2002 Mercury Mountaineer
    MSRP
    $30,950
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    2002 Mercury Mountaineer Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    New styling, new engines, new independent suspension.

    Introduction

    Mercury has been trying to find its identity since 1939. The new Mountaineer is leading the way toward that goal and represents the future design direction for Mercury. Though it still shares all major mechanical components with the Ford Explorer, the Mercury Mountaineer this time around has made a major design break with the Ford version. Today, the Mountaineer is one of the most expressively designed SUVs in the business. 

    Along with the design comes an all-new vehicle: the 2002 Mountaineer boasts a new frame, a new independent rear suspension, a new front suspension, new steering, new seating formats, and a raft of new standard and optional features. It is by far the newest Mercury in the entire lineup. 

    Lineup

    Mountaineer comes in four versions: two-wheel-drive V6, all-wheel-drive V6, two-wheel-drive V8, all-wheel-drive V8. Mercury chooses not to use the usual model names. 

    The 2WD V6 retails for $28,730; the AWD V6 lists for $30,710. The V8 is a $695 option. No manual transmission is available, so all models come with a new and improved wide-ratio five-speed overdrive automatic transmission. 

    While all previous Mountaineer models were five-passenger SUVs, from now on, all will be seven-passenger models, using a third seat that folds completely flat to make room at the rear for larger cargos. 

    All Mountaineers are built to a relatively high specification, with power windows, mirrors and locks, anti-lock brakes, and a Class II receiver hitch for towing. All have the SecuriLock passive anti-theft system and remote keyless entry system, and approach lamps on the bottoms of the side mirrors that illuminate the sides of the vehicle when the key fob button is pressed. A standard battery saver turns off the dome light and approach lamps after four to five minutes. 

    The biggest option package is the Luxury Group ($1685) with leather-trimmed bucket seats, heated front seats, memory driver's seat, power passenger seat, memory adjustable pedals, message center, dual automatic temperature control, electrochromic heated mirrors. Leather-trimmed bucket seats are available as a standalone option with a six-way power driver's seat and dual manual lumbar support for $655. The power moonroof is $800, the neat crosshatched running boards are $395, the Convenience Group of automatic headlamps, approach lamps, illuminated visor mirrors and HomeLink is $476. A reverse sensing system that uses sonar to spot objects the driver may not see is $255. An audiophile sound system with in-dash 6 CD changer is $690, and side-curtain air bags that cover almost 65 percent of the side glass area and have a rollover trigger are $495. A Class III/IV towing package for up to 7300 pounds costs $395. A 3.55 axle ratio is standard on Mountaineer, but a 3.73 axle ratio with limited slip differential is standard with the Class III/IV towing package. 

    Walkaround

    To walk around the 2002 Mountaineer is to take more steps, because it is longer and wider than the previous model to accommodate both the third seat and the new independent rear suspension system. It is a brawny beast, its size tempered by the use of a new waterfall grille design, multi-element headlamps, and lots of matte aluminum exterior trim including horizontal cages around the taillamp assemblies. 

    Our test vehicle was painted in a mineral grey clearcoat metallic paint with a light mineral lower accent panel and a matte black roof rack, so it was very pleasing to our eye and postmodern industrial in design. The exterior graphics are all straightforward, businesslike block letters. 

    We especially liked the big over-or-under door handles than can be operated easily with gloved hands, and the convenience of the optional running boards that let passengers of small stature enter and exit all doors gracefully rather than leaping out. 

    We said at the top that we think the Mountaineer is the most expressively designed SUV in the business, and after driving around for a week in a virtual sea of them in midwinter Michigan, we are convinced of that. If a seven-passenger sport utility can be pretty or even beautiful, this is the one. 

    That the Mountaineer is attractive is a good thing because it is expected to represent the design direction Mercury is taking with its future products. 

    Interior

    Indoors, the Mountaineer benefits from the same liberal use of matte-aluminum trim on the door panels, steering wheel, instrument panel and dashboard. With gray plastic and gray leather to bounce off, the aluminum trim looks terrific. The aluminum trim extends to the main gauges, the tachometer and speedometer, which are done in black-on-white graphics that turn orange-and-white when the lights are on. The thick-section steering wheel makes you feel like you're in full command of the ship. 

    Ford is one of the best companies in the world at interior ergonomics, and the Mountaineer has a set of switches, buttons and levers that are large, well marked and easy to use. It takes only a couple of rides to be able to find everything quickly and easily. The center console is enormous, with lots of space for your stuff, and houses ventilation and storage for second-row passenger as well as an extra 12-volt socket for entertainment systems. 

    We sampled each of the seven seating positions, and while the third-row seats are a bit cramped for 6-foot, 4-inch testers, the second row was accommodating. The front bucket seats are very good, long, thick and comfortable. Optional seat heaters warm the seats quickly, but the buttons are mounted on the side of the seat and can be difficult to find, grouped with the seatback recliner handle, the power seat switch for fore/aft and the lumbar pump switch. 

    The second and third row seats are very easy to stow. Folding them away reveals a huge 81 cubic-foot cargo bay. The seats are easy to restore to their upright and locked positions. 

    Driving Impression

    With a new frame, new independent front and rear suspension designs, and new steering, as well as the adoption of the modular 4.6 engine in place of the old 5.0-liter overhead valve V-8, the Mountaineer V-8 has clearly moved up several notches in the SUV pecking order, and in our opinion hovers near the very top of the class. Throughout our wintertime test, we heard not a squeak nor a rattle anywhere. 

    While some of the torque of the old engine is missing, the new engine has a lovely intake roar at full-throttle, yet is supremely quiet and smooth, and works with the new 5-speed overdrive to move the 4430-pound machine effortlessly over flat territory. Long hills and mountains are another story, and here it's best to lock out the overdrive fifth gear and stay in fourth on the way up a long hill. By the time you work your way up to fifth gear overdrive, the tachometer drops well below 2000 rpm at highway cruising speeds and the engine is just there, in the background, working noiselessly until you downshift with the tip of your toe. 

    A major difference between the Mountaineer and the Explorer is Mountaineer's all-wheel-drive system, which is available with either the V6 and V8. All-wheel drive contributes to the Mountaineer's handling characteristics because it sends torque to the front and rear tires during normal operation. The Mountaineer's system biases torque 35 percent to the front and 65 percent to the rear to minimize understeer. (Understeer is when the front tires slip before the rear tires, causing vehicle to push toward the outside of a turn.) The all-wheel-drive system has no switches or levers and needs no driver intervention. There's no low range for serious off-roading, but snow, rain, mud, wet leaves, ice or gravel on the road are no problem. Mountaineer's all-wheel-drive system uses an open differential design with a viscous coupling. A clutch pack distributes the torque based on traction needs. 

    The frame is a great deal stiffer than before, and lets the independent suspension on all four corners soak up bumps, potholes and tar strips with equanimity. Another bonus of the rear suspension is the bigger, flatter load floor and the third seat. Without it, both would be impossible. Body roll is very well controlled in fast corners, and the all-wheel-drive system lets you hammer the throttle whenever you want without wheelspin, even in the middle of a corner. It's very confidence-inspiring. 

    A new rack-and-pinion steering system makes the Mountaineer much less prone to wandering on the highway than the old steering system. 

    Summary

    The Mercury Mountaineer AWD starts out at a reasonable $30,710, but options can take it over $37,000. Is a Mercury SUV worth that kind of money?

    We go back to the bottom line and say that you can have all the flexibility of seven-passenger seating, easy flip-down rear seat entry, a V8 engine for towing, a beautiful interior, and plenty of comfort and entertainment accessories for a lot closer to $30,000 than $40,000. 

    The V6 version, perfectly adequate for most families, is nearly $700 less. With judicious study of the option list and a tight fist on your wallet, you can have one of these for very reasonable money. We think it's one of the best all-around bad weather family cruisers on the market today, with style that will outlast the competition. 

    One drawback for buyers is Ford's 36,000-mile, three-year warranty, the shortest in the industry. 

    Model Lineup

    2WD ($28,730); AWD ($30,710). 

    Assembled In

    Louisville, Kentucky. 

    Options As Tested

    V8 ($695); side-curtain airbags ($495); Luxury Group ($1685) includes leather-trimmed bucket seats, heated front seats, memory driver's seat, power passenger seat, memory adjustable pedals, message center, dual automatic temperature control, electrochromic heated mirrors; Convenience Group ($475) includes approach lamps, dual illuminated visor mirrors, compass and outside temperature display, keyless entry keypad on driver's door, adjustable pedals, Homelink, automatic headlamps; reverse sensing system ($255). 

    Model Tested

    AWD ($30,710). 

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    Read 2002 Mercury Mountaineer Base 4dr AWD reviews from auto industry experts to gain insight on the Mercury Mountaineer's drivability, comfort, power and performance.
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