2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid Review
A sensible SUV in a smart package.
The 2008 Mercury Mariner has been substantially restyled, but it may be what isn't obvious to the eye that matters more. The most important changes could be functional rather than aesthetic.
The outside mirrors, for example, are larger than before, offering a broader view to the sides and rear. Yet Mercury engineers tailored the shape so the bigger mirrors generate less noise as air speeds over them. The roof, too, is designed to reduce interior noise. Recessed channels running its length are intended to move air more quietly over the surface. Horizontal ribs underneath the panel add structure, which limits flex in the metal and reduces booming noise inside at high speeds. In all, it's part of the overall refinement that makes the redesigned Mariner a more pleasant place to spend time.
We're not trying to minimize the changes to Mariner's styling, because they're significant. The front end, liftgate, headlights and taillights are different. The beltline, or that crease just below the side windows, has been raised, and none of the major body panels are common to previous Mariners. It's just that the redesign is evolutionary, with the most obvious changes in the details. In a general, impressionistic way, the new Mariner still looks a lot like a shrunken version of the larger Mercury Mountaineer SUV. And while it may have a sedan-style unitbody with fully independent suspension underneath, the Mariner has a more conventional, upright, truck-style look than a lot of its competitors.
It starts with the big, bold, waterfall grille, which immediately attracts the eye from any angle on the front of the vehicle. The new grille is larger than before, with wider openings between the bars. The badge in the middle is larger, too, and there are smaller Mercury badges integrated inside the headlight lenses. There's more brightwork on this Mariner front and rear, but it's mostly a satiny, aluminum finish rather than conventional chrome. It gives Mariner a more understated, slightly more upscale look than the closely related Ford Escape.
That higher beltline creates the impression that the windows are shorter or narrower, promoting a pillbox effect that emphasizes Mariner's truck look. The taillights have the same eyebrow shape as the headlights, which helps connect front and rear. The lenses are clear, with read and white clusters underneath.
We particularly like a couple of features in back of the Mariner. A step pad on the bumper provides secure footing for anyone who steps up to put something on the roof rack, and the two-piece tailgate is handy. The rear glass can be popped open with the key fob, so dropping smaller items like a gym bag into the cargo area is easier than it might be with some competitors, which require hefting the entire gate upward.
The 2008 Mercury Mariner features a redesigned cabin, and it contributes considerably to its overall refinement, increasing its appeal. This interior isn't a great leap forward in any particular fashion, but it's carefully thought out and well executed. Ergonomic function is best in class, and the visual impact is good.
The brushed, satiny aluminum trim that abounds outside the Mariner carries over inside, and anyone who likes the effect should find the Mariner a pleasant place to spend time. The look and feel of materials are improved throughout. The headliner is plush and molded to the contour of the roof.
The base seats have rich, suede-like Alcantara inserts; the optional leather upholstery is thick and tailored tautly around the seats. The most impressive feature may be the woven-look, rubberized trim on the dash and console. It looks sporty and suited to a more expensive car. The low point is the grained plastic on the door panels, which feels hard and looks a bit cheap. Fortunately, it's not enough to overwhelm the good stuff most everywhere else, and many others fall down in this area as well.
The front seats are smaller than those in a larger sport utility. We'd guess drivers with wide frames might find them small. There isn't an abundance of side bolstering, either, but that makes it easier to slide into the seats, and there's enough to keep occupants solidly in place for the type of driving a typical Mariner owner is likely to undertake. For most drivers, the seat should have enough cush to prevent butt numbing and enough support to limit fatigue during a long commute.
Gauges are clustered in a shaded binnacle that can be absorbed in a glance: Tachometer left, speedometer right, with fuel and coolant temperature in the middle, along with an easy-to-read trip- and systems-info display. We loved this, because it includes a menu that allows the driver to easily cycle through and change features like headlight-off delay and auto-locking.
The gauges and switches feature Ford's corporate signature backlighting style, which the company calls Ice Blue. No gripe here, as the bluish white is crisper and brighter than conventional green-yellow or orange lighting. We're not terribly fond of the speedometer script, however. It lacks differentiation beyond the big even numbers, so it's hard to tell quickly what speed you're driving unless you are traveling precisely 20, 40 or 60 mph.
The dashboard is tall and squarish, but attractive. Big vents at the ends move lots of air, and there are two more in the middle near the top of the center stack. These can be aimed to avoid blasting the driver's hands or face with a rush of air. At the very top, nearly eye level, sits a neat TFT display that shows compass direction, date and time, exterior temperature and interior temp settings.
Measured by the placement and function of switches and controls, the Mariner is first rate, and examples are easy to find. When the driver rests his or her left forearm on the door rest, the windows buttons sit almost perfectly at the fingertips. With elbows on the door rest and center console, arms are even and hands rest nicely at 9 and 3 on the steering wheel. The mirror adjustor sits on the door pillar, and it's easy to reach when the driver's head is in driving position. One easy-to-use stalk controls the blinkers and all wiper/washer functions. Steering-wheel controls for cruise and audio work without moving hands from the driving position.
The primary audio and climate controls are even better. The volume and station-selector knobs are good sized, but more importantly, they are raised substantially from the stereo plate, rather than nearly flat to the surface as they are in many vehicles. The radial switches for fan and temperature are also big and easy to find. Picking nits, the pushbuttons to control airflow direction and the rear defogger are a bit small, but they tend to
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, click here: 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid.