The 2009 Mercury Mariner isn't exactly the freshest face on the block, sharing as it does a nine-year-old platform with its Ford Escape sibling. However, significant powertrain and other upgrades for 2009 help keep it broadly competitive with other compact SUVs.
Nine years is an eternity in the automotive world. For many automakers, that's almost enough time for two complete model cycles. Yet the 2009 Mercury Mariner soldiers on atop a platform that's entering its ninth year of production. Fortunately, a collection of important changes for '09 should prevent this aging design from falling by the wayside.
To be fair, the Mariner has already benefited from a rejuvenation in 2008 that included new sheet metal and a revamped interior. However, no significant mechanical changes were included. Mercury has addressed this omission for 2009 by performing the impressive twofold feat of increasing engine output while also improving fuel economy, thanks in large part to a new six-speed automatic transmission that replaces the four-speed in previous Mariners. And that's not all -- the suspension has been revised for improved ride quality, and 2009 Mariners can also be equipped with Ford's exclusive Sync multimedia integration system.
Do these upgrades pull the Mariner even with the best compact SUVs? Well, yes and no. The Mariner's beefed-up engines certainly help its cause -- the 240-hp V6 is bested only by Toyota's 268-hp RAV4 and Hyundai's 242-hp Santa Fe, while the 171-hp four-cylinder unit is also class-competitive. Fuel economy likewise puts the Mariner in the thick of the compact SUV race. The front-wheel-drive four-cylinder models achieve a satisfactory 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway, while the front-wheel-drive V6 versions nearly match that at 18/26.
Additional points in the Mariner's favor include a fairly spacious cabin and secure handling, as well as the availability of the Sync system. But in other ways, the Mariner just isn't up to snuff. Most notably, its rear brakes were downgraded to inferior drums in 2008, and the '09 Mariner continues to bear this badge of shame. In our testing of a similar Escape with rear drums, the best stopping distance we could manage from 60 mph was 154 feet -- at least 25 feet longer than average, and frankly unacceptable in this day and age. The rear seats are a hassle to fold down, as the headrests must be removed and the seat cushions flipped up before the seatbacks can be folded down.