What's New for 2010
The 2010 Mercury Mariner Hybrid gains a new driver-side mirror that's said to improve the driver's ability to check the vehicle's blind spot. There are also a few new options for 2010, including a rearview camera, an automatic parallel-parking "Auto Park" feature and MyKey, which allows parents to limit speed and audio volume for their teen drivers. Mercury has also switched the air-conditioning system to be electrically driven instead of belt-driven from the gas engine, thereby providing better A/C performance when the engine is stopped.
Human cloning is looked down upon. There are too many weird ethical issues that make for pretty good "Star Trek" episodes, but dicey real-world dilemmas. But cloning cars isn't that big of a deal, as the 2010 Mercury Mariner Hybrid proves. Apart from a different grille, badges and snazzier trim inside and out, the Mariner is the exact same crossover SUV as the Ford Escape Hybrid. We can't think of many rational arguments to pick one over the other, but if that vertical Mercury grille is your cup of tea, then the clone could be better than the original.
Now in its fifth year, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid has been constantly improved over the years to keep it fresh, even though the Escape it's based upon has been around since the turn of the century. After gaining a more powerful engine last year, the 2010 Mariner Hybrid receives standard integrated blind spot mirrors and a few additional options that have an emphasis on safety. The new Auto Park option is also a cool feature, particularly at the Mariner's relatively modest price point: Once activated, the system automatically steers during parallel parking, asking the driver to control only the brake and throttle.
As before, the Mariner Hybrid has a hybrid gasoline/electric powertrain that allows it to deliver fuel economy in the 30 mpg range, making it the most fuel-efficient compact SUV on the market. But compared to the conventionally powered Mariner, the added weight from the hybrid components have a detrimental effect on handling and braking. The hybrid also costs significantly more, though rebates and incentives may serve to lessen the impact.
Given the above drawbacks, buyers may find other compact SUVs or hybrids more appealing than the 2010 Mariner Hybrid. The Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 are all better vehicles than the Mariner overall, while being cheaper and still getting pretty decent fuel economy. As other hybrid SUVs are few and far between, you could also look at the Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan hybrids, the Toyota Prius and the clean-diesel Volkswagen Jetta TDI wagon. We suggest you take a look at all the green car alternatives before sending in the clone.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Mercury Mariner Hybrid is a compact crossover SUV with either front- or all-wheel drive. Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels, integrated blind spot mirrors, cruise control, full power accessories, a power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, wood-grain interior trim, MyKey parental settings, the Sync electronics interface and a four-speaker stereo with CD player, auxiliary audio jack, satellite radio and steering-wheel controls.
The Leather package adds leather upholstery, driver's adjustable lumbar support and ambient lighting. Order the Hybrid Premium package and you get the Leather package plus rear parking sensors, heated side mirrors, heated front seats, hybrid system graphics, a seven-speaker stereo (includes CD/DVD player and 10 gigabytes of music storage) and a navigation system with real-time traffic and Sirius Travel Link. The navigation system and seven-speaker stereo can be had together as a separate package. Stand-alone options include a sunroof, remote engine start and the Auto Park parallel parking system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2010 Mariner Hybrid is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine as well as two electric motors/generators that combine to produce 177 horsepower. These motors channel power through a planetary gearset-based continuously variable transmission that provides seamless transitions between gas and electric modes. All-wheel-drive (AWD) models come with a third electric engine to power the rear wheels when additional acceleration or traction is needed.
We expect the Mariner Hybrid's acceleration to be comparable to a gasoline powered base Mercury Mariner XLS, which reaches 60 mph from a standstill in about 9 seconds. EPA estimates for fuel economy put the front-wheel-drive Mariner Hybrid at the top of the hybrid SUV category with 34 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 32 mpg in combined driving. The AWD version is rated at 30/27/29 mpg.
The 2010 Mercury Mariner Hybrid comes standard with antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum), stability control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags with rollover sensors. Also standard is the new MyKey feature, which allows parents to program limits for the vehicle's speed and stereo volume.
In government crash testing, the 2010 Mercury Mariner Hybrid scored a perfect five out of five stars for all occupants in both frontal and side impacts. Likewise, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Mariner Hybrid its highest ranking of "Good" for frontal offset and side crash protection. Though we haven't performed instrumented testing on a 2010 Escape/Mariner Hybrid, we expect braking from 60 mph to be poor and probably a bit longer than the disappointing 138-foot distance of a V6 Limited Escape we tested recently.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Mariner Hybrid's cabin is a pleasantly functional space, thanks in part to a huge center console with removable bins. Satin-finish metallic accents and available leather upholstery add a premium sheen. However, the Mariner is starting to feel its age in terms of comfort and space. Up front, the seating position is too tall and there's no telescoping steering wheel, making the driver feel like he or she is hovering above the controls.
The rear seat is as flat as a pirate ship's plank and offers neither a recline function nor fore/aft adjustability. What's more, folding the seatback down is a royal pain, requiring the headrests to be removed and the bottom cushions to be tipped forward. Cargo volume stands at a useful 29 cubic feet with the rear seat in place and 66 cubic feet when that seat is folded down -- not bad given the Mariner's relatively compact footprint.
Many drivers interested in hybrid vehicles expect diminished performance compared to their conventionally powered counterparts, but the 2010 Mercury Mariner Hybrid should more than satisfy most drivers. Under hard acceleration, the Mariner Hybrid has the feel of its adequately powered V6 siblings, only with a labored four-cylinder sound. The ride quality is fine for vehicles in this class, but the added 300 pounds from the hybrid powertrain and batteries tend to add some body roll and reduce some of the crossover's agility.
Though braking distances are poor, the brake pedal has a solid feel to it once the driver gets used to its slightly touchy action. As with all hybrids, the Mariner has an auto-stop feature, which shuts off the engine to save fuel when stopped. Notably, this didn't work in previous Escapes if you had the air-conditioning on. However, this year's Escape now has electrically driven air-conditioning, thereby enhancing auto-stop functionality as well as allowing cool air to flow even if the engine is stopped.