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.
I’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…
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”.
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.