? Have questions about the Mercury Mountaineer? Get them answered.
By Bob Golfen
September 19, 1996
With sports-utility vehicles taking over every sector of the known universe, Lincoln-Mercury dealers have been feeling left out in the cold. To the rescue, Ford designers have taken the eminently successful Explorer and turned it into a Mercury
Mountaineer. They loaded it with luxury-car features befitting its upscale role, and made it as suitable for a country-club gathering as it is for a camping trip. The Mountaineer is just about identical to the Explorer, the top-selling vehicle of its
kind in the nation, with external changes limited to a jazzier grille and mouldings, premium paint job, running boards, a molded rear bumper and Mercury badging. This is similar to Nissan moving its Pathfinder upstream to become an Infiniti, and Toyota
decking out its Landcruiser as a Lexus. In the upper end of the sports-utility market, where these tough critters are crowding out traditional luxury cars, the Mountaineer has a relatively affordable price tag, considering its heavy cargo of
standard features and amenities. The best part is under the hood, where Ford's classic 5-liter V-8 comes as standard equipment. On the Explorers, a 160-horsepower V-6 comes standard with the 210-horse V-8 available on higher-end models. This is
the old 302 cubic-inch mill that has powered Ford muscle cars since the 1960s, recently replaced in the Mustang by the dual overhead-cam 4.6-liter V-8. The Mountaineer and Explorer are the last places where you'll find the 5-liter, still a pleasing
performer with lots of muscle. With this brawny engine, the Mountaineer is up to speed with its leading competitors, notably the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Performance is strong and flexible, launching the two-ton four-door from stoplights and easily
pulling it up steep grades. Highway cruising is smooth and effortless, even with a full cargo of humans and vacation gear. Naturally, the 5-liter also enhances the Mountaineer's towing capacity. There is a price for all this power and
driveability, and that's gas mileage. Even in the sports-utility contingent, known for thirsty behavior, the Mountaineer is a heavy drinker. Although the cosmetic changes to create the Mountaineer from the Explorer are slight, they were enough to
provoke double takes and positive comments. The Mountaineer looks sleeker and more sophisticated. It would take some real soul-searching before bashing through the boonies in this splendid-looking vehicle. The Mountaineer comes standard as two-wheel
drive, with full-time all-wheel-drive optional. Notably, the two-wheel drive gets the same gas mileage as the AWD, according to EPA figures. The carlike AWD system, which uses a viscuous coupling to link up the front and rear axles, also limits the degree
of serious off-highway driving. Hard-core four-wheelers turn up their noses at anything without a rugged transfer case or low-range gearing. This system is more for dirt roads or snow than it is for hauling up the side of a ravine on a
Jeep trail. Like the Explorer, road manners also are very carlike, with decent handling and driving refinement befitting a well-turned-out automobile. Driving is enhanced by a new rack-and-pinion steering system that is precise without being too
light or numb. The soft suspension allows it to lean ponderously in turns, however, and there's pronounced understeer if you go into those turns a little too hot. On the highway, 75 mph cruising speeds are quiet and effortless. Inside
the Mountaineer is a lavish interior that would work fine in any luxury car, with a full load of power accessories, gadgets, cubbies, cupholders and a premium stereo system. Like the Explorer, the Mountaineer is roomy inside without being excessively huge
on the outside. There's also plenty of cargo space behind the rear seat. Targeting an upscale market, the Mountaineer takes its place among the luxury yachts of the sports-utility world while still providing the macho appeal a nd go
-anywhere abilities that made this niche so popular in the first place. Expect to see plenty of these vehicles on the road before too long. 1997 Mercury Mountaineer Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sports-utility vehicle,
all-wheel-drive. Base price: $29,240. Price as tested: $32,075. Engine: 5-liter V8, 210 horsepower at 4,500 rpm, 280 pounds/feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. Transmission: Five-speed automatic. Curb weight: 3,930 pounds. Length: 188.5 inches.
Wheelbase: 111.5 inches. Safety features: Dual air bags, antilock brakes. EPA fuel economy: 14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway.