Whereas the platform buddy Ford Escape never manages to look tough enough and the other derivative, the Mazda Tribute, looks like a child with some sort of neurological condition, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid appears exactly as it should. By far the best looking of the trio, the conservative looks fare well next to luxury SUV offerings from Toyota and Acura.
Compared to the previous generation, the interior of the Mariner is smart and luxurious. The stone-colored leather seats are comfortable, though more side bolstering would be nice. The rear bench is roomy enough for two passengers joining you and your wife for a night of gallery hopping, and if you ditch them, the rear seats fold forward far enough to hold just a touch over 66 square feet of trendy crap.
You would think that with two propulsion sources this thing would get going a little faster. You'd be wrong. Though acceleration is on par with the V6 model, it's a complete crapshoot on anything but a clean start, thanks to the E-CVT transmission that never manages to predict what you want.
The line about regenerative braking is always "stopping helps you go." More like "stopping helps you go insane." Ignoring the serious effort it takes to slow the thing down, once you do start to stop there's an annoying dull click as you let off the brakes. This isn't to say they're so bad that you'll run over anyone, but the feel is all wrong.
The ride is remarkably smooth for what's supposed to be an SUV. Aware that no one with sense will be taking it off road, the Mariner's suspension is tuned to absorb every pothole and hobo with nary a bump.
Like a girl who offers you sex out of pity, it'll do what you want it to do but in the least enjoyable and most perfunctory way possible. But unlike pity sex, you're not going to brag about driving the Mariner to your friends afterwards.
As mentioned above, the continuously variable transmission is less a gearbox and more a complicated way to suck just that much more fun out of driving.
Like the 2008 Ford F-350 SuperDuty, the Mariner features the six-speakers-and-a-subwoofer Audiophile system. Unlike the F-350, the Mariner is so quiet that it is possible to hear your music. Using the standard audio input jack I was able to listen to my iPod through the system as I cruised for Etruscan pottery. The only thing this system is missing is thumb controls for the audio, something a car in this price range needs badly.
In addition to backup sensors, touch screen navigation system and one-touch moonroof, this is a hybrid. Though it doesn't get earth-shattering gas mileage, the hyrbid system is basically one big toy and with the navigation screen you get to watch as power is routed between the engine, motor and wheels. There's also a full 110v electrical output for keeping your iPod charged.
When all is said and done, I can't imagine putting down nearly $10,000 over the base price of $21,300 for what is still a Ford Escape. By the time you get around to making up the difference in cost you'll have already sold it or set it on fire for the insurance money.
The Mariner Hybrid is nothing to write home about. You could drive hundreds of miles without realizing that you've been driving at all because little about the car is so offensive or so outstanding as to deserve any notice. There's probably a market for that, but we're not in it.
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