You’re not going to find any SUV or crossover vehicle that gets 34 miles per gallon in the city. Even the smallest. At least not if it’s stuck using only an internal-combustion engine.
But the 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, a solid compact quasi-SUV chock full of mileage-boosting hybrid-electric technology, deals out 34 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, a rare combination of economy-car efficiency and upscale-rugged SUV styling.
Talking about hybrids usually means making a raft of comparisons with conventionally powered models to determine whether the extra fuel efficiency of the hybrid is “worth it.” If judged strictly by the monetary yardstick, hybrids are almost never worth it.
The front-wheel-drive Mariner Hybrid I drove had a base price of $28,750. It’s about $4,000 more than the most closely comparable Mariner that uses the same 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine as the Mariner Hybrid. But the everyday Mariner doesn’t have the impressive roster of electric components, such as the 94-horsepower electric motor, 330 volts worth of nickel-metal hydride batteries or the continuously variable automatic transmission that impart the Mariner Hybrid with its fuel-sipping abilities.
For those $4,000-odd extra dollars, you get city mileage that’s a rather staggering 70 percent better than the 20 mpg you get from a standard, front-drive Mariner. And Mariner Hybrid’s combined city-highway fuel economy of 32 mpg is a pretty pinup Bettie Page-enthusiastic spanking of the combined 23 mpg the conventionally powered Mariner delivers.
The Department of Energy’s fuel-economy comparison calculator (www.fueleconomy.gov) figures if you drive 15,000 miles, the Mariner Hybrid saves $353 dollars a year in fuel costs. At that rate, it would take you something on the order of 11 years to recover the Mariner Hybrid’s upcharge.
When gasoline’s twice as expensive as its current price (we saw that just last summer), the cost-recovery time is halved, however. Nobody really expects gas to remain just $2 per gallon, so the Mariner Hybrid’s payback is a more likely range of six to nine years.
So for now, the hybrid purchase can’t be exclusively about how long it takes you to get back your billfold full of dead presidents. Hybrids are an enviro-statement, your play to save the planet.
Maybe you’re not $4,000 worth of green altruism, though. In that case, there are some other endearing things about hybrids — particularly the so-called “strong” hybrids like the Mariner and Mercury’s new 2010 Milan Hybrid (and industry standards such as Toyota’s Prius) that have big battery packs and powerful electric motors.
For one thing, the Mariner Hybrid can hum around solely on electric power, at least at lower velocities. It’s empowering to creep along in bumper-to-bumper traffic without troubling the gasoline engine, or whisper through the neighborhood (if your right foot is sensitive enough) emitting not so much as a particle of combustion-engine emission. Or gliding to a stop at a traffic light only to have the engine obediently shut off to save fuel, while the deceleration simultaneously causes the electric motor to reverse its polarity to help recharge the batteries.
Don’t worry about the engine shutting off at will. One of the Mariner Hybrid’s best parlor tricks is instantaneous and near-silent engine starting. Until you don’t hear a starter motor grind and huff an engine to life, you won’t realize what a pleasure it is to have the engine fired without such obnoxious 19th-Century histrionics.
The Mariner Hybrid’s interior is highlighted by a unique and slightly technical stippling to the larger expanses of dashboard and instrument panel plastics. There are intelligently shaped storage spaces, well-considered major and secondary controls and only a few price-leader pieces; those mercifully reside mostly above and below eye level.
Ford claims the Mariner Hybrid as the “most fuel-efficient SUV on the planet.” I don’t think the Mariner’s really an SUV (particularly if its only front-wheel drive), but if you like hybrid fuel economy and prefer more utility than you get with the typical hybrid sedan, then the Mariner Hybrid is one of the most satisfying and affordable solutions around.
Next week 3-Pack: 2009 Ford F-150 Platinum
2009 MERCURY MARINER HYBRID
VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD compact crossover
BASE PRICE___________________ $28,750 (as tested: $33,040)
ENGINE TYPE__________________ 16-valve DOHC I-4 w/SMPFI
HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 153 at 6000 rpm
TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 136 at 4500 rpm
WHEELBASE____________________ 103 in.
TRACK (front/rear)___________ 61/60 in.
OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 175 in.
OVERALL WIDTH________________ 71 in.
HEIGHT_______________________ 68 in.
TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb) 37 ft.
CURB WEIGHT__________________ 3,669 lbs.
FUEL CAPACITY________________ 15 gal.
EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 34 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009