While there still may be little to really set the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner apart from one another, there are some notable upgrades for the newest Mariner model that make it better than ever.
The differences between the Mariner and Escape that Ford hammers home are in the small details. In each of the previous two years, Mercury has upgraded the Mariner, often in only trivial cosmetic ways. For instance, by offering a slightly better interior or sporting a larger chromed front grille and badging. For 2009, the Mariner gets both a boost in power and interior cabin technology. Being the only full hybrids in this class, both the Escape and Mariner can each be driven under electric power for short distances and at low speeds. Additionally, the engine turns off when you are at a stop light or stuck in traffic, conserving gas further. Because of this, full hybrids often get better mileage in the city than on the highway. As a consequence, the front-wheel-drive Mariner Hybrid is rated by the EPA at 34 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. Perhaps it is only perception, but unlike other small SUVs, the Mariner seems to be a more ruggedly capable vehicle than say the Honda CR-V or Toyota Rav 4. For instance, the fact that it can tow up to 3,500 pounds is a major advantage of either of those two other vehicles.
The Mariner Hybrid receives a bigger 2.5-liter four cylinder engine, that produces 153 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 136 pound-feet of torque at 4,500rpm. The car’s electric motor, part of the hybrid system, contributes another 94 horses for a net horsepower of 177. Like other hybrids, the Mariner Hybrid uses a continuously variable transmission that constantly matches the drive ratio to the engine speed. From a luxury standpoint, Mercury is slotted between Ford and Lincoln, however, the cabin of the 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid is only marginally nicer than that in the Ford Escape. Leather is standard, and there are small chrome accents. The upgraded interior includes a touch-screen LCD that lets you control the hard-drive-based navigation, Bluetooth phone, and the stereo. Ford’s “Sync” system lets you control those systems through voice, and provides full MP3 player integration. Finally, after fielding many complaints and investing many hours of research, Mercury has reduced interior noise by using thicker side glass and an acoustic laminate sandwiched between two layers of glass in the windshield as well as a redesigning the headliner with sound-deadening properties and utilizing thicker carpeting. The net result, according to Mercury, is a 20 percent reduction in interior noise at 80 mph. While lower trimmed Mariners and Escapes are virtually identical in price and amenities, with all of the bells and whistles, the Mariner can actually be obtained for slightly less than the Ford. With a base price of $29,750, the 2009 front-wheel-drive Mercury Mariner Hybrid is not as cheap as some other small SUVs. But it looks, feels and drives like it is worth every penny.