What's New for 2006
The Mercury Mariner Hybrid, a twin to the successful Escape Hybrid, is new for 2006.
One of our main beefs with the Ford Escape has always been its uninspiring style, especially inside. Perhaps unintentionally, Mercury has taken a huge step in the right direction by providing its twin, the Mariner, with upscale treatments. And before you scoff at the idea as being nothing more than a thinly veiled SUV gussy-up job, just think back to 1999 when Cadillac put some jewelry on a Tahoe and called it an Escalade. And we all know how well that idea turned out.
The Mercury Mariner Hybrid, which is new for 2006, shares the Escape Hybrid's basic structure, platform and powertrain. What sets the Mercury SUV apart, though, is style. The handsome front end is decidedly Mercury, and other unique exterior bits like distinctive wheels and sleek rocker moldings move this compact SUV upmarket a few notches. Inside, plenty of metallic-look trim adds polish without appearing gaudy. Two-tone suede and leather seating steals the show, however, and combined with contrasting stitching, the look is very handsome.
Underneath the pretty layers, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid uses a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine in conjunction with electric motors to provide power while keeping emissions and fuel usage to a minimum. Under full acceleration, both power sources work together to provide maximum oomph, but under lighter load conditions, such as stop-and-go traffic, the Mariner Hybrid alternates between the two, oftentimes running purely on battery power alone. A regenerative braking system converts energy normally lost as heat into electricity to recharge the car's batteries. If you like the idea of driving a hybrid that doesn't force you to give up an ounce of day-to-day practicality, you would be wise to test-drive the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The compact Mercury Mariner Hybrid SUV is available in one four-door body style with all-wheel drive. Standard amenities include 16-inch alloy wheels, a power driver seat, air conditioning, an in-dash CD changer, cruise control, keyless entry and power windows, mirrors and locks. An optional premium package provides heated leather seats, a reverse-sensing system, an upgraded audio system and a navigation system with a hybrid energy flow display. A moonroof is a stand-alone option.
Powertrains and Performance
The Mariner Hybrid power plant consists of a 2.3-liter gasoline engine and two electric motor/generators. Mercury calls the transmission a CVT, but there's no rotating belt as is in a conventional CVT. Instead, the motors work in concert with the gas engine through a planetary gear set to provide seamless power and maximum efficiency. If you're the driver of a Mariner Hybrid, all you have to do is move the shift lever to "D" and press the gas pedal. Available only with all-wheel drive, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid is rated at 33 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, making it one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs on the market.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard. The optional Premium Package includes front-seat side-impact airbags and full-length head curtain airbags with a rollover sensor. In NHTSA tests, the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid earned four out of five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts. In side-impact crash tests, it received five stars for both front- and rear-seat occupants. Less impressive is the Mariner's "Acceptable" rating (the second highest) in the frontal-offset crash test conducted by the IIHS. When equipped with side airbags, the Mercury SUV merits a "Good" rating (the highest) from the IIHS for side-impact protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Mariner Hybrid features a stylish interior with satin aluminum, chrome accents and a two-tone color scheme. The 60/40-split rear seat includes three-point seatbelts and head restraints for all three seating positions. There is 28 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and you can fold them down to open up 65 cubic feet of capacity.
A pleasure to drive, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid offers impressive road manners for a compact SUV. It drives much like a tautly suspended sedan, with little body roll and responsive steering. Its swift hybrid powertrain makes it nearly as quick as the V6 Mariner and returns outstanding fuel mileage. Mercury provides generous sound insulation, resulting in a surprisingly serene ride out on the open road.