Like the related Ford Explorer, the midsize Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicle was redesigned for the 2002 model year. The Mountaineer and Explorer use body-on-frame construction. Engineers devised an innovative independent porthole-in-frame rear suspension with half-shafts that poke through holes in the chassis. In addition to making the ride smoother, this configuration allows a lower step-in height for easier entry and exit, as well as additional space for the installation of a third-row seat.
Mountaineers come in Convenience, Luxury and Premier trim levels, which can be equipped with rear- or all-wheel drive. AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control is standard for 2005. A new Designer Series includes special suede interior trim and 17-inch chrome-clad wheels. The redesigned roof rack has raised side rails, and outboard seats in the 40/20/40-split second row are able to recline. All Mountaineers include a tire-pressure monitor, and an eight-way power driver's seat is available.
A redesigned Mountaineer with an updated exterior and revised interior is slated to launch as a 2006 model.
Built on a 113.8-inch wheelbase, the Mountaineer stands 72.5 inches tall and measures 190.9 inches long overall. During the 2002 redesign, the bumpers were lowered by 2 inches to make this SUV more compatible with the height of a passenger car in the event of a collision. Aluminum wheels hold standard 16-inch tires on Convenience models, while Luxury and Premier versions get 17-inch tires. Color-keyed body components and a moonroof are installed on the Premier edition, and upper models feature running boards.
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 a CD player and remote keyless entry. The Luxury edition adds dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and heated power mirrors. An in-dash six-CD changer is installed in the Premier edition, while adjustable pedals are optional in uplevel trims.
Cargo volume reaches 81.4 cubic feet when the second- and third-row seats are folded down. A DVD entertainment system for rear passengers is available.
Under the Hood
A 4.0-liter V-6 develops 210 horsepower, while the optional 4.6-liter V-8 produces 239 hp. A five-speed automatic is the sole transmission. Mercury also offers a flexible-fuel version of the V-6.
Antilock brakes are standard. Side curtain-type airbags for first- and second-row occupants and a Reverse Sensing System that detects obstacles to the rear while the vehicle is backing up are available.
The Mountaineer is more pleasing on the road than the Explorer, which is an impressive SUV in its own right. The available V-8 definitely delivers more oomph than the V-6, but even the V-8 gets taxed considerably in mountainous terrain.
The Mountaineer's ride quality is lovely, thanks to the nicely cushioned, highly absorbent fully independent suspension. Despite its gentler ride, the Mountaineer feels a bit more stable than the Explorer. Permanent all-wheel drive works effectively without any intervention by the driver. Full gauges are easy to read. Comfortable leather upholstery helps hold occupants in place.