Like the related Ford Explorer, the 2002 Mercury Mountaineer went on sale later than expected in early spring 2001 partly as a result of the Firestone tire debacle in the fall of 2000. Both midsize sport utility vehicles vie against new models from General Motors, as well as the sizable SUV lineup from import brands. As with previous models, both the Mountaineer and the less-costly Explorer use body-on-frame construction.
In response to past complaints about ride quality, engineers devised a new, innovative independent rear suspension. Described as a porthole-in-frame design, it uses half-shafts that poke right through holes that are drilled through the chassis. Ordinarily, those half-shafts would have to run either over or under the vehicles frame. In addition to making the ride smoother than in past Mountaineers, this configuration allows a lower step-in height for easier entry and exit. As a bonus, this design yields additional space for the installation of a standard third-row seat, which allows for seven-passenger capacity.
An increased track width should help to improve stability, and interior space is greater than in previous Mountaineers. Bumpers have been lowered by 2 inches, which makes the Mountaineer roughly comparable to a midsize sedan in the event of a collision. Side curtain-type airbags are available, and the automaker claims this is an industry first for SUVs. Mountaineers can be equipped with a Reverse Sensing System that detects obstacles when backing up. Offered in a single trim level, the Mountaineer comes with either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.
Despite minimally changed dimensions, the new Mountaineer looks and feels bigger than its predecessor. At 113.7 inches, the Mountaineers wheelbase has grown by 2 inches. The Mountaineer measures 190.7 inches long overall close to the measurements of the 2002 GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada and stands 72.1 inches high. Door openings are bigger than before.
Either 16-inch Firestone or Goodyear tires can be requested. Fog lights and a luggage rack are standard, while running boards and a power moonroof are optional. The running boards are standard on AWD Mountaineers.
Seating for seven in three rows is standard, and the third-row seat folds flat for extra room. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, an anti-theft alarm, overhead console, cruise control, a power drivers seat, privacy glass, remote keyless entry, rear-window washer/wiper, a tilt steering wheel, and power windows, locks and mirrors.
The AWD model includes an auxiliary climate control, as well as Luxury and Convenience packages that feature heated power front seats, two-tone leather seating, dual-zone electronic automatic temperature control, a keyless-entry door keypad and premium 16-inch machined cast aluminum wheels.
Under the Hood
Either a V-6 or V-8 engine can be installed. The 4.0-liter V-6 develops 210 horsepower, while the optional 4.6-liter all-aluminum V-8 produces 239 hp. Only a five-speed-automatic transmission is available.
Antilock brakes are standard, and the Reverse Sensing System and side curtain-type airbags for first- and second-row occupants are optional. Adjustable pedals and other safety options will be offered later in 2001.
If anything, the Mountaineer is nicer on the road than the Ford Explorer, which is an impressive SUV on its own. The available V-8 engine definitely delivers more oomph than the V-6, though the V-8 gets taxed considerably in mountainous terrain.
Ride quality is lovely, thanks to the nicely cushioned, highly absorbent fully independent suspension. Despite its gentler ride, handling actually feels a trifle more stable than the Explorers. Mercurys permanent all-wheel-drive system works effectively, without a thought by the driver. Full gauges are well-calibrated and easy to read, and attractive, comfortable leather upholstery in the AWD model helps to hold occupants in position through swift curves.
Like Fords Explorer, the Mountaineer faces considerable competition from General Motors and others. The third-row seat and independent rear suspension are a bonus, and new safety innovations also should help to attract customers.