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2003 Mercury Mountaineer Premiere

An Explorer In Business Attire    

     A rebadged Explorer? Well, yes, but also no. Consider the Mountaineer as an Explorer in business attire. It is worth a good first look, but don’t expect excess attention. We found that few heads turned when our Ceramic White tester came rolling through town. Soccer moms will appreciate the 7 passenger seating and dad will like the ruggedly upscale looks.
     At $40,035 our Mountaineer Premiere came well equipped. Standard features included the 4.6L V8 coupled to a 5-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Rolling stock featured some pretty knobby all-terrain 245/65-R17’s riding on stylish 17″ machined aluminum wheels. The color keyed running boards served their purpose for Grandma, but got everyone else’s pant legs dirty. The moonroof drew praise for stargazing on the back roads with significant others. Chromed roof rails dress up the top of things as the fading sunlight paints colors of orange on the otherwise sparkling white hull. Dual exhaust tips add flair but a quick peek under the bumper reveals an otherwise non-menacing Y-pipe. The trailer hitch is tucked neatly into the bumper as are the reverse sensing system eyes.
     With 232 horsepower on tap, the Mountaineer was lighter on its feet than one might expect, but by no means the quickest runner at the race. By all accounts the engine-transmission mating was slick as gear hunting was kept to a minimum. Fuel consumption is always a problem when this much mass is put on wheels but with the 5-speed automatic one should find it bearable. With all-wheel drive, our tester felt sure-footed and stable. The sandy trails of northern Michigan neither fazed nor amazed it. Torque transfer front to rear was seamless with nary a complaint. The engineers who designed the rear axle should take a bow because the independent axle smoothes the ride out to near midsize family sedan levels.
      First impressions of the interior will give you an industrious feeling. The layout was inviting, but the AT staff agreed that the dot patterned plastic trim had to go. For the sticker price and the style of the vehicle, we agreed that a brushed metal of some kind should take its place, adding a more upscale feel. Seats come wrapped in two-tone leather with the front being heated for those cold mornings. The gauges were pleasant to look at, as was the feel of the leather wrapped steering wheel. Drivers large and small will be comfortable with the multi-adjustable seat, steering wheel and foot pedals. Assistant Editor Vloet found his head room compromised by the moon roof but he is 6′ 4″ so there are few vehicles that wouldn’t be tight on headroom. The Audiophile audio system eases away the miles with a 6-disc in-dash CD changer. Our tester also came equipped with the rear seat DVD entertainment system. Middle row passengers will enjoy generous room while watching their latest flick. While better than some 3rd seats we have tested, it should still be reserved for limber youth and preteens. Over-the-hill adults will likely find the climb back there painful.
     Driving Michigan roads will wreak havoc on any man or beast. During our time with the Mountaineer yours truly spent an excessive amount of time on said byways and hi-ways. The ride wasn’t pampering but it wasn’t necessarily punishing either. All but the largest road impurities were absorbed with barely an upset. We found that we always knew what each corner of the vehicle was doing. Steering was communicative and light. Being a midsize SUV we found the Mountaineer to be a fairly nimble motoring in and out of traffic. Only after a 7-hour jaunt with the Mountaineer did yours truly start to feel various stages of road fatigue in the lower half of my back. Although with proper posture and plenty of fuel, one will find the Mountaineer will drive all day long while barely breaking a sweat.
     Overall, we found the Mountaineer to be a well-rounded, handsome SUV. Nevertheless, it is hard to justify the 40-grand price tag when there are plenty of higher end crossovers available for the same dollars. The Acura MDX, Lexus RX330, or even the new Cadillac SRX to name a few. Though, if you desire the ability to tow a boat up to your getaway cabin in northern Michigan, you can’t beat the V8’s torque or the body on frame strength. Climbing the corporate ladder, or the aluminum one, the Mountaineer is prepared to suit your needs.

The Good:
5-speed auto, well appointed, all wheel drive system
The Bad:
Too much like an Explorer, interior trim not worth $40k
The Verdict:
A welcome alternative to the Explorer but the extra costs outweigh what is gained.
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