In 2006, hybrids were beginning their rise in popularity. They were still somewhat rare, and I felt particularly lucky when I was asked to test-drive the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid. Fast-forward a couple of years and I’m a lot less naïve about hybrid cars. So it seems is Ford, Mercury’s parent company. The 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid has been improved in many obvious ways, and my second spin in this little sport ute was a great pleasure.
The two most noticeable changes are the Mariner Hybrid’s ability to run on electricity for a much longer time, and the addition of Sync, Ford’s voice-activated communication and entertainment system. I was surprised by how long the Mariner Hybrid could go with just the electric motor running. In nonscientific testing by me, the longest distance I could go on electricity was about half a mile on flat-ish terrain. It can go as fast as 40 mph on electric power only. The Mariner Hybrid’s general performance was nothing special, but it was perfectly adequate for my day-to-day mom-driving. The Sync system worked really well and allowed me to plug in MP3 players via USB or auxiliary jack. Of course, the USB option offers the most interactivity.
The Mariner Hybrid’s styling hasn’t changed significantly in the past couple of years (yawn), but the updates that have occurred have made it more attractive. Compared to the 2006 model we tested, some notable differences are a more prominent whale-tooth grille, larger headlamps, an updated taillamp design, and a sleeker body overall. I especially like the taillamps that have a more blingy appearance, and the larger standard tires seem to better suit this little SUV.
My favorite new exterior feature is the capless fuel tank. It’s not a sexy choice, I know, but knowing that I can’t pull away from the pump with my gas cap on top of my car is somehow comforting to me. Now, if they would’ve added keyless start to this baby, I’d have been all set.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
The Mariner Hybrid’s interior is comfortable and easy to feel at home in. I was impressed by how effortless it was to use the Sync system. It was a breeze to hook up my cell phone to the Bluetooth hands-free system (I don’t have enough hands as it is), and I even got used to asking the car to play a track instead of a song. The steering-wheel-mounted stereo controls were intuitive, too.
My kids only complained a little about the rear seats; the seats sit quite upright and don’t recline. The cupholders were also a bit of a stretch because they reside toward the back of the center console. Children who are strapped into their child-safety seats won’t be able to reach these little buggers. Just under the cupholders is a bin that’s too deep and narrow to be very useful. During my test drive it became a trash receptacle, but I’d probably try to avoid that because it’s difficult to clean.
At the end of my test drive, I discovered an interesting feature of the center console. It turns out there are two removable trays inside the console. The smaller tray and the much larger console “liner” can both be clipped into little notches found by the front passenger’s left knee and behind the rear cupholders. The larger interior liner extends the storage area into the backseat enough to make it accessible to kids who are in and out of booster seats.
IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid improved its Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash-test ratings to Good, the IIHS’ highest score. The Mariner Hybrid has front- and side-impact airbags as well as side curtain airbags in the first and second rows. It also includes Roll Stability Control; this electronically senses changes in the hybrid’s pitch and yaw (OK, I just wanted to be able to use that phrase somewhere in this article!) and corrects it with a computer-controlled application of the brake system.
The Latch connectors were easily accessible, but the tether anchor points are located in the cargo area just above the liftgate. The placement of these anchors could be distracting to the driver because it places a car seat’s tether into the driver’s line of sight when using the rearview mirror. A rear backup camera is standard with the navigation system.
The exterior keypad is a feature that enhances personal security and is more useful than I ever imagined. This feature comes in handy on family outings when someone must retrieve something from the car, or when you inadvertently lock a set of keys inside the car. Many Ford and Mercury cars offer this feature, and speaking from experience, it quickly becomes an owner favorite.
In Diapers: There’s plenty of room for baby and baby’s gear, too.
In School: My school-aged kids mostly liked the backseat, but they’d have appreciated seats that reclined. Make sure to take your kids along on a test drive.
Teens: Green is in, and it ups the cool factor of this cute ute.