Opening and closing the doors on the 2006 Mercury Mountaineer elicits big wows everywhere we go. Well, it's not exactly the doors that create that wow factor, but rather the automatic running boards that subsequently, magically extend then disappear every time a door is opened or closed. I explain this to my children as being operated by Yahooty. You know Yahooty -he's the guy who makes the floors in our house creak when we walk on them, turns on and off the refrigerator light and was blamed today for spilling an entire bottle of purple body shimmer on the carpet in my daughter's room when she was supposed to be getting ready for bed.

Aside from being a great conversation piece, I'm trying to figure out what purpose the $695 "integrated automatic deployable running boards" serve. Here's what I've come up with: They might just increase fuel mileage via improved aerodynamics (OK, maybe not enough to even measure, but every ounce counts when I'm driving a V-8 and gas prices are what they are). Even better, the running boards stay relatively free of ice and mud, helping me keep the car's carpet clean. I can't keep the carpet in my house clean, but by gosh I'm trying with all my might to keep the car's carpet clean.

Sixty percent of Mountaineer customers are anticipated to be women this year, and we all know that we women are the real head of our households. Mercury was smart enough to integrate plenty of family-friendly features in the Mountaineer to really pull us in. Third-row seats that fold up and down via a button located in the cargo area prove to be very helpful in transforming this vehicle from toting carpool to toting garage-sale finds. The touch-screen navigation system offered for the first time this year (an extra $1,995) is intelligent yet useable even for those of us without advanced computer programming degrees. The DVD system with wireless headphones (another $1,295) keeps the kids entertained on long road trips, and again is one of the easiest to operate that I've come across. A reverse sensing system adds to the vehicle's safety and my peace of mind. Would you believe that every week in the United States 50 children are backed over by cars, most in their own driveway by their own parents or caregivers? (

Speaking of safety, the Mountaineer has what those clever Ford/Lincoln/Mercury marketers call the Personal Safety System. This system includes a stability control system with gyroscopic sensors to cut down on sliding and fishtailing. It also senses and helps prevent potential rollovers. The side curtain airbags have "roll fold" technology, allowing them to unfurl and slip between the car's glass and a passenger's head that might be resting on the window (read: sleepy backseat teenager on a road trip).

With my test car's overall price of just more than $40,000, I am slightly disappointed that the power-adjustable seats don't come with a memory system. My kids find the rear seat belt buckles difficult to use, and I'm not a fan of reverting back to buckling them into their booster seats after they've finally learned to do it themselves. I also find the "ergonomically" placed armrest ergonomically annoying and hard to get used to, even though this new placement also increases side-impact protection.

Overall, I enjoy my two weeks in the Mountaineer. With plenty of room for the whole family, plus the extra kids we seem to collect along the way, and enough flexibility and style to accommodate the other facets of my life, the 2006 Mercury Mountaineer is a relative chameleon of an SUV.

*For more information on the Mercury Mountaineer and its safety features, visit


LATCH Connectors: 2

Seating Capacity (includes driver): 7


Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample


Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some - Good Times