By Bruce Caldwell
The big $4.00/$5.00@ gallon gas scare seems to have subsided in the wake of tougher economic times, but the push to save resources and “drive green” hasn’t. The fact that people aren’t panicking about gas prices makes now an even better time to purchase a hybrid. When crazy second stickers were in force they wiped out much of the financial savings afforded by hybrids. If you buy one now with a more noble green philosophy you’ll still end up saving the folding type of green.
The Ford Escape and sibling Mercury Mariner are essentially the same package with different wrappers available at different dealerships. Besides the hybrid feature these compact SUVs make excellent choices because of their size/Óutility/versatility features. These pluses are available at lower prices in the non-hybrid versions. The AWD models are ideal for the occasionally inclement weather around here.
Walkaround: The Escape/Mariner was freshened for 2008 so they’ve been pretty much left alone for 2010. Styling is conservative, but not overly bland. Our test vehicle was a handsome black clear coat with a stone leather interior. The light green color is both attractive and it fits with the whole ecology theme.
Interior: The interiors are nice in both cars, but the Mariner doesn’t seem proportionally better than the Escape. We expect a noticeable difference between siblings when one is marketed as a more upscale vehicle. Front legroom is fine as is rear legroom. The rear floor is flat, which is a big plus. The front leather seats had a single temp heated feature, although the HVAC system was a dual temp unit. The medium size sunroof was a welcome feature.
A two-part liftgate/rear glass accesses a flat cargo area. The space is a good size for common errands, but not for moving major appliances.
Under The Hood: A 6-speed automatic now backs the regular four-cylinder and V-6 engines. The Hybrid uses a CVT (continuously variable transmission). The integration of the 153 horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine and the electric drive motor was smooth and unnoticeable unless you were watching the instrumentation.
Both the hybrid and traditional power trains work well. The hybrids don’t return Prius level fuel economy, but we’ve still seen north of 30 mpg, which is great by any SUV standards. The hybrids aren’t made for serious off-roading, but then, how many heavy-duty SUVs ever see more than an occasional gravel driveway?
Behind The Wheel: The Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner Hybrids are pretty neutral cars to drive. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they don’t exude excitement, either. The seamlessness of the powertrain pretty much typifies the whole driving experience.
Whines: Fuel economy information is displayed on the navigation screen, so we had to divert our eyes from the road to monitor economy numbers. The interior had more hard plastic than we expected.
Bottom Line: The Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner Hybrids are a viable alternative to larger and/or smaller hybrids. They provide a good mix of comfort, style and fuel economy in a relatively compact package.