The Mercury Mountaineer should be a respectable choice for a used midsize SUV. At its debut, it offered good space for medium-size families, decent handling, tolerable ride quality and at least some semblance of off-road capability. These qualities held steady through two generations.
Although the Mountaineer was mechanically identical to the Ford Explorer and shared its chassis and most sheet metal, Mercury attempted to differentiate it over the years by specifying more standard amenities, softer suspension tuning and all-wheel drive instead of traditional four-wheel drive. For years, those virtues placed the Mercury Mountaineer in the upper ranks of midsize SUVs. This was especially true after its 2002 redesign, which brought about a vast improvement in both ride and handling.
Despite that, the Mountaineer was outclassed in more recent years by newer crossover SUVs such as the Acura MDX and Buick Enclave. These vehicles typically offer better on-road handling and roomier interiors to boot. They don't have as much towing capacity as the Mercury, though, so the Mountaineer still deserves consideration for those used SUV shoppers with more demanding needs.
Most Recent Mercury Mountaineer
Sold from 2002-'10, the second-generation Mountaineer was greatly refined in terms of luxury and performance. A wider stance and an independent rear suspension improved both handling and ride, while a new 4.6-liter V8 provided ample power with smoother operation. The cabin offered a few new perks as well, such as optional power-adjustable pedals and a third-row seat.
Buyers could choose between a 210-horsepower V6 or the new V8. The V8 versions sold through '05 made 240 hp and came with a five-speed automatic. We would recommend a 2006 or later version, as that year the V8 got a power boost to 292 hp along with a six-speed automatic, improving both performance and, to a lesser degree, fuel economy. The Mountaineer's safety quotient rose in 2004 when Mercury added stability control as an option, and again the following year when it was made standard and packaged with Roll Stability Control. Standard side curtain airbags completed the picture for 2006 -- in previous years, they were optional so it's a good idea to make sure an individual Mountaineer has them. Microsoft's Sync system was added to the options list in mid-2008 and became standard on the Premier for 2009. The following year would be the Mountaineer's last, as the Mercury brand would be phased out during 2011.
This Mountaineer was available in five- and seven-passenger versions and with a choice of either rear-wheel drive (2WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). The trim levels were typically topped by the Premier, which provided leather upholstery, heated seats, rear parking sensors and the Sync voice-activated multimedia integration system. Main options included a rear entertainment system and a navigation system. One could also opt for second-row captain's chairs, which dropped passenger capacity to six.
In reviews, we found that the Mountaineer had a smooth and composed ride and respectable handling, due in no small part to the SUV's independent rear suspension. The latter was an important upgrade from the first model's live rear axle. This Mercury also has strengths as a people hauler, partly thanks to its fold-flat third-row seat that ranked among the roomiest of traditional midsize SUVs. Downsides include weak acceleration with the V6 engine and a dated dashboard design.
Past Mercury Mountaineer Models
The first-generation Mountaineer debuted for 1997 as the uptown cousin to the then-second generation Ford Explorer. The Mountaineer was initially unique for only coming with Ford's 4.9-liter pushrod V8, the famous "5.0" Mustang motor whose gas-guzzling habits were downright offensive. Things improved the following year when Mercury received the better of the Explorer's two V6s -- a 210-hp 4.0-liter -- as its standard engine. Initially, buyers had a choice between 2WD and AWD, but in '98, Mercury added a third option, a dual-range 4WD system.
The Mercury Mountaineer's trucklike suspension gave it a bouncy ride typical of the era, and although acceleration was adequate, neither engine was especially powerful or refined. Also, the Ford Explorer-Firestone controversy regarding tire tread separation and increased rollover risk applied equally to the Mountaineer. In the highly unlikely event you encounter a first-gen Mountaineer still wearing its original Firestone tires, you'll want to upgrade to better rubber immediately. The notable changes through this generation's run include the availability of automatic rear load leveling suspension and rear park assist for 1999, and a child seat tether/anchor system for 2001.
In its favor, the original Mercury Mountaineer's seating comfort and cargo room were always competitive, and its repair record stands above GM's or Jeep's entries. Overall, we'd say that if your budget limits you to a midsize SUV from the late '90s, the Mercury Mountaineer is a decent choice.