-liter V6 engine developing 200 horsepower and 193 lb.-ft. of torque; and a hybrid powertrain that unites a de-tuned 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor for a combined output of 155 horsepower. Standard internal combustion engines are mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, while the hybrid gets a continuously variable transmission (CVT). For 2008, Mercury Mariner Hybrid models get either the front-wheel-drive configuration or all-wheel-drive.
Mercury designers clearly focused on adding modern sophistication to the Mariner’s sheetmetal. And with taut lines, enlarged headlamps and a revised tailgate area – including euro-style tail lights – they were right on target. Notable changes include a taller beltline, more stylish rear, new hood and head light treatment as well as “eyebrows” that set off the head light assembly. Buyers will see a significantly more mature Mariner in 2008, one that distances itself from the boxy look of the Escape and stretches to make its own identity. Then again, if the new Escape debuts in November looking much like the new Mariner, that difference will be squelched – and a question posed: what came first, the Mariner or the Escape?
The interior of the 2008 Mercury Mariner has been significantly revised, with a more tone-on-tone feel and an edgy, angular look. First, an eye-level display at the top of the dash communicates inside temperature, outside ambient temperature, radio settings and the climate control status. Rather than displaying each piece of information adjacent to its corresponding adjustment knob or button, all are in one location. Second, ice blue lighting illuminates the center console, instrument cluster and window switches, replacing the former green glow. Finally, the switchgear on the center stack “pokes out”, in Mercury’s terms, instead of mounting flush and appearing like a “brick.” Other highlights include available suede seat inserts, a new floor-mounted shifter, improved air conditioning, thicker glass and better storage solutions.
The Mariner’s revamp arrives at a crucial moment for the Mercury brand, though it may not be enough. While the Mariner seems to have all the right elements on paper – all-wheel-drive, improved accommodations, modern styling and an available hybrid – the lack of improvement to the powertrains may leave buyers cold after a ride around the block. With tough crossover competition at every dealership, it’s important for the Mercury Mariner to look – and feel – a significant cut above the Escape, along with other mainstream CUVs. We’ll see what kind of difference the 2008 Mariner makes when the new Escape debuts at the LA Auto Show in November.
Photos courtesy of Ford Motor Co.