2002 Mercury Mountaineer AWD (369)

Overview:

This week I drove an SUV that I didn’t expect to like much. Although I’ve had good luck with Ford products, the Mercury line never appealed to me in my youth. I kept an open mind however and was pleasantly surprised when I found the 2002 Mercury Mountaineer a delight to drive.

I can see why they are so popular in spite of my personal bias and obvious questionable taste. But then I didn’t care much for the Pontiac Aztek either and found it to be popular. How about you?

This Mountaineer, introduced in 1996, is right up there with the competition (I’ve tested all except the GMC Envoy and Acura MDX). At this writing I’m testing the Jeep Liberty, which I’ll tell you about soon. In fact if you can use something a little smaller than this weeks size SUV, you may want to include that in your search for the right SUV for you. It is really impressive. I took it Elk hunting to places most people wouldn’t consider. It was fantastic. I think my sister and brother may end up buying one.

Handling & Performance:

Good handling and powerful. I tested the 4.6 liter 240 horsepower V8 and naturally the 4.0 liter 210 hp V6 will be that much less robust. If you expect to tow, the extra $695 for the V8 would make perfect sense. Rear independent suspension provides a nice car-like ride, and for normal conditions or highway towing up to about 7,000 lbs it is fine. But there is no low range in 4X4 for off roading. It is AWD, all wheel drive, so there is no selection process and virtually transparent to the driver. Again it is more suited for the road and not rugged terrain. 4-wheel ABS disc brakes provide sure stopping performance which is necessary for a heavy vehicle like this Mountaineer.

Styling:

Totally redesigned for 2002 because Ford is trying to distinguish it from its very popular sibling, the Ford Explorer. I like it better than the Explorer and surely better than previous models since 1996.

Fit and Finish:

It’s a Fooorrddd. Many of my favorite cars have been Ford products including my Model A sedan and 1955 Ford pickup. In my youth these were well equipped because I was thrilled to be driving anything. Life was simple then and all equipment was manual if at all. Today there is so much stuff you wonder how they can keep it all from rattling or fit together as well as it all does. This Merc gets an A for assembly in Louisville, KY. Nice job guys.

Conveniences:

Much more than I needed but thanks anyway. On the other hand if I were buying this car I’d have to think about including some of the options. AWD is a nice feature but you’ll pay an extra $2,000. 60/40 split rear seat folds away for easy access to third row seat.

Cost:

$30 grand if you go with standard equipment, and for those wanting a larger engine, tow package, running boards, side air bags, lighted visor mirrors, auto head lights, climate control with dual temp controls and reverse sensing system you’ll have to add $6,000.

Recommendation:

Save the six thousand. In fact if they’d let you leave off other non-essentials in your opinion you’d save even more.

The Competition:

Mercury Mountaineer $29-31,000, Acura MDX $34,700-39,300, BMW X5 $39-49000, GMC Envoy $29-34,000, Infiniti QX4 $35,000, Isuzu Trooper $28-36,600, Jeep Grand Cherokee $25-37,000, Land Rover Discovery $33-37,000, Lexus RX 300 $34-36,000, Mercedes-Benz M-Class $36-66,000, Mitsubishi Montero $32-36,000, Oldsmobile Bravada $32-35,000.

Good News:

It’s a Ford, handles well, powerful, nice re-design and 7-passenger capability.

Bad News:

Same lousy gas consumption, small cargo area with third row seating.

Standard Equipment:

4.0 liter V6 engine, 5-speed auto trans, power steering, windows, locks and mirrors, 6-way power drivers seat, antitheft system, dual air bags, remote keyless entry, cruise control, tilt wheel, luggage rack, air conditioning, 7 passenger seating, stereo with CD and cassette players, 4-wheel anti lock brakes, fog lights, childproof locks rear wiper washer.

Gas Stats:

14 City and 19 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $30,610.

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