The 100 Hour Test Drive: 2009 Ford Mercury Mariner Hybrid

Since I started driving, I’ve owned 10 cars: a Chevy Nova, a Chevy Malibu, a Mazda RX4, a Toyota Tercel, a Toyota Supra, a Chrysler Town & Country, a Volvo C70, a Volvo XC90, a Toyota Prius and now, a Toyota Highlander Hybrid. That’s a lot of cars.

mercury mariner hybrid 2009I’ve been to auto shows and certainly have the basics of car ownership down, though I’m definitely not a car nut or fanatic. In fact, there are plenty of things I’d rather talk about than cars. But then again, I like cars and enjoy watching the evolution of automotive technology, and appreciate a sexy new sportscar or luxury vehicle.
That’s why it was enticing when Melissa Smith of Automotive Media Solutions sent me this query:
“I am wondering if you would like an opportunity to document the experience of test driving a sporty Ford Focus or Mercury Mariner Hybrid for a few days?”

My initial response was that the Focus sounded interesting, but what I was actually thinking about was the upcoming Ford Fusion, which I’ve seen before and was very impressed with. Alas, the Fusion wasn’t available (it’s a 2010 model year car for Ford) so as someone who has many years of experience driving hybrids, I thought that the Mercury Mariner Hybrid would be an interesting experience.

And so, a few days ago the PR company dropped off a shiny new silver Mariner with just about every option installed, and we were off to the proverbial races!

I do need to be fair and upfront here. According to The Ford Online Car Showroom, the Mariner Hybrid has a base sticker price of $30,090 (which compares to the non-Hybrid which starts at $22,650), and as configured for my test drive weekend, $36,160 (plus the cost of the Microsoft-powered built-in GPS computer system, which I couldn’t seem to add on the online configurator, but it must cost at least $4000, making this car $40,000 or more).

Update: I got specific pricing info from the Mercury team. The car as shown costs: Mariner Hybrid FWD: $30,090, Premium Package: $3,595, Moonroof: $795, D&D: $725, for a total of $35,205.

Six months ago I bought my Toyota Highlander Hybrid (as documented here: Buying a Car in a Down Economy) and my out-the-door price was approximately $40,000 too, though the sticker price (the so-called MSRP) was closer to $48,000. Apples to apples, the Toyota is quite a few thousand more, but I think it’s still interesting to compare the two as hybrid SUVs, and that’s what I’m going to do.

Before I jump in, though, kudos to Ford Motor Company: It eschewed the bailout money from the US government and its sales exceeded those of Toyota for the first time in a long time. The Wall Street Journal reported:

“Ford Motor reported a 32% drop in U.S. vehicle sales for April, but the healthiest of Detroit’s auto makers outsold Toyota for the first time in at least a year.”

That’s quite an accomplishment in this extremely tough automotive marketplace.

Looking at the Mariner Hybrid

Enough chitchat. What’s the car like? My son and I took some pictures to share…

mercury mariner hybrid front view
You can see in this picture that it has the lines and heavy feel of classic American cars. I found that appealing, personally, but it might feel a bit overly masculine for female buyers?

mercury mariner hybrid rear view manufacturer plates
One of the most interesting things to me was that the car had “manufacturer” plates on it. I’ve never seen those before and I kinda sorta hoped that a cop would pull me over so we could chat about these sort of license plates. Ford will be glad to know I didn’t drive like a maniac and so didn’t get to chat with any law enforcement officers about this particular thing, but still, kinda cool, don’t you think?

mercury mariner hybrid dashboard
You can see that it’s a very nicely designed interior cabin with just about all the controls organized around the slick Microsoft-powered Sync GPS navigational system. It also has weight-sensitive airbags in the passenger seat, allowing my 9yo to safely be up front with me without worrying about the bag accidentally crushing him in an accident. As a parent, I sure appreciate that!

mercury mariner hybrid dashboard gps
Getting a bit closer, you can see how the nav system fits in. It really is very nicely done and there are definitely aspects of the design that are far superior to the Toyota navigational system I’ve used for the last few years (first in my Prius and now in the Highlander). What I don’t show is that the audio portion, powered by Microsoft Sync, not only has an AUX in for iPods or, I suppose, Zune players, but there’s also a USB port on the front too, for presumably plugging in thumb or flash drives with music stored thereon. [actually, you can see the vertically oriented USB port just to the right of the gear shift]

Far more exciting for my kids is that the Nav system can not only read CDs it can read DVD disks and if the car’s in park, play them on the screen. I thought my kids would explode with amazement when we figured that out. Very useful, but not a replacement for an in-car video subsystem that works when the car is in motion, of course.

On the other hand, I was highly disappointed when I plugged in a couple of different iPod devices and found that while there was a USB port, the Sync system had no idea what I’d plugged in and wouldn’t even let me control the iPod with its own controls, let alone from the console itself. When I plugged in my iPhone, I got the message: “This accessory is not made to work with iPhone”.

mercury mariner hybrid rear seats
Now the down side. The Mariner Hybrid is not a very big SUV and while there’s a nice amount of space in the back storage area, it leaves the back seats with less legroom than you’d probably want. Add a tall driver (like me, at 6’2″) and suddenly it’s like economy seating on a United flight: barely 6″ of legroom.

mercury mariner hybrid gas cap
Finally, a neat feature I hadn’t seen in other cars before is the “Easy Fuel” cap-less gas intake system. A neat invention and one that could have saved me a fair amount of grief over the years with my other cars.

Thoughts and conclusions

I have to admit, I really enjoyed driving the Mariner Hybrid. It had good pickup, felt peppy and was fun to drive. It seems to have a high center of gravity, however, so I did feel like it wasn’t hugging the road on turns the way my Highlander does, but then again, it’s not really a sports car, is it?

The GPS nav system is great, the car is reasonably comfortable and we saw approximately 29.2MPG driving around in the city and on the highways, so the mileage is definitely good with the Hybrid (the non-Hybrid Mariner gets about 20MPG). By contrast, my heavier Highlander Hybrid averages about 26-27MPG.

In terms of the “hybridness” of the car, the fact that the Mariner has a hybrid system is fairly subtle, actually. The Toyota has all sorts of displays that show you how the hybrid system is working, whether you’re using more gas or electric, when it’s recharging, etc, but the Mariner is sufficiently low key that I bet many owners never even realize that they have the optional displays and gauges on the dashboard.

The biggest problem I had with the car? It just felt more “plastic-y” than the Toyota. The dashboard actually pushed in when I fiddled with controls, for example, most noticeably when plugging in the AUX wire to play my iPod on the (terrific!) stereo system. This is not what you expect on a $40,000 vehicle.

Nonetheless, I think that Ford/Mercury has a very credible entrant in the hybrid SUV market with the Mariner Hybrid, and if your preference is a smaller hybrid SUV from an American car manufacturer, I’d say this should definitely be on your short list.

2 comments on “The 100 Hour Test Drive: 2009 Ford Mercury Mariner Hybrid

  1. I have to say, I don’t really “get” the whole Hybrid SUV thing. I wish Ford had given you the Fusion!
    We bought the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid in Spring 2009 (a select few were available early — in time for a great $3400 tax credit). Granted we have all the upgrades, but this car is not plastic-y at all. All leather interior & trim, awesome styling, my UBS port seems to work with my iPod (?) so I’m not sure why it didn’t work on the 2009 Mariner?
    We’re getting 41 mpg, and we haven’t optimized our mileage efficiency yet … Mainly, because we have been taking many extended highway trips over the summer and the car gets better mileage in city driving rather than highway driving. The mileage beats any other Hybrid sedan on the market.
    I can’t say enough for this car… I call it “My Precious” (a la Lord of the Rings). The biggest problem for my husband and I is that we have to fight over who drives it…
    This is a winner… It has the look & feel of a luxury sedan. I’ve driven the new Lexus Hybrid sedan, … you can spend the money if you want the nameplate, but I’d keep the cash and by a Ford Fusion!! ENJOY!

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