2004 Mercury Mountaineer
    MSRP
    $29,350 - $38,335
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    2004 Mercury Mountaineer Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    Bold look, refined comfort.

    Introduction

    Mercury Mountaineer presents a bold, expressive design. It's also among the best mid-size SUVs you can buy. Its innovative chassis and independent rear suspension offer a smooth ride. Its thoughtfully designed interior helps make long trips relaxing. There's respectable power from the standard V6, and more than enough with the optional V8. 

    Mountaineer shares its structure and most major components with the Ford Explorer. It's the Mountaineer's adventurous, architectural look that sets it apart. While the Explorer almost seems designed to blend into the suburban wallpaper, the Mountaineer demands more attention. It points the way to Mercury's future with its waterfall grille, while paying homage to Mercury's heritage of styling innovation. 

    Mountaineer was completely re-engineered for 2002, with 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. For 2004, Mountaineer adds even more choices, including second-row bucket seats and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Power adjustable pedals and an in-dash six-disc CD changer are available at all trim levels. Electronic stability control, which Ford calls AdvanceTrac, is now offered on two-wheel-drive models and we recommend this feature. 

    Lineup

    Mercury Mountaineer comes in two models: two-wheel drive ($29,350) and all-wheel drive ($31,530). Each is available with a 4.0-liter V6 or a 4.6-liter V8. All Mountaineers come with a five-speed automatic transmission. All have seating for seven, using a third seat that folds completely flat to make room at the rear for large cargo. 

    All Mountaineers are built to a relatively high specification, with power windows, mirrors and locks, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, and a Class II receiver hitch for towing. All have the SecuriLock passive anti-theft system and remote keyless entry, 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 five minutes. P235/70 tires are mounted on 16-inch machined aluminum wheels. 

    The Luxury Package ($3,700 with 2WD, $3,550 with AWD) adds dual-zone automatic climate control, audio and climate controls on a leather-wrapped steering wheel, two-tone leather sport bucket seats with heat and power plus memory on the driver's side, power-adjustable pedals with memory, a message center, a universal garage door opener, and color-keyed running boards, Wheels and tires upgrade to P245/65R17, with the tire-pressure monitoring system

    The Premier Package ($5,600 with 2WD, $5,450 with AWD) includes all that, plus a monochromatic exterior with satin aluminum trim, in-dash six-disc compact disc changer, and power moonroof. 

    All prices above apply to Mountaineers powered by the 4.0-liter V6. The 4.6-liter V8 adds $980 to the base model, and $830 to all other models. 

    Security Package ($795) combines Safety Canopy airbags with rollover sensors, and a Reverse Sensing System. The moonroof ($850) and power adjustable pedals ($120) are available as stand-alone options. Other options include auxiliary rear-seat climate control ($650), Audiophile sound system ($495), Sirius Satellite Radio (dealer installed), and a Class III/IV trailer package ($400). A rear seat entertainment system ($1,250) includes an overhead DVD player and a pull-down seven-inch color screen. The system comes with two wireless headphones, remote control and a universal jack. 

    Walkaround

    Mercury Mountaineer's expressive design is refreshing in a sea of comparatively faceless SUVs. If a seven-passenger sport-utility can be pretty or even beautiful, this is the one. 

    As mid-size sport utilities go, the Mountaineer is a brawny beast, its size tempered by its waterfall grille design, multi-element headlamps, and lots of matte aluminum exterior trim, including horizontal cages around the taillamp assemblies. 

    Mercury has been working hard on color combinations and offers a pleasing pallet. The exterior graphics are straightforward, businesslike block letters. Mountaineer hints at the design direction Mercury is taking with its future products, many of which are due to be introduced as 2005 models. 

    Mountaineer's big over-or-under door handles can be operated easily with gloved hands, preferable to the small lever-style handles that sometimes snap away from your fingers when you're in a hurry. Optional running boards are convenient for passengers of small stature trying to enter and exit gracefully. 

    Interior

    Mountaineer uses trendy matte-aluminum trim on the door panels, steering wheel, instrument panel and dashboard, and it 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-on-white when the lights are on. The thick steering wheel makes you feel like you're in full command of the ship. 

    This is an easy vehicle to operate. It takes only a couple of rides to find all the controls quickly and easily. Switches, buttons and levers are large, well marked and easy to use. The center console is enormous, with lots of storage space, and houses ventilation and storage for second-row passengers as well as an extra 12-volt socket for whatever you need to power. 

    The front bucket seats are good, long, thick and comfortable, though they are relatively flat, with no side bolstering. The seat heaters that come on Luxury and Premier models warm the seats quickly, but the buttons are mounted on the side of the seat and can be difficult to find and then distinguish from the seat adjustment switches; fortunately, an indicator on the dash shows when the seat heaters are on. Those adjustments include the seatback recliner handle, the power seat switch for fore/aft, and the lumbar pump switch. 

    Third-row seats are a bit cramped for 6-foot, 4-inch testers, but the second row is accommodating. Second-row bucket seats ($490) are available on Luxury and Premier. 

    The second- and third-row seats are easy to fold away, which reveals a huge 82 cubic-foot cargo bay. The seats are easy to restore to their upright and locked positions. 

    Driving Impression

    The 2004 Mercury Mountaineer hovers near the top of the class of mid-size SUVs. Its refined ride is partly a result of its independent rear suspension. 

    Unless you're towing or live at high altitude, you're not likely to need the optional V8. The standard V6 delivers respectable performance. You can hear and feel the V6 under full throttle acceleration. It isn't as smooth as Toyota's V6, but it is entirely within acceptable bounds. The 4.0-liter V6 with overhead cams and aluminum heads is rated at 210 horsepower at 5100 rpm, and 254 pounds-feet of torque at 3700 rpm. It was revised for 2002 with a new intake system for increased performance and aluminum main bearings for improved durability. 

    The 4.6-liter V8 has a lovely intake roar at full throttle, yet is supremely smooth and quiet. It works well with the five-speed automatic transmission to move this 4500-pound machine effortlessly over flat territory. As the transmission settles into fifth-gear overdrive at highway cruising speed, the tachometer drops well below 2000 rpm, and the engine is just there, in the background, working noiselessly until you downshift with the tip of your toe. Throttle response lacks some verve in hilly terrain. Here it's best to lock out the overdrive fifth, and let the engine rev a little higher in fourth on the way up a long hill. Hook up a trailer and you'll know it's back there when you head up a long grade. 

    The available all-wheel-drive system balances the handling whenever traction is limited. It does this by distributing power to the front and rear tires as needed. In normal driving, the 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 the vehicle to push toward the outside of a turn.) It relies on an open differential with a viscous coupling. A clutch pack distributes power between the front and rear wheels based on traction needs. There are no switches or levers for the driver to operate. There's no low range for serious off-road driving, either, but the Mountaineer's system easily handles snow, rain, mud, wet leaves, ice, and gravel. 

    Body roll, or lean, is controlled well in fast corners. The all-wheel-drive system lets you hammer the throttle whenever you want without wheelspin, even in the middle of a turn. Mountaineer is very stable and inspires confidence, a description that also fits the two-wheel-drive models. Its rack-and-pinion steering minimizes wandering on the highway. 

    Mountaineer's rigid frame lets its fully independent suspension soak up bumps, potholes and tar strips. 

    Summary

    Mercury Mountaineer combines convenience and versatility with luxurious accommodations. It's comfortable on long trips. Its features and ergonomics make living with it a very pleasant experience. Its available all-wheel-drive system makes it a confident vehicle in nasty weather. The V6 engine is more than adequate for most families, but the V8 gives it more power for hilly terrain, high altitudes, and towing. 

    Model Lineup

    Mercury Mountaineer 2WD ($29,350); AWD ($31,530). 

    Assembled In

    Louisville, Kentucky; St. Louis, Missouri. 

    Options As Tested

    Security Group ($795) includes side-curtain airbags with rollover sensor, reverse sensing system; Audiophile stereo with in-dash six-CD changer ($495); Upgraded Trailer Towing Package ($400); Luxury 4.6-liter Preferred Equipment Package ($4380) includes V8 engine, dual-zone automatic climate control, six-CD changer, audio and climate controls on the steering wheel, two-tone leather sport bucket seats with heat and power adjustment plus memory on the driver's side, power-adjustable pedals with memory, message center, HomeLink universal garage door opener, color-keyed running boards, 245/65R17 all-terrain tires on machined aluminum wheels, tire-pressure monitoring system. 

    Model Tested

    Mercury Mountaineer AWD ($31,530). 

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    Read 2004 Mercury Mountaineer reviews from auto industry experts to gain insight on the Mercury Mountaineer's drivability, comfort, power and performance.
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