2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, Part OneS

The full title of this review is "2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, Part One or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Yuppie Ass" but the kicker wouldn't look good on the page. I do my best to pass myself off as anything-but-a-yuppie. Preferring to rock cheap chinos, a hoody and an Astros cap over J. Crew sweater vests and flat front Banana Republic slacks, but something about the Mariner Hybrid makes me suddenly think about how fly I'd look with the sleeves of my dress shirt exposed while driving through Lincoln Park listening to The Best Of Tuvan Throat Singing Vol. 2.

I've got to think about something while driving because the Mariner practically drives itself, leaving me free to remark aloud to my passengers about the possibility of converting a large closet to a "coffee and tea nook." Those words actually came out of my mouth: "coffee and tea nook." I'd like to contend that I'm a victim of geography, living in the über gentrified Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, putting me within a five-minute walk of a specialty cheese shop, an all-independent theatre and a place that sells only cupcakes.

But no one put a gun to my head and said "you're gonna live in a post-war mid-rise apartment building across the street from a kitschy Korean fried chicken place or else." People in my neighborhood don't carry guns. They carry lattes and keys to their Mercury Mariner Hybrids. Seriously. There are at least half-a-dozen of these around, in addition to the hybridized Escapes, Highlanders and Prii.

And I can see why. If you don't like driving but need a vehicle and you're a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, the Mariner isn't a bad choice. Especially if you care about the environment enough to spend a lot of money to get gas mileage that isn't much better than the stock four-cylinder version. People go a bit far in mocking the smugness of hybrid drivers, but it is hard to argue that this car is doing more for the environment than the people taking a bus or a train to work.

The Mariner is also quite adept at filling all basic yuppie needs. Assuming you live in an urban area (thus the 'u'), the Mariner's backup sensor and small wheelbase combine to make an SUV that is exceedingly easy to parallel park. This was helpful when I had to pull up to the Paint Your Own Pottery place off Lincoln Ave to pick up the mug I had painted a couple of weeks before.

2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, Part OneS

Smooth enough to keep my painted pottery and white truffle oil tofu pizza intact.

There's also the advantage of having an SUV that neither looks nor performs like an SUV. The chrome-toothed grille and mascara'd headlamps femme out any traces of masculinity found on the Escape, but the easy-open hatch and reasonably sized cargo area swallowed a load of organic groceries with ease. The suspension is tuned to absorb the abundant bumps and potholes of the urban environment perfectly, as well as tuning out all of the driving experience.

Unlike the beefier SUV offerings from other automakers, the Mariner Hybrid is a full hybrid with a system similar to the Toyota Prius. This means that it can run under the power of its 94 horsepower electric motor, 133 horsepower 2.3-liter four banger, or a combination of both. In slow city driving this isn't so bad as it is quiet enough to listen to The Buena Vista Social Club on your iPod without the threat of engine noise. Anywhere else the engine and motor switching on-and-off is unnecessarily noisy.

Power is also created through regenerative braking, whereby all the energy needed to get the brake pedal to work is transferred magically to the battery. If you like the feel of brakes that clamp down confidently, look elsewhere. In fact, if you like driving at all, look elsewhere. The stone-colored leather interior with the dual climate control is a reasonably comfortable place to hang out while passing the time between your studio apartment and a screening of a newly cut version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis at the Museum of Contemporary Art. But it's not a good place for someone who enjoys the time between point A and B as much as point A or B.

And that's me. I may have traded some of the punk rock edge I'd once felt was important for a pair of comfortable loafers and a swish looking jacket from Banana Republic, but I haven't lost my passion for driving. That feeling you get when you sit behind the wheel of a new vehicle and set out on the open road. A feeling that is wholly absent in the urban accessory that is the Mariner Hybrid.