Despite an update between the 2007 and the 2008 models, Ford upgrades the 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, giving it a big improvement over the 2008 Mariner Hybrid. Part of this update has to do with the advent of Sync and Sirius Travel Link, two technologies Ford is using to differentiate itself. But the 2009 Mariner Hybrid gets more than new cabin tech; the engine gets a little bigger, bringing in more horsepower, all without losing fuel economy.
The Mercury Mariner Hybrid, along with its Ford Escape Hybrid stablemate, are the only small full hybrid SUVs currently available. They each have seating for five and a large cargo space built on unibody construction. As hybrids, they can each be driven under electric power for short distances and at low speeds. More importantly, the engine turns off when you are at a stop light or stuck in traffic, meaning you're not wasting gas. Because of this behavior, full hybrids often get better mileage in the city than on the highway. Our front-wheel-drive Mariner Hybrid is rated by the EPA at 34 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, although our observed mileage was only 27 mpg.
Test the tech: Traffic avoidance
Although the hybrid system helps save gas in traffic, we would rather not be crawling along at 5 mph, staring at the bumper ahead of us, so we used the Mariner Hybrid's navigation system to see how effectively we could avoid traffic snarls. This hard-drive-based navigation system uses a touch screen and high-resolution maps. Sirius Travel Link provides traffic reporting, which gets overlaid on the navigation maps, showing traffic flow on highways and freeways, along with specific incidents such as accidents and road construction.
We tested the system during a stormy rush hour, where Webcams around the San Francisco Bay Area showed cars crawling and stopped along various freeways. From our offices, we first entered a destination south, down the Peninsula. The system dutifully calculated a route and showed the first turn as a bright graphic. A second later a tone played and the LCD showed a traffic alert, warning about flooding on the freeway. We pushed the button labeled Avoid, and the system calculated a new route that would keep us on surface streets a little longer, and enter the freeway past the marked flooding area. So far, so good.
Knowing that traffic was very bad over in the East Bay, we set a destination near the Oakland airport and watched as the navigation system came up with its initial route, then brought up its warning about a traffic incident along the way. But this time the incident was road construction on the Bay Bridge, advising that the shoulder was closed. We pushed the Avoid button, and the system told us there were no reasonable detours, meaning that the system considered all the possible detours too far out of the way. We weren't afraid of a little road construction, but knew that there was traffic farther along our route we wanted to avoid.
At this point, we pushed the Travel Link button on the LCD's bezel, and chose the traffic information screen. It showed a list of incidents along our route, letting us pick which one we wanted to avoid. Finding another flooding incident farther along, we chose to avoid it, and watched the system give us a good detour route.
Although these tests were all stationary, we experienced the dynamic nature of the system while driving. We were about 50 miles south of San Francisco, and had set our office as the destination. As we drove along the freeway, the system suddenly popped up a warning about an incident along our route. We pushed the Avoid button, following our new traffic-free route back home.
In the cabin
Although Mercury is supposed to be a mid-luxury brand, between Ford and Lincoln, the cabin of the 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid isn't dramatically nicer than that in the Ford Escape. Leather is standard, and there are small chrome accents. Our car also came with a leather-wrapped steering wheel. But the most impressive part of the cabin, the tech, is the same between both brands. The touch-screen LCD lets you control the hard-drive-based navigation, Bluetooth phone, and the stereo. But even better, Sync lets you control those systems through voice, and provides full MP3 player integration.
The Mariner Hybrid's optional navigation system is excellent, with rich maps that can be viewed top-down or in 3D. Because it is hard-drive-based, maps refresh quickly, making it easy to move the map around and select destinations by touching a location. There is also a fairly full points-of-interest database, along with other means of destination entry, such as address and freeway entrance. For address entry, the navigation system has an onscreen keyboard that can be switched between alphabetical order and the standard QWERTY format.
Voice command works very well with this system, letting you say the names of cities and streets, identifying your commands with a good degree of accuracy. Even better, the LCD shows what voice commands are available at any given time, so you don't have to try and figure out how to get into navigation mode. Under route guidance, the system shows big graphics to indicate upcoming turns and says the names of streets.
Sirius Travel Link is tied closely to the system. Along with the traffic feature we tested, it also gives weather information, gas prices, movie times, and sports scores. The gas price feature, one of the best data feeds in the system, shows gas prices for all nearby gas stations. You can touch a gas station on its list, and the system will show it on a map, letting you immediately set it as a destination.