Mercury Mariner Premier Review

Somewhat lost in the hype over the Ford Escape Hybrid is how good a vehicle that is even without the super-green powertrain.

Its fraternal twin, the Mercury Mariner Premier came to TireKicker Villa for a week's stay recently and made its case for the traditional good life.

You see, the Escape Hybrid I tested last summer was a base model with just one option...Ford and Microsoft's SYNC audio system.

The Premier came loaded...nearly six grand worth of options including heated mirrors and seats, 17 inch painted aluminum wheels, moonroof, a mini-overhead console with map light, the rear cargo convenience package, a navigation and audiophile music system, dual zone climate control and a reverse sensing system.

The moonroof gets a "Moon & Tune" discount (that's what they call it on the window sticker) of $395, so with $725 in delivery charges, the Mariner bottom-lined at $29,670...a stone's throw from the as-tested price of the Escape Hybrid.

Ah, you say....but you're giving up all that fuel economy. Well, yes and no.

Hybrids are designed to deliver the biggest improvements in fuel economy in the city, where the electric engine can often take over completely in low-speed driving (or crawling, as commuters on L.A.'s 405 freeway might know it).

Often, hybrids' EPA estimates are the reverse of normal cars...higher in city than on the highway. That's the case for the Ford Escape Hybrid...34 city/30 highway.

At 20 city, the loaded Mariner (even with the four-cylinder engine our tester had) uses a lot more fuel.

But what if you do mostly highway (or uncongested city freeway) driving? Well, then things get interesting...because the Mariner's EPA estimate is 28...only two mpg less than the Hybrid (which, by the way, you can get in the Mariner as well).

If your driving tips the scales toward highway, then a loaded Mariner with a gasoline four, selling for a grand or so less than a base Escape Hybrid with SYNC (though the tax credit pretty much makes it a wash) might make as much or more sense. Less complexity...less uncertainty about what the bill might be when the battery pack fails after the warranty runs out.

Your call. They're both very good small SUVs.

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