Mercury Mariner Premier

The Ford Escape has proven over nearly a decade of production to become one of the most popular compact SUVs of all time by combining tough style, spirited on-road performance, and just enough soft-road capability to get to the mountain cabin, Boy Scout camp, or favorite fishing spot. Upscale models pass for elegant and luxurious, but there’s still a certain panache missing. That’s where Mercury polishes the rough edges.

A Mariner is essentially the same as an Escape, but with more upscale attire. I suppose it’s the vehicular equivalent of putting a Men’s Wearhouse suit on a factory worker and inviting him to a ball. He’s still a hard worker, but looks sharp in his satin finish grille, 17” alloy wheels, large clear lens headlamps, and chiseled in foglamps.

A signature of the Mariner is its two-tone interior with contrasting suede inserts for the heated leather seats. Large analog gauges and controls are lit ice blue for modern style. Ford’s SYNC system, co-developed with Microsoft, allows hands-free access to the navigation, audio, and through Bluetooth, your telephone. Side curtain airbags enhance safety. Some hard interior materials not quite up to class-leading standards, but look and feel good and will be durable as the years pile on.

Base Mariners come with a 171-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, connected to a five-speed manual transmission. That combination achieves the best gas mileage (20/28-MPG city/hwy.), however you may want to step up to the available 240-horsepower 3.0-litre V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission for a bit more gusto on the freeway and off the line. All-wheel-drive dispenses with the white stuff expeditiously. Stoked with the larger engine and AWD, expect fuel economy of 17/24-MPG city/hwy.

Riding on a four-wheel independent suspension, the Mariner handles and rides well for a compact crossover. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and four-wheel ABS brakes work well to keep the vehicle heading where you intend. Standing high on its suspension, the Mariner not only provides a command-of-the-road driving position, but also clears deep snow and obstacles with ease.

The Mercury Mariner and Ford Escape have been on the market for nearly 10 years with a series of facelifts along the way. Adding capless fuel filling is a welcome addition to the features list, and it comes with the right spec sheet, but the vehicle could be easily upgraded. Give it a bow wake grille, install LED taillamps, dress up the interior with MKS leather, and it would pass for a Lincoln that could rough it in the wilderness, a crowded parking lot, or Boy Scout summer camp. Price as tested came to $27,980, making it competitive with the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Jeep Patriot, and Pontiac Torrent.

by Casey Williams