- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

Those willing to spend a few extra dollars for a compact sport utility vehicle should consider the 2005 Mercury Mariner. This SUV runs circles around others.

What impressed me most about this SUV is the interior; it’s very classy. I especially liked the blue floor lighting, custom-upholstered heated seats, and the terrific sound system with a sub-woofer that, with some music, enabled me to feel the reverberation. The system is called a Mach Audiophile with a six-disc CD changer and Satellite Radio capability, plus a 10-inch Dockable Family Entertainment System. This upscale interior also features an instrument cluster with bright gauges of dark faces with satin aluminum and wood-grain bezels on the center console.

Another touch of class can be seen on the doors. There are two-toned door panels with large, bright, ringed-speaker grilles in all four doors. The Mariner will seat five passengers in comfort and the split 60/40 backrest of the seat provides a lot of flexibility when it comes to hauling cargo. Access is through a rear hatch that opens wide, although the available space doesn’t run too deep. This area also features screens to protect the contents from the sun’s rays, even though the windows already are tinted to keep out the sun.

This SUV is similar to the Ford Escape, but there’s a world of difference in the interior material and the content. The heated leather seats are two-tone and the driver’s seat has six-way power, making it very easy to adjust. Even the leather-wrapped steering wheel has a nice feel to it. The wheel also has tilt and speed control.

Because of its smaller size, as compared to other SUVs, the Mariner makes it easy to negotiate traffic and crowded parking lots. The turning diameter is only 35 feet, similar to that of small compact sedans.

As for power, the Mariner has plenty. Although it is available with a four-cylinder 153-horsepower engine, I was fortunate that the test vehicle had a V-6 200-horsepower engine. The response to a tap on the gas pedal was immediate, ideal for entering a freeway. Also, with this power, I could go off-roading because this Mercury had four-wheel drive. The Mariner has an all-new Intelligent 4WD system, which automatically switches torque from front to rear as required by the off-road condition with driver intervention. On-road, the Mariner has a comfortable ride, even when going over some rough paved roads. Except under hard acceleration when the roar of the engine comes through loud and clear, the ride is quite comfortable and the interior is quiet.

The outer appearance reveals distinctive headlamps with integrated fog lamps. The body side cladding also has chip and ding protection, helpful in crowded parking lots where the door of the car next to you may open a bit too far. The aluminum 16-inch wheels and the chrome exhaust tip give this SUV an additional touch of class.

The Mercury people informed me that this beauty also features a high degree of personal safety with seat-mounted front side air bags. Curtain air bags are an option. One thing I noticed, however, was that, even though a light on the dash panel indicated when the driver’s safety belt was not fastened, it didn’t indicate when the front-seat passenger’s belt is unfastened.

The Mariner’s base price is $26,405, but with a lot of nice options, the test vehicle had a bottom line of $29,550, including the $590 for shipping and handling. The heated front seats were an option as was the sound system.

Also, the remote keyless entry and the driver’s-side solar-tinted glass are worthwhile features.

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