The Mercury Mountaineer is a traditional sport-utility vehicle. Essentially the Mercury version of the Ford Explorer, the Mountaineer is based on a truck chassis for improved towing and hauling capability. If you have a boat to tow and a family to haul, this is a good choice.
We found the Mountaineer cabin pleasingly quiet on the road. The dash is trim and elegant and clearly communicates essential information. Multi-adjustable front seats make for comfortable commutes. Passengers consigned to the third-row seats enjoy more legroom than their counterparts in other, seven-passenger SUVs in the class. The second- and third-row seats fold down to reveal a useful rear cargo area. The front door handles and door pulls, on the other hand, are strangely placed and are at first awkward to use.
The V6 offers decent power and towing capacity. The V8 is better on both counts. Though they never feel quick, V8-powered Mountaineers are about as fast as anything in the class.
The Mountaineer offers a smooth ride, though it feels more like a truck than the latest crossover, or car-based, SUVs feel, with noticeable up and down motions on bumpy pavement. Mountaineer handles fairly well for a truck-based SUV, but is not as agile as many of the new generation of crossover SUVs. With either engine, fuel economy is also generally less than in most crossovers. It can tow a heavier load than a crossover can, however, and it offers better off-road capability.
At the start of the model year, Mountaineer carries over unchanged for 2007 save for different options groupings. Later in the model year, all Mountaineers will gain Mercury's capless fueling system, and two new options will be offered: 20-inch wheels and tires and the Mercury Sync communication and entertainment system.
Mercury Mountaineer 2WD V6 ($26,050); AWD V6 ($28,345); Premier 2WD V6 ($28,150); Premier AWD V6 ($30,445); Premier 2WD V8 (29,445); Premier AWD V8 ($31,740)
The Mercury Mountaineer shares much of its exterior design with the Ford Explorer. The design is highlighted by Mercury's trademark waterfall grille, with free-standing, vertical bars and a robust Mercury emblem front and center. The grille is flanked by large headlights that are an offbeat mix of curving lines and sharp angles. The front bumper holds rectangular fog lamps, a sectioned lower air intake and a satin-finish aluminum cross bar running the width of the grille. Fenders wear the same, edgy, machined-metal look.
The side view shows cladding over the lower door panels. A wide C-pillar separates the rear side doors from the rear quarter windows.
The optional power running boards tuck away beneath the rocker panels, extending only when the doors are open. We didn't care for them. They made a clunking noise when deploying or retracting. We also had to wonder about their long-term durability and whether they could get damaged in rugged terrain.
The standard 17-inch and optional 18-inch wheels feature designs exclusive to Mercury. Large 20-inch wheels will be offered later in the model year.
At the back, the liftgate is a two-piece affair, with the glass hinged separately. This lets you load groceries through the window, which is useful. The taillights wear clear lenses, with the requisite red glow appearing when brakes are applied or running lights turned on.
The Mountaineer gauges show only the essentials (speedometer, tachometer, fuel and coolant) organized within a recessed pod surrounded by a satin-finish, metallic ring. It's a simple arrangement, but given the Mountaineer's workhorse capabilities, as evidenced by the V8's 7220-pound tow rating, we'd like to see gauges for oil temperature and voltage. The dash is clean, though, with attractive, low-key, metallic accents. The materials are generally nice, though there are some plastics that smack of cost-cutting.
The stereo and climate controls in the center stack have large, finger-friendly buttons with or without the optional navigation system. The results here are mixed. The stereo and navigation system operate on separate power supplies, so you can have a map displayed without having the stereo on. That's not true of all navigation systems, including those from Mercedes. However, the stereo tuning function is buried beneath a sequential rocker switch, forcing you to wait while it scrolls up or down through the frequency band to find any station other than one of the presets. The navigation system screen could be larger, but the information it provides is adequate and accuracy is above average. On the other hand, with the navigation system and satellite radio, the Mountaineer, like other Ford products, has a competitive advantage. You can simply punch in the three-digit station of your choice, which is much better than scrolling through up to 80 or so stations to get to the one you want.
The front seats are comfortable, with adequate thigh support and bolsters. Overall, passenger roominess is competitive for the class. The Mountaineer offers comparable headroom in the front seats as the GMC Envoy and Nissan Pathfinder, trailing them by less than an inch; front-seat legroom betters the Envoy by an inch and equals the Pathfinder; front-seat hiproom is almost identical.
Second-row head- and legroom is comparable to the Envoy, but the Mountaineer offers significantly 2.5 inches more legroom than the Pathfinder's second row, a noticeable difference. However, the Mountaineer doesn't have nearly as much second-row hiproom as the Envoy and Pathfinder do. The middle-row bench seat has full seatbelts for three but head restraints for only the outboard passengers.
The third-row seats in the Mountaineer are significantly roomier than those in the competition', with nearly three inches more legroom than Envoy and more than six inches over the Pathfinder. Headroom and hiproom are comparable. The third row is a bench seat with minimal padding and fixed-height head restraints, which loom large in the back window; they do collapse, but only by tugging a loop hanging out the backside. Much better are the optional third-row seats that can be power-folded via two rocker buttons in the rear cargo area, directly below a thoughtfully provided button for power central locking.
Accessing the third row is a three-step process that doesn't strike us as all that secure. First, you pull a strap that releases the head restraints so they fold forward. Then you pull up on a stiff lever to fold the seatback down on the seat bottom. And then you lift the heavy seat assembly, rocking it forward toward the front seats, where it parks, unrestrained, while people crawl into and out of the third row seats. If you lean on it while climbing out, it can rock back, and possibly hit your foot.
We like the look of some of the light-colored interiors, though we're concerned they'll get dirty. The light-colored, suede-like inserts attract dirt like a magnet and, once dirtied, are a hassle to spruce up.
Mercury's Sync communications and entertainment system, due later in the model year, can recognize Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, access their phonebooks, and play calls and read text messages through the speakers. It also has a USB interface to connect with iPods and other MP3 players. Voice commands and/
The Mercury Mountaineer's available V8 engine makes 292 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, but that torque peaks on the high side of the rev range and the truck is heavy. For those reasons, we weren't overwhelmed by the response from the V8 when we prodded the accelerator, whether from a stop light or when passing on a two-lane road. The six-speed automatic transmission compensates somewhat, but not enough to impress. Still, with the V8, the Mountaineer is capable of 0-60 mph sprints in less than eight seconds, making it competitive for the class. The V8 gets an EPA-estimated 13/20 mpg with 2WD, 13/19 mpg with 4WD.
The V6 engine makes 210 horsepower and an impressive 254 pound-feet of torque. It comes with a five-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain provides good around-town power and offers decent pickup from a stop, but is lacking in passing punch. The V6's torque allows it to tow up to 5295 pounds, while the V8 can tow a maximum load of 7220 pounds. The V6 gets an EPA-estimated 14/20 mpg with 2WD, 13/19 mpg with 4WD.
As with the Explorer, we noticed some slack in the drivetrain in some situations. After stopping for a stop sign then stepping on the gas, there was a momentary lag, as if we were waiting for the driveline hook up. This was annoying.
The Mountaineer rides about as well as a GMC Envoy, but handles a bit better. The ride is supple, though the Mountainer's high stance means it can bound over bumps. It tracks relatively well on level, straight roads. While it leans corners, it isn't as excessive as in the Envoy. When pushed, however, the Mountaineer plows as readily as any top-heavy SUV. The steering is responsive and offers good feel.
While the Mountaineer rides smoothly and handles fairly well for a truck-based sport-utility, most crossover-type SUVs ride and handle better while also getting better fuel economy.
The all-wheel-drive system in the Mountaineer is more for conquering the snowy parking lot at a ski resort and maintaining controlled headway in downpours than for tackling rock-strewn terrain. And by that measure, it's quite competent. In the same vein, it's also just as good as the Envoy. Off road, it can't stay with a Nissan Pathfinder or Toyota 4Runner or Jeep Grand Cherokee.
At speed on pavement, there's some wind noise, but not enough to detract in the least from the stereo. Both engines emit a breathy growl that is well muffled, and road noise is decently muted.
The Mercury Mountaineer offers a comfortable ride and lots of interior space for passengers and cargo. Handling isn't as precise as in the new generation of crossover SUVs, but the Mountaineer feels more sure-footed than the GMC Envoy. The accommodations are nice overall. If you're looking for a daily commuter for the family, a crossover may be a better choice. But if you need towing capacity, the Mountaineer is a worthy competitor.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Sacramento, California, with Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago, and Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.