What's New for 1997
The all-new Mercury Mountaineer is yet another entrant into the booming luxury sport-utility market. Based on the wildly successful Ford Explorer, the Mountaineer is intended to appeal to outdoor sophisticates rather than true roughnecks. Distinguishing characteristics of the Mountaineer include four-wheel antilock brakes, a pushrod V8 engine and optional all-wheel drive.
We have received a vast number of requests for information about the Mercury Mountaineer since the first rumors of its existence began circulating in the press last winter. Well folks, here it is; the Ford Explorer, er, we mean Mercury Mountaineer. That's right, the truck you have all been waiting for is nothing more than a Ford Explorer with a big chrome grill, body-side cladding, two-tone paint and a discus-size Mercury badge on the liftgate. Sorry to burst your bubble, gang.
This isn't anything new for Mercury; their entire lineup consists of slightly dressed-up versions of cars you can buy at Blue Oval dealerships. What is new, however, is the fact that this is the first truck Lincoln-Mercury has ever sold in the U.S.; not counting the Villager minivan. The fact that Mercury is selling a rebadged Explorer only means that it will have considerable success in the market. You see, the Ford Explorer has been far and away the best-selling sport-utility vehicle ever sold in the United States. Why then, did Ford decide to share a piece of its pie with its cousins at Mercury? Probably because Mercury has been losing sales of near-luxury cars since the luxury SUV boom began. It seems that the Grand Marquis just can't keep up with vehicles like the Grand Cherokee.
With half the world already owning Explorers, to whom does Mercury intend to sell this truck? Well, it appears that they have their sights set on women and upscale families. Jim Engelhardt, vice-president of Ford light-truck development says, "We know that women are particularly concerned about safety and security, so the Mountaineer includes many important features that are not always found on compact sport-utility vehicles." These features include: dual airbags, anti-lock brakes, fog lamps and dual rear bumper reflectors. For those living in inclement climates, or those who actually intend to make use of the vehicle's off-road capabilities, there is a full-time all-wheel drive model available. The Mountaineer differs from most trucks with four-wheel drive systems because no driver input is needed to engage the front axle, it provides power at all times regardless of road or weather conditions. Families with children will be happy to know that they can order a Mountaineerwith an integrated child seat. However, to get the child seat they must also order the leather interior. Does that make sense? Who wants kids climbing all over their leather interior? I bet the designer who came up with that option requirement never had to pick up four toddlers in cleats after a pee-wee soccer match.
The Mountaineer promises to be a big hit. Like the Explorer it is based on, the Mountaineer has plenty of space for hauling people and their stuff through the suburban jungle. The Mercury SUV's abundant standard features provide a great deal of comfort, and the larger-than-average engine is a bonus when passing at freeway speeds. We think, however, that people will buy the Mountaineer for reasons far less tangible than those listed. People will buy the Mountaineer not on the basis of how it serves its master, but how it impresses the neighbors. That's the name of the game with sport-utility vehicles these days; so why not?