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2011  Mercury Mariner SUV

2011  Mercury Mariner SUV

2011  Mercury Mariner SUV

2011  Mercury Mariner SUV

2011  Mercury Mariner SUV

2011  Mercury Mariner SUV

2011  Mercury Mariner SUV

2011 Mercury Mariner SUV - FROM $23,565

Though the 2011 Mercury Mariner has some desirable attributes, particularly in the technology arena, there are still better choices overall.

2011  Mercury Mariner SUV

What's New for 2011

Though the 2011 Mercury Mariner has some desirable attributes, particularly in the technology arena, there are still better choices overall.

Introduction

For a long time, Mercury vehicles have been little more than gussied-up versions of Ford products. And so it is with the 2011 Mercury Mariner, which is a slightly uptown version of the Ford Escape. The interesting twist is that this will be the Mariner's last year, because Ford has decided to discontinue the Mercury brand after 2011.

In some ways, the Mariner is still a decent small crossover. In the power department, its 240-horsepower V6 might be outgunned by the Chevrolet Equinox's 264-hp V6 and the Toyota RAV4's 268-hp V6, but it's still more than enough to scoot the Mariner around with some gusto. The base-model Mariner's four-cylinder engine is respectable when compared to the fours of its rivals in terms of output, fuel economy and real-world performance.

The Mariner also offers a number of high-end features unavailable on most rivals, such as Ford's Sync voice-activated multimedia system. Once connected through your Bluetooth-compatible phone, Sync can also provide traffic reports and turn-by-turn directions. The Mariner also offers features like an automated parallel parking assist system and MyKey (which allows parents of teenage drivers to set electronic limits for vehicle speed and stereo volume). Other Mariner strong points are excellent crash test scores and the availability of a hybrid model (reviewed separately).

Just as with the Ford Escape, however, there are still a few notable deficiencies in the Mariner's profile. One is that the rear drum brakes result in subpar braking performance. Another is the rear seats, which don't recline for passenger comfort and are somewhat complicated to tumble forward for more load capacity (although the load floor is usefully flat as a result).

For some consumers, these few demerits will be more than compensated for by the 2011 Mercury Mariner's many attractive convenience features. They may also be enticed by a screaming deal, as 2011 will be the last year for the Mercury brand. But we'd still advise compact crossover shoppers to also consider the comfortable Chevrolets Equinox, the refined Honda CR-V, the stylish Kia Sportage, the sporty Mitsubishi Outlander, the stylish Nissan Rogue, the versatile Subaru Forester, and the powerful Toyota RAV4.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2011 Mercury Mariner compact SUV is available in four trim levels: base I4, base V6, Premier I4 and Premier V6. As you'd expect, I4 and V6 models have different engines under the hood -- no other features distinguish these models from one another.

The base models come standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, foglights, privacy glass, full power accessories, air-conditioning, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a four-speaker CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio. The Premier models add rear parking sensors, ambient interior lighting, heated front seats, leather upholstery (microfiber suede inserts are a no-cost option), a power driver seat, a six-speaker stereo, Sync and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

Options for base models include a roof rack, a moonroof, Sync, leather upholstery (with heated front seats), a power driver seat and ambient interior lighting. Available on Premier models are a Chrome Appearance package (with the grille, 17-inch wheels and roof rails covered in the shiny stuff), side step bars, 17-inch wheels, a back-up camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, the Auto Park system (new technology from Ford steers the car automatically while parallel parking), full microfiber-suede upholstery, a sunroof, an upgraded seven-speaker stereo system and a hard-drive-based navigation system (with music storage, HD radio, Sirius Travel Link and real-time traffic).

Powertrains and Performance

The 2011 Mercury Mariner is available with either front- or all-wheel drive. The base 2.5-liter inline-4 generates 171 hp and 171 pound-feet of torque, while the uplevel 3.0-liter V6 cranks out 240 hp and 223 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. EPA estimates are about average for this segment, with front-wheel-drive I4 models checking in at 20 miles per gallon city/28 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined (19/25/21 for AWD models), while front-wheel-drive V6 models are rated at 18 mpg city/26 highway/21 combined (17/24/20 for AWD models).

Safety

Antilock brakes (albeit with rear drums), traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags with a rollover sensor are all standard equipment on the 2011 Mercury Mariner.

The Mariner earned a perfect five stars from the government in both front and side crash tests. In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Mariner scored the highest rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side tests. Unfortunately, the Mariner's braking performance is poor. From 60 mph, the Ford Escape we tested (mechanically identical to the Mariner) required 138 feet to come to a halt.

Interior Design and Special Features

The Mariner's cabin is a pleasantly functional space, thanks in part to a huge center console with removable bins. Satin-finish metallic accents and available leather upholstery add a premium sheen. The Mariner shows its age, however, in terms of comfort and space. Up front, the seating position feels upright and trucklike and there's no telescoping steering wheel, so you have the feeling that you're hovering above the controls.

The front seats are shaped well enough, but the rear seat is as flat as a pirate's plank and offers neither a recline function nor fore/aft adjustability. What's more, folding the seatback down for maximum cargo capacity is a royal pain, requiring the headrests to be removed and the bottom cushions to be tumbled forward, a consequence of offering a flat load floor. Cargo volume stands at a useful 29 cubic feet with the rear seat in place and 66 cubic feet when that seat is folded down ? not bad given the Mariner's relatively compact footprint.

Driving Impressions

The 2011 Mercury Mariner feels reasonably secure during quick changes of direction, and its ride quality is pleasantly supple. Performance from either engine is satisfactory, and the six-speed automatic transmission provides smooth shifts. Braking distances are unacceptably long, however, and in general the Mariner lacks that extra dynamic something that would distinguish it from other compact crossover SUVs.