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Mariner is a charming copycat

He Drove, She Drove

Mariner is a charming copycat

By Paul & Anita Lienert / Special to The Detroit News

When you can buy a Ford Escape for $20,000 or a Mercury Mountaineer for $30,000, the case for purchasing a new 2005 Mercury Mariner can generate considerable heated debate in some households.

And with so many other outstanding utility vehicles crowded into this bulging segment, the Mariner's appeal comes under even more scrutiny.

We tested a top-of-the-line 2005 Mariner Premier 4WD priced at $27,845, with only two options--a reverse sensing system ($255) and side air bags and curtains ($595).

SHE: The Mariner has got one of the prettiest little cabins in the class, especially if you get the Premier model with the perforated suede-like inserts in the door panels and seats and the dark wood trim. It's a pleasure to be behind the wheel of this good-looking SUV.

HE: But the Mariner is something of a poseur. It's really nothing more than a garden-variety Ford Escape in mild disguise. Let's face it. The Mariner is basically an Escape with a different grille, plus a few more interior frills-- sort of like gilding the dandelion. I suppose that's a little harsh, but I'm looking at all the other great vehicles you can buy for $28,000 or less, including the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Jeep Grand Cherokee. For that kind of money, the Mariner doesn't even come close. Heck you can get a BMW X3 for just over $30,000. Time for Ford to go back to school on this one.

SHE: Granted, there were some things about the Mariner that irritated me, too, especially the rear seat. It's got no vents, no individual reading lights and no hooks for the dry cleaning. OK, the hook for the dry cleaning is located in the cargo area, which seems like a dumb place. But I keep looking at my notes and remembering all the stuff I loved about the Mariner. And how easy it was to live in. It's a snap to whip it into tight parking spaces. And the visibility is excellent, especially with the three-window design on either side. We had several test vehicles in our driveway the week we had the Mariner, and I invariably ended up in the little Mercury because I felt so at home in it.

HE: I felt so cramped in it, especially when I was forced to ride in the back seat, which has barely enough room for a large male, let alone three average-size adults. I have some other issues, too, which the Mariner shares with the Escape, including that anemic 3.0-liter V-6, which runs out of steam way too soon for comfort. It's mated to an old-fashioned four-speed automatic transmission, so the performance is merely average and the fuel economy is only so-so. In fact, we averaged only three miles per gallon better than we did in a big Dodge Dakota Quad Cab pickup with a 4.7-liter V-8. On the upside, the Mariner, like the Escape, offers a pretty decent ride with good control, thanks in part to its four-wheel independent suspension.

SHE: I think you're steering people wrong. The Mariner isn't below average, as you suggest. It's very competitive against products like the Jeep Liberty and the Hyundai Santa Fe. I think the exterior design should appeal to men, too, because that grille makes the Mariner look like a mini armored tank.

HE: Uh, how about a girl's idea of what a mini armored tank should look like.

SHE: Single women and empty nesters should feel just fine in the Mariner. And because it's a Mercury, it won't be as ubiquitous on the road as an Escape. It's a little more exclusive. And that surely is worth a modest premium.

2005 Mercury Mariner Premier 4WD

Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger utility vehicle

Price: Base, $26,995 (inc. $590 destination charge); as tested, $27,845

Engine: 3.0-liter V-6; 200-hp; 193 lb-ft torque

EPA fuel economy: 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway

Where built: Avon Lake, Ohio

Key competitors: BMW X3, Buick Rendezvous, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sorento, Kia Sportage, Land Rover Freelander, Mazda Tribute, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Murano, Nissan Xterra, Saturn Vue, Subaru Forester, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Suzuki XL-7, Toyota RAV4

12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,539 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)!



Likes: Pleasant, if not groundbreaking exterior design. Bold grille lends a hint of armored tank appearance. Easy-to-read gauges. Gorgeous cabin on Premier model. Excellent visibility with three side windows.

/Dislikes: Overhead console looks and feels cheap. Sub-par rear-seat amenities. Driver's seat has power fore/aft control, but manual seat back recline. Complicated to fold rear seats.!



Likes: Pleasant ride. Lots of amenities. Easy to operate.

Dislikes: Optional V-6 runs out of steam too soon. So-so fuel economy. Side air bags cost $595 extra. Can buy a BMW X3 for only $3,000 more. A Ford Escape with a different grille. Plastic pushbutton fell off shift lever. Not enough rear-seat legroom. Rear seat lacks grab handles.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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