Touted as one of the Ford vehicles designed to help "build a better world," the Mercury Mariner Hybrid uses the identical platform and technology used in the popular Ford Escape Hybrid. To recap, this hybrid system uses a combination of electric and gasoline power, depending on speed and how much power is needed, to motivate the little SUV. Using the carryover all-aluminum 2.3-liter DOHC Duratec I-4 gas engine (the standard engine for all non-hybrid Mariners and Escapes), the engine will shut down when coasting, at stoplights, or when crawling through slow-moving traffic. The resulting benefits are fuel savings and limited emissions. In conjunction with the four-cylinder engine, two electric motors help provide propulsion and supply electricity for the vehicle.

The main electric motor propels the Mariner up to 25 mph, then stores the extra (either generated or collected from regenerative braking) in 250 D-size nickel-metal hydride batteries stored under the cargo deck at the rear of the vehicle. Working with both gas and electric motors, an electronically controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission) manages the power to the wheels (front- or all-wheel-drive models are available), effectively eliminating shifting hesitations between gears. Technically, CVTs offer an infinite number of gears so they can respond instantly and smoothly, much faster than conventional planetary-gear transmissions. And that's exactly what we found when we compared the Hybrid's system with the gasoline 3.0-liter V-6 at the track. In fact, the Hybrid was well over a second faster to 60 mph compared with the traditional V-6. (However, hybrid versions do have a lower payload and maximum towing capacity.)

In the real world, we found the Mercury perfectly suited as a commuter vehicle, comfortably gliding in and out of traffic. During our jaunts, we averaged a combined 27 mpg. The engine buzzes a bit, and there's a noticeable shudder when the system transitions from all-electric propulsion to I-4; however, around town, the engine shutoff at traffic lights (even when coasting to a stop) is barely noticeable. One gripe: Mercury's Premium Audio package uses a nav/info screen that's far too small for the importance of the information it's meant to convey. A larger screen is a must for future models. As to seating materials, most will be impressed with the leather and cloth options as well as the insert and piping accents throughout. The overall package is a good value, but expect Hybrids to start at $30,000 and get close to $35,000 with just a few options.

Price range$30,000-$35,000
LayoutFront engine, AWD, 4-door, 5-pass
Engine2.3L/133-hp I-4, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl, plus 94-hp elec motor
0-60 mph, sec9.5
60-0 mph, ft133
On saleCurrently