The following review is an excerpt from an article written by Bradley Berman, HybridCars.com editor, originally published in the New York Times on Nov. 19, 2006.
The Mercury Mariner Hybrid combines the most robust gas-electric system available today—it will stay in electric mode longer than any competitor—with the body of a stylish yet rugged-looking sport utility. With its mix of digital-era sophistication and creature comforts, the Mariner Hybrid works so well that one wonders whether, if it had been more aggressively marketed since its debut in late 2004, it could have been the hit that the ailing Ford Motor Company so desperately needs.
If you’re thinking about buying a Mariner Hybrid, you might also consider a Toyota Highlander Hybrid or a Ford Escape Hybrid. Compare these vehicles.
Does the Mariner Hybrid have the rugged sex appeal of other S.U.V.’s? Is that even possible? Until now, hybrids could hardly be considered babe magnets or or hunk attractors. The comedic actor Will Ferrell, a Prius owner, has said, “In addition to being obviously economical and environmentally friendly, they drive great and are just plain sexy.” He tells jokes for a living.
Consider my brother. Fed up with the cost of feeding a gallon of imported fuel into his Range Rover for every 11 miles driven, he picked up a hybrid crossover utility, a Lexus RX 400h, instead. A year later, the drumbeat of teasing from friends and loved ones—they accused him of driving a girlie car—compelled him to ditch the Lexus and get another Range Rover.
He should have held out for the Mariner Hybrid. Its shape is pugilistic, like the Escape’s. It is square and muscular but has flourishes like accent grilles on the taillights and gauges rimmed in chrome. The Mariner is technically a crossover, but it seems solid and upright like a real S.U.V. Although the ’07 model comes only with all-wheel drive, a front-drive version will be offered for 2008.
Instrumentation is crucial to the hybrid experience, because the fun of a hybrid is using all available tools to get the maximum mileage. Ford’s system beats Toyota’s hands-down in its ability to stay in all-electric mode for extended periods. The Mariner Hybrid, like the Escape Hybrid, offers an expanded opportunity to use the gas pedal, brake and gears to juggle energy into and out of the rechargeable batteries. Want to get a full charge to the batteries? Accelerate to about 30 m.p.h. and slip the shifter into low (not actually a gear, but a tighter engagement of the motor-generator). How long do you want to stay in E.V. (electric) mode? If you use some Astaire footwork to accelerate slowly and evenly, you can nudge the Mariner to 30 m.p.h. without using a drop of gas. If you slip out of E.V. mode at speeds as high as 40 m.p.h., and your battery is adequately charged, you can give the brake two quick taps and slip right back into E.V. mode.
Certainly, few hybrid owners will take the time to learn all the tricks, but even the most absent-minded motorists are constantly reminded that they are piloting some seriously geeky-cool technology. When I employed all the advanced techniques of an experienced hybrid driver, I achieved highway and city mileage in the mid-30’s—not bad for an S.U.V. But when I drove like a fool, overall mileage fell to the mid-20s. The ultimate benefits of hybrid technology—savings at the pump, a poke at OPEC, reduced emissions, whatever—are personal. That gives much more meaning to the Mariner’s ability to stay in all-electric mode longer than any other hybrid. Ford’s engineers outdid Toyota’s in pushing the technology to the limit.
Unfortunately, Ford’s marketing department overlooked the potential of the Mariner Hybrid as a lean, mean, digital-era machismo machine. It made its debut under the same tired green banners and slipped into obscurity almost immediately. True, the Mariner Hybrid hit its sales target without breaking a sweat, but that is an exceedingly modest 2,000 a year. In September, former President Bill Clinton took delivery of a “Presidential Edition” Mariner Hybrid, inspiring this flight of fancy: What if Mr. Clinton was Ford’s hybrid pitchman rather than Kermit the Frog? A suave but serious spokesman might have let the American public see the Mariner Hybrid for what it is: a well-appointed, well-priced S.U.V. with best-in-class fuel economy and groundbreaking technology. It might even have gained recognition as the first great American vehicle of the 21st century.