Anita couldn't wait to get her hands on the 2002 Mercury Mountaineer. The dramatically redesigned sibling to the best-selling Ford Explorer is aimed directly at professional women and promises them that they will "Keep pace, Find Peace" if they buy the new SUV.

With that kind of build-up, we had very high expectations for our test Mountaineer, which cost $36,550 and came equipped with such options as new side-curtain air bags for $495, a $255 reverse sensing system and redesigned $395 running boards.

Anita didn't find the elusive peace that the Mountaineer promises. But she didn't freak out, either, despite some trying road conditions. And Paul says the new Mountaineer is much more stylish, improved in many ways, but still flawed. He's not convinced that Ford has figured out what women want.

She: So it's one of those typical days for me. I get up at 6 a.m., run a couple of miles on the treadmill, make the bed, throw in two loads of laundry, check my e-mail and run down to Detroit to pick up Buddy, great-grandma's schnauzer. He has an appointment with the doggie beautician. Before that, I stop in to see the psychologist, who is helping me figure out ways to simplify my life. So what happens? It takes me 90 minutes to go five miles because of a snowstorm and a jack-knifed truck. A true acid test for the Mountaineer.

He: Wait a minute. Taking the dog to the beauty parlor is part of your test-drive routine? Actually, I couldn't wait to try out the new and improved 2002 model either. As good as it is, I wish I weren't so annoyed by all the niggling warts.

She: Big picture. The Mountaineer didn't get me to Buddy's. I had to turn back because conditions were so bad. But I still think it's a terrific SUV with vastly improved looks over the old model. The instrument panel looks like it was created by a hip New York designer - trimmed in satin aluminum with snazzy new gauges. The outside is different too, with interesting work - looks like cleats to me - along the body side. But a couple of days after Buddy, our friend Dr. Henry brought his old Mountaineer over. We drove around and put them side by side in the street.

He: I'm still not sure I like the exterior appearance of the new Mountaineer, although I will grant you it's distinctive and quite a bit different from the new Explorer. I do like the look and feel of the cabin, although those snazzy new gauges are extremely difficult to read at twilight and the controls for the heated seats are foolishly positioned and difficult to reach on the side of the seat cushion. And as far as I'm concerned, they needn't have bothered with that new third seat, which is virtually useless and gobbles up most of the available rear cargo space.

She: Dr. Henry didn't like that third seat either. He said he'd remove it to make room for Morgan, his German shepherd. And he said he felt uncomfortable in the new Mountaineer. It really is an exaggerated remak e of the old one -broader in the beam, with a bigger and scarier-looking grille. Even though they're the same height and length, you seem to ride up higher in the new Mountaineer and it feels bulkier and harder to park. He's renewing the lease on his old one, Dr. Henry said.

He: Let's be fair. The list of improvements on the 2002 model is pretty substantial. The optional 4.6-liter V-8 is really powerful, although the gas mileage is no better than average. I'm impressed by the safety features - standard anti-lock brakes, the new optional side-curtain air bags. I also like that reverse sensing system, which makes it a bit easier to edge into a cramped parking space. We tested the Mountaineer the same week we had a Range Rover, which costs nearly twice as much. We almost always picked the Mountaineer over the Range Rover to run errands because it seemed much more inviting and easier to drive. But let's face it. Under all that satin aluminum and leather, this is still a $35,000 ck.

She: I like the Mountaineer, but the Lexus RX300 is a prettier vehicle and handles more like a car, for the same money. And as for peace, I'm still searching.

Anita's rating: Above average

Paul's rating: Above average)

Likes: Distinctive styling. Easy-to-use all-wheel-drive system. Powerful new 4.6-liter V-8 option. Improved running boards. New $495 side air curtains.

Dislikes: Crummy taillight trim (Anita). Instrument panel hard to read at twilight. Impractical third seat. Seems bulkier and harder to park than old model.

Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, seven-passenger sport-utility vehicle.

Price: Base, $30,610; as tested, $36,550 (inc. $600 destination charge).

Engine: 4.6-liter V-8; 240-hp; 280 lb-ft torque.

EPA fuel economy: 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway.

12-month insurance cost,according to AAA Michigan*: $1,086 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Louisville, Ky.