2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid
The Mercury Mariner shares its underpinnings with the Ford Escape, so the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid is mostly the same under its skin as the . Although the two have the same chassis and power train, as well as a fair amount of sheet metal, the Mariner does have different suspension tuning and a more upscale interior. But its luxury leanings don't extend to the electronics. The Mariner Hybrid's navigation and audio systems are the same as the ones we weren't impressed with in the Ford Escape Hybrid.
Like the Escape Hybrid, the 2006 Mercury Mariner is a full hybrid, capable of running under gasoline or electric power--or a combination of the two. It runs quietly in pure electric mode at speeds less than 25mph, and to further save fuel, its 2.3-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine can shut off when the vehicle comes to a stop. The engine automatically restarts very smoothly.
The 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid's list price is $29,225. But bringing it up to even a semiluxury ambiance requires the Premium Package. This package includes heated power mirrors; a navigation system and an associated fuel and energy display; a six-CD changer under the front-passenger seat; a retractable cargo cover over the rear area; side and side-curtain air bags; and leather seating surfaces. It costs a hefty $3,795. Add the $615 destination charge, and the Mariner Hybrid comes in at $33,635.The 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid is small on the outside, letting it easily maneuver in the tight confines of city traffic and parking. But its tall design gives it ample interior space, even in the rear seat. Headroom is especially good, and unless the front seats are all the way back, rear legroom is reasonable. The battery pack under the cargo floor has no adverse impact on interior volume, since the space-saver spare tire is located outside and underneath the rear, as is customary in trucks. As with nonhybrid models, the second-row bench seat is split 60/40 with flip and fold cushions, as well as a back, for a long, flat load floor when desired.
The 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid's interior design is contemporary international, with chrome-bezel instruments and silvery plastic trim on the center stack and the doors. Most switches and controls are backlit for easy visibility at night. The leather seats in our test vehicle, part of the comprehensive Premium Package, were more comfortable than average. But only the driver's seat is power adjustable--and just the cushion, with back and lumbar adjustments manual. Because of limited space between the seats and doors, access to the seat controls was difficult.
Unfortunately, the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid's dashboard electronics are not up to par. The designers of the navigation and information system should go back to the drawing board. First complaint: The audio system must be on in order for the navigation or information systems to work. Once on, the tiny LCD is hard to see because of its size and its low resolution. Destinations can be entered through the appropriate menu choice but not by positioning the map pointer. We did not find the list displays of street and city names to be particularly convenient. When we first attempted to enter a destination, the system thought it was in Texas; we were in California. Current-position accuracy was off by as much as 100 yards. Database access and route calculation were both slow, with average route-finding ability.
On a more positive note, the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid's user interface is simple, with well-marked hard keys for the radio, the phone, the display of fuel/energy use, and current location. Context-sensitive soft keys on the left side of the screen are marked by onscreen text. The phone button is still a mystery to us, as there is no Bluetooth cell phone integration.
The AM/FM six-CD changer held a nostalgic surprise: a cartridge-type CD changer under the front-passenger space. MP3 fans, or even people who burn their own audio CDs, will not be pleased with this system. It's difficult to access and not MP3 CD compatible. A note in the manual warns against use of paper labels on homemade audio CDs.Hybrids will be hybrids, with electronic devices that may switch on as soon as the car is unlocked--before the gasoline engine starts--and remain on after passengers exit and lock the vehicle. Many mysterious noises come from the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid at those times.
The Mercury Mariner is a full hybrid, and it can operate as an electric vehicle at speeds less than 25mph. The 2.3-liter gasoline engine is based on the similarly sized Ford Duratec but uses the Atkinson combustion cycle, in which late-closing intake valves effectively lower the mechanical-compression ratio in order to reduce pumping losses. The effective-compression ratio is less than 9:1 at low-rpm speeds for good drivability and much higher at high engine speeds for increased efficiency and power. It develops 133 horsepower at 6,000rpm, with 129 pound-feet of torque at 4,500rpm. This is less than the standard four-cylinder engine's 153 horsepower and 152 pound-feet, but the loss of low-rpm torque is more than compensated by the electric motor, which makes its maximum torque as soon as it starts to turn.
The permanent-magnet, asynchronous AC electric-traction motor of the 2006 Mercury Mariner makes 94 horsepower between 3,000rpm and 4,000rpm, and the maximum power from both together is 155 horsepower, from 35mph to top speed. The 38-horsepower starter motor does triple duty recharging the battery pack, sometimes feeding the traction motor directly, and controlling the transmission. There is a standard 12-volt lead-acid battery to power accessories, including the remote-entry system.
The amount of power reaching the wheels from the gasoline engine and the electric motor continuously varies and is computer controlled. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) that uses a planetary gear set blends torque from the engine and motor, and it sends power to the generator as necessary for recharging the 330-volt battery pack made of 250 D-size nickel-metal-hydride cells. A network of microprocessors--a main systems controller, as well as engine, transmission, battery, brake, and four-wheel-drive-system controllers--keeps the Mariner Hybrid running, mostly smoothly. Unlike four-wheel-drive hybrids that use electric-traction motors at the rear axle, such as the, the Mariner's Intelligent four-wheel-drive system is mechanical, sending torque to the rear axle via a computer-controlled magnetic clutch and driveshaft. It operates quickly and seamlessly.
Seamless is a good word to describe the 2006 Mercury Mariner hybrid system's operation. It's smooth and quiet at around-town speeds, at which time it can be hard to tell the power source without peeking at the power display. As with other hybrids, the engine comes to a halt when the car stops for any appreciable length of time and smoothly restarts when needed. Quiet pure-electric motion is possible from a stop at low speeds, slight descents, or on level ground. It can also happen at higher, steady speeds on the highway.
Acceleration at city traffic speeds is good, thanks to the torque of the electric motor. The CVT transmission means no shifting, adding smoothness. But merging on to the highway is another story: The engine sounds unpleasantly noisy and industrial, and above 45mph acceleration, it's more leisurely. It's not unacceptable or truly slow but not as enthusiastic as it is at lower speeds.
Hybrids have a reputation as primarily city cars, as the system works best at low and medium speeds, and the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid does nothing to disabuse this. We got around 25mpg on the highway and as much as 30mpg to 35mpg in favorable city driving. Our overall average was 28mpg. The Mariner Hybrid gets AT-PZEV (Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) status from the California Air Resources Bureau.
As solid as we found the power train, the same could not be said of the suspension. Soft springs gave a traditional American luxury ride on smooth roads, but stiff shocks delivered a harsh ride over poor surfaces. The soft springs also meant plenty of body roll in corners, although with its small size, its low center of gravity, and its electric power steering, the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid still handles better than larger SUVs. Attention to details in suspension tuning could work wonders.Standard safety equipment in the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid includes dual-stage front air bags, anti-side-intrusion door beams, the SecuriLock antitheft system, LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers Child) child-seat anchors, and childproof rear-door locks. Front-side and side Safety Canopy air bags are part of the Premium Package or are a $595 stand-alone option.
A three-year/36,000-mile warranty covers most parts, with a five-year/50,000-mile coverage for seat belts and air bags. There is a five-year/unlimited-mileage coverage for perforation, such as from rust. The 2006 Mercury Mariner's hybrid system is covered for eight years/100,000 miles.