- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

After a 1,240-mile trip in the new Mercury Mariner Hybrid, I have no complaints about the Mariner at all.

Things didn’t necessarily start that way, however. Knowing that hybrids typically give much better fuel economy in city traffic than on interstates, I had my doubts that the Mariner would yield higher than the mid-20s, but it was worth finding out. Consequently, I scheduled the Mariner Hybrid for a period when I’d be traveling in upstate New York. I considered at the time that, with gas prices exceeding $3 a gallon and with my need for luggage space, I wanted a vehicle that would be fairly economical and yet comfortable. I also saw the trip as an opportunity to give an SUV hybrid a solid, no-holds-barred, real-world test.

The drive from Virginia to Albany, N.Y., went through Harrisburg and Scranton, Pa., and onward to Binghamton, N.Y., and from there to Albany. The roads climb steadily uphill from Harrisburg to Scranton and then wend their way through the Catskill valleys toward Albany on the 435-mile one-way trip, thus giving the Mariner’s little 2.3-liter V-4 and electric motor a good workout. No attempt was made to “nurse” the vehicle on the trip, so the cruise control was utilized as often as possible by setting the speed at 4 mph to 5 mph over the posted limits — still well under the prevailing traffic’s pace, by the way.


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The Mariner swallowed up the luggage in the rear stowage area and left the back seat empty for incidentals like an umbrella and spare shoes. Up front, the seats were found to be very comfortable, and the climate-control system kept the temperature constant — as it should be in hot July weather. Its four cup holders handled water bottles, and the console compartments were more than adequate to hold cameras and sunglasses.

The long trip revealed very little difference between the hybrid and regular versions of the Mariner, chiefly the fact that the 2.3-liter V-4 is a bit “revvy.” This is to be expected from such a small engine, and it never produced any annoying vibration or noise. It just worked a little harder, assisted by copious amounts of extra torque from the electric motor. Ride characteristics were firm but compliant, and all systems functioned perfectly in extremes of heat and thunderstorms. The continuously variable transmission front-wheel-drive functioned flawlessly.



On the “civility” side of things we — and frequent guest passengers on side excursions into the Hudson valley — enjoyed the Sirius radio and navigation systems. The moon roof was utilized at times, as was the 100 Volt AC power point. In short, we got a chance to try out everything that the Mariner Hybrid offered, and its information screen delighted everyone.

The most important aspect of the test trip is the Mariner’s actual fuel economy. It turned out a very, very impressive 30.3 miles per gallon overall, far greater than I had estimated and even better than a lot of smaller sedans would have achieved if they were as fully loaded.

For my money, the Mariner Hybrid is a great choice for SUV buyers who want the versatility and practicality offered by such vehicles but also want good fuel economy.

When all those factors are considered, the MSRP of my test Mariner is quite reasonable at $31,000, but one can be had for $5,000 less if the buyer is willing to forgo the satellite radio and moon roof /leather/console packages. Considering the federal tax credit that comes with the purchase of one of these vehicles and the obvious fuel savings, I think it’s worth paying for the options.

The Mariner Hybrid is an excellent vehicle that asks for no compromises on the part of the owner. If you didn’t know it’s a hybrid you wouldn’t notice — that says it all.

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