Like the related Ford Explorer, the Mercury Mountaineer was redesigned for the 2002 model year. Both midsize sport utility vehicles compete against General Motors models and the SUV lineup from import brands. Ford sells far more Explorers.
The Mountaineer and the less-costly Explorer use body-on-frame construction. Engineers devised an innovative independent porthole-in-frame rear suspension that features half-shafts that poke right through holes in the chassis. In addition to making the ride smoother, this configuration allowed a lower step-in height for easier entry and exit, as well as additional space for the installation of a standard third-row seat.
The Mountaineer comes in Convenience, Luxury and Premier trim levels and with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Mercurys SUV gained standard features, including a keyless-entry keypad, a compass, an outside-temperature display and power heated mirrors, for 2003.
For 2004, the Luxury and Premier models gain second-row bucket seats and a standard tire-pressure monitor. The companys AdvanceTrac electronic stability system is now available on rear-drive models. An Audiophile in-dash six-CD changer is available for the Luxury edition, while adjustable pedals are now offered in Convenience and the upscale trim levels.
Built on a 113.8-inch wheelbase, the Mountaineer stands 71.4 inches tall and measures 189.5 inches long overall. During the 2002 redesign, the bumpers were lowered by 2 inches to make this SUV roughly comparable to a midsize sedan in the event of a collision. Machined-aluminum wheels hold 16-inch tires on Convenience models, while Luxury and Premier models get 17-inch rubbers. Fog lights and a luggage rack are standard, while running boards and a power moonroof are offered as options. Color-keyed body components and a moonroof are installed on the Premier edition.
Seating for seven people in three rows is standard. The third-row seat folds flat for extra room. Standard equipment in the Convenience model includes heated power mirrors, a CD player, remote keyless entry and power windows. The Luxury edition adds a tire-pressure monitor, running boards, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and adjustable pedals.
Cargo volume reaches 81.7 cubic feet when the second- and third-row seats are folded down. A DVD entertainment system for the rear seat is optional.
Under the Hood
A 4.0-liter V-6 engine develops 210 horsepower, and the optional 4.6-liter all-aluminum V-8 produces 239 hp. A five-speed-automatic is the sole transmission available.
Antilock brakes are standard. Side curtain-type airbags for first- and second-row occupants may be equipped with a Safety Canopy. An optional Reverse Sensing System detects obstacles to the rear while the vehicle is backing up.
The Mountaineer is more pleasing on the road than the Explorer, which is an impressive SUV on its own. The available V-8 engine definitely delivers more oomph than the V-6, but even the V-8 gets taxed considerably in mountainous terrain.
The Mountaineers ride quality is lovely, thanks to the nicely cushioned, highly absorbent fully independent suspension. Despite its gentler ride, the Mountaineer feels a trifle more stable than the Explorer. Permanent all-wheel drive works effectively, without a thought by the driver. Full gauges are well calibrated and easy to read. Comfortable leather upholstery helps hold occupants in place.