Full 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid Review
What's New for 2008
The most obvious update on the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid concerns its refreshed interior and exterior styling. In addition, there's a redesigned roof panel to reduce wind noise. Mercury has also added a slightly less expensive front-wheel-drive model to the lineup. New standard equipment includes side and head curtain airbags, and an MP3 player input jack. The optional navigation system is now DVD-based, and it has a touchscreen interface. Satellite radio is a new option.
Hybrid SUVs like the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid are aimed at car buyers who want it all. By sport-utility standards, fuel economy is high and tailpipe emissions are low, yet you end up with a vehicle that looks and acts like a perfectly normal family vehicle. In other words, you can live the hybrid car lifestyle without losing day-to-day practicality. Pretty neat.
Introduced for 2006, the Mariner Hybrid has the highest fuel economy ratings of any SUV on the market, an honor its shares with its Ford Escape Hybrid and new-for-2008 Mazda Tribute Hybrid corporate siblings. Industrial-inspired bodywork distinguishes Mercury's compact SUV on the outside, and inside there's a considerable amount of faux satin-aluminum trim. Power comes from a 2.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine working cooperatively with a pair of electric motors (three on all-wheel-drive models). Net output is 155 horsepower. On the road, the Mariner Hybrid feels quicker than the standard four-cylinder Mariner, but it's not as swift as the V6 model.
If you decide a hybrid SUV is a good fit for your lifestyle, there are now several to choose from: The Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid is the cheapest; the Toyota Highlander Hybrid has the highest seating capacity (seven); and the Lexus RX 400h is the most luxurious. Given the high asking prices for the Toyota SUVs, most buyers are apt to shop the Mercury Mariner Hybrid against the Saturn. In our view, the Mercury is the better bet, as it offers slightly better gas mileage, a superior driving experience and a higher level of overall refinement.
However, if you compare the Mercury Mariner Hybrid to newer all-gasoline SUVs like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, it doesn't stack up quite so well. These small SUVs outpace the Mercury in nearly every area, from cabin accommodations to handling dynamics, while coming very close in the fuel economy race. That's not to say that buying a 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid couldn't still make sense, especially with the healthy tax credit available on it during the '07 calendar year. But with all the competition among small SUVs in this price range, we encourage prospective hybrid SUV buyers to weigh the pros and cons carefully before making a decision.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A compact SUV, the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid is available in one four-door body style with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). Standard amenities include 16-inch alloy wheels, a power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, an in-dash CD changer, an MP3 player input jack, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, wood-grain interior trim, cruise control, full power accessories and a trip computer. The optional Premium package provides a roof rack, rear parking sensors, heated leather seats, an upgraded seven-speaker audio system, a DVD-based navigation system with a hybrid energy flow/fuel consumption display and a cargo cover. Most of these items are also available as stand-alone options, as is a 110-volt AC outlet. A moonroof is bundled with Sirius Satellite Radio as the "Moon & Tune" package.
Powertrains and Performance
Every Mercury Mariner Hybrid is powered by a 2.3-liter gasoline engine working with electric motor/generators. Cumulative output is 155 horsepower. Mercury calls the transmission a CVT (continuously variable transmission), but there's no rotating belt as in a conventional CVT. Instead, the motors work in concert with the gas engine through a planetary gearset to provide seamless power and maximum efficiency. Once behind the wheel of a Mariner Hybrid, all you have to do is move the shift lever to "D" and press the gas pedal. In addition to its propulsion duties, the gasoline engine is used to recharge the Mariner Hybrid's battery pack. A regenerative braking system, which captures kinetic energy that would ordinarily be lost as heat, also contributes to the recharging effort.
All-wheel-drive Mariner Hybrids have an additional electric motor that provides power to the rear wheels when extra traction or acceleration is needed. It's not a true all-wheel-drive system, though, and buyers who require a serious snow vehicle will be better off with the regular gasoline-powered AWD Mariner. With the EPA's adjusted fuel economy ratings for 2008, the front-wheel-drive Mariner Hybrid comes in at 34 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, while the AWD version is listed at 29/27.
All major safety equipment is standard on the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, including four-wheel antilock disc brakes, a tire-pressure monitoring system, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags with a rollover sensor. Stability control is unfortunately not available. In the backseat, you'll find three-point seatbelts and head restraints all the way across.
Although the NHTSA has yet to crash-test the '08 Mariner Hybrid, the similar '07 model performed solidly, posting 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. In frontal-offset crash tests conducted by the IIHS, the '07 Mariner rated "Acceptable" (the second highest on a scale of four). In side-impact testing, it earned a "Good" rating (the highest).
Interior Design and Special Features
The Mariner Hybrid's interior is tastefully accented with satin-finish faux aluminum, chrome and wood-grain trim. The major benefits of this year's refresh are evident in the control layout, which is simpler to use yet more modern in appearance, and the optional navigation system, which now has a standard-size screen and a touchscreen interface. The backseat is roomy and comfortable enough to keep a pair of adults content on road trips. There are 26.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and you can fold them down to open up 66 cubic feet of capacity. One knock against the Mariner Hybrid's cabin comfort is its lack of an electric air-conditioning compressor. Instead, the gasoline engine powers the compressor, which means that the cabin only stays cool when the engine is running. Using the "Max A/C" setting prevents the engine from shutting down on hot days, but negates the fuel-saving benefits of this hybrid SUV's idle-stop feature.
With a four-cylinder gasoline engine and a pair of electric motors working on its behalf, the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid feels nearly as quick as the V6 Mariner and returns outstanding fuel mileage. Unfortunately, the gas engine makes quite a racket during hard acceleration. Ride quality is acceptable for a small SUV, but handling is unimpressive, as the extra weight of the hybrid components gives the Mariner Hybrid a top-heavy feel when rounding corners. The regenerative brakes provide solid stopping ability but can be hard to modulate due to an overly stiff initial pedal feel.