Full 2009 Mercury Mariner Review
What's New for 2009
All 2009 Mercury Mariner models are equipped with a new six-speed automatic transmission. The base four-cylinder engine gets a bump in displacement, power and fuel efficiency, while the optional V6 gains a useful 40 horsepower. Additionally, Ford's Sync multimedia integration system is now available, the suspension is tweaked for an improved ride and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls are standard across the board. A new Premier I4 trim level rounds out the changes for 2009.
Nine years is an eternity in the automotive world. For many automakers, that's almost enough time for two complete model cycles. Yet the 2009 Mercury Mariner soldiers on atop a platform that's entering its ninth year of production. Fortunately, a collection of important changes for '09 should prevent this aging design from falling by the wayside.
To be fair, the Mariner has already benefited from a rejuvenation in 2008 that included new sheet metal and a revamped interior. However, no significant mechanical changes were included. Mercury has addressed this omission for 2009 by performing the impressive twofold feat of increasing engine output while also improving fuel economy, thanks in large part to a new six-speed automatic transmission that replaces the four-speed in previous Mariners. And that's not all -- the suspension has been revised for improved ride quality, and 2009 Mariners can also be equipped with Ford's exclusive Sync multimedia integration system.
Do these upgrades pull the Mariner even with the best compact SUVs? Well, yes and no. The Mariner's beefed-up engines certainly help its cause -- the 240-hp V6 is bested only by Toyota's 268-hp RAV4 and Hyundai's 242-hp Santa Fe, while the 171-hp four-cylinder unit is also class-competitive. Fuel economy likewise puts the Mariner in the thick of the compact SUV race. The front-wheel-drive four-cylinder models achieve a satisfactory 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway, while the front-wheel-drive V6 versions nearly match that at 18/26.
Additional points in the Mariner's favor include a fairly spacious cabin and secure handling, as well as the availability of the Sync system. But in other ways, the Mariner just isn't up to snuff. Most notably, its rear brakes were downgraded to inferior drums in 2008, and the '09 Mariner continues to bear this badge of shame. In our testing of a similar Escape with rear drums, the best stopping distance we could manage from 60 mph was 154 feet -- at least 25 feet longer than average, and frankly unacceptable in this day and age. The rear seats are a hassle to fold down, as the headrests must be removed and the seat cushions flipped up before the seatbacks can be folded down.
In sum, we haven't been high on this aging Mercury in recent years, but its upgrades for 2009 give us pause. The Mariner's power deficit has been rectified while also improving fuel economy, and the alluring Sync system gives it a technological edge over its compact SUV rivals. However, its braking performance is poor, and there's no getting around the fact that its chassis is nine years old. While the 2009 Mercury Mariner is definitely worth a longer look than it was last year, don't forget about newer competitors such as the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Mercury Mariner compact SUV is available in four trim levels: I4, V6, Premier I4 and Premier V6. The base I4 Mariner comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, foglights, privacy glass, full power accessories, air-conditioning, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a four-speaker CD stereo, an auxiliary input jack and keyless entry. The V6 includes all of the base I4's standard equipment plus the 3.0-liter V6 engine. The Premier I4 model adds rear parking sensors, ambient interior lighting, leather/Alcantara upholstery, a power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, Sync, an in-dash CD changer, satellite radio and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Premier V6 model pairs the Premier I4's standard content with the six-cylinder motor.
Options on non-Premier models include a roof rack, a moonroof, Sync, leather upholstery, a power driver seat, ambient interior lighting, an in-dash six-CD changer and satellite radio. Among the options on Premier models are 17-inch wheels, step bars, a moonroof, an upgraded seven-speaker stereo system, a navigation system and heated front seats. Class II towing preparation is also available on V6 models only.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Mercury Mariner can be had with either front- or all-wheel drive. A 2.5-liter inline-4 that generates 171 hp and 171 pound-feet of torque motivates the I4 and Premier I4 models. The V6 and Premier V6 models come with a 3.0-liter V6 that churns out 240 hp and 223 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Properly equipped, the V6 Mariner can tow up to 3,500 pounds. EPA estimates for front-wheel-drive I4 models stand at 20 miles per gallon city/28 mpg highway (19/25 for AWD models), while front-wheel-drive V6 models should achieve 18 mpg city/26 highway (17/24 for AWD models).
Antilock brakes (albeit with rear drums), traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags with a rollover sensor are all standard on the 2009 Mercury Mariner.
In government frontal-impact crash tests, the Mariner earned a perfect five stars in front and side crash tests. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Mariner scored the highest rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Fit and finish is good inside the 2009 Mercury Mariner, and functionality is boosted by a huge center console with removable bins. Satin-finish metallic accents and available leather upholstery create an upscale ambiance. However, while the front seats are nicely shaped and supportive, the rear seat is as flat as a day-old soda and offers neither a recline function nor fore/aft adjustability. To make matters worse, it's a pain to fold the rear seat down, as the headrests must be removed and the bottom cushions tipped forward before the seatbacks can be flipped down. 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.
The 2009 Mercury Mariner's new-for-'08 electric power-steering system surprises us with its adequate road feel and responsiveness. As ever, this venerable compact SUV feels secure during spirited cornering, and this year's refinements to the suspension improve ride quality and make it more competitive in this segment. Brake pedal feel is good, but stopping distances are abysmally long.