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2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid

Martha Hindes

Mercury Mariner Hybrid
Mercury Mariner Hybrid  Interior

It's only fitting that a distinctive characteristic of the nautical sounding Mercury Mariner full hybrid is its definitive waterfall grille. Smartly tailored. Eye catching and uncluttered in style. It helps set the tone that this is not just an imitation version of the Ford Escape hybrid, but a clearly classy hybrid of its own.

After a year of success with Escape, it was time for Ford, in '06, to move in a more refined direction, capturing import intenders before they could move to offshore brands in their quest to go green. Escape will get you into a sporty hybrid SUV. Mariner will get you there with elegant upmarket style. It's not a surprising entry from an auto company that's been stressing "environment" with its green manufacturing facilities and most recently, its participation in the development of a Midwest alternative fuel "ethanol corridor."

Upscale is clearly the direction earth friendly vehicles have been moving with growing publicity, acceptance, and the stark realization something does need to be done to help the planet on a personal level. But Mercury and its compatriots are more than feel good cars. They really do make gains in fuel economy, and in filtering out polluting emissions as the industry stretches toward its ultimate goal of vehicles powered by fuel cell propulsion systems that leave nothing but water vapor in their wake. Parent Ford's also working on clean diesels, hydrogen IC engines, and fuel cells.

Under the skin of the Mariner, there's the same foundation as the Escape, including a gasoline-electric combo of power sources that, blended, allow it to function at its ultimate level of clean 33/29 MPG efficiency while leaving room for enough performance to tow 1,000 pounds. Base of the system is Ford's 2.3-liter four-cylinder Duratec engine, paired with two electric motors that alternate between expending and generating electricity. Engine and motors work in concert for quick acceleration. But Mariner can run on a blend of both or glide on electric power alone. Electricity regenerates from the functions of driving, coasting and braking that begins the instant the driver's foot moves off the gas pedal. There's no outlet to plug into to fill the "electric fuel tank" nickel-metal-hydride battery pack under a flat cargo floor. Mariner creates its own.

Interior treatments are upscale, with leather and satin aluminum trim among expected luxurious amenities. The suspension is tuned to provide expected high end agile road manners while sipping lightly on fuel. With an expected max battery life of 10-years or 150,000 miles, one can enjoy driving an SUV for five with a clear conscience.