Until now, I've only tested how my bike fits in new cars, but now that it's racing and camping season, it's time to see how well they can carry the gear used on a typical weekend trip.
I'm no fan of SUVs, but the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid proved to be better than I expected. The rear seats folded down easily once I figured out you had to flip the rear seat bottoms forward. The load floor was just the right height for me (I'm 6-foot-1), and while that's subjective, I don't think shorter people would find it to be too tall.
Without folding the rear seat, I had plenty of space for a nice weekend of car camping, which is more stuff than I’d carry backpacking because I don’t have to carry the gear on my back for a few miles. The space becomes an issue when you carry a bike; you have to remove the bike’s wheels or fold the car seats to fit it in; luckily, neither is a big deal. Slipping a wheel-less bike into the back is easier in some cars than it is in others. The Mariner Hybrid was one of the easier ones.
Weekend Athlete Rating: 8 out of 10
The Honda Element is still the champ for carrying my toys, but I was more impressed by the Mariner than I expected to be. My gear loaded easily, and driving it was a nice experience; the blind spots were minimal and its overall size was manageable.
*Weekend Athlete is a new real-life car review series where our intrepid outdoor athlete Bill Jackson will push many of the cars we review to their gear-carrying limits. If you have suggestions for more test items, please comment below.