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The Mountaineer gets minor front and rear styling tweaks as it enters its second year of production. In addition, a new model, with full-time four-wheel drive, receives the SOHC V6 and five-speed automatic transmission that became available on the Explorer last year.
Mercury's second year with the Mountaineer proves that you don't want to mess around too much with a sure thing. Minor exterior changes show that Mercury is unwilling to roll the dice with a dramatic departure in styling from the best-selling Ford Explorer (on which the Mountaineer is based). Under the hood, however, some good things happen, as the 1998 Mountaineer is now available with the powerful and less thirsty SOHC V6 engine and five-speed transmission combo that was previously only available on the Explorer.
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 Mercury 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, antilock brakes and fog lamps.
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, and a new-for-1998 four-wheel drive model that features an SOHC V6 engine and Command Trac four-wheel drive. Families with children will be happy to know that they can order a Mountaineer with 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 has been a hit at Lincoln-Mercury dealers. 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 list provides a great deal of comfort, and the strong engine choices are a bonus when passing at freeway speeds.
We laughed the Mountaineer off last year as a sport-ute pretender, nothing for the people at Jeep or GMC to take seriously. With the addition of the new engine and Control Trac four-wheel drive system, the Mountaineer has gotten more serious, and we've stopped laughing. We are still not sold on the look-at-me nature of the Mountaineer, but if you want your SUV to stand out in the parking lot, this may be the one for you.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.