Toyota RAV4 is a big winner over Mariner Hybrid

RAV4 vs. Mariner Hybrid

Ford’s Mercury Mariner Hybrid

When thinking about buying a car, one of the newest hybrids on the block is Ford’s Mercury Mariner Hybrid. Classified as a small SUV, this model from Mercury feels more like a small truck than an SUV. The 2.3-liter electric/gas motor combination does well in city driving but doesn’t have quick acceleration for defensive highway and freeway traffic.

The engine is also noisy. Whines, clicks, and revs are quite loud and frequent, especially the clicking sound from the trunk area when the battery is recharging. However, I do enjoy the silent starts that every hybrid brings to the drive.

A sleek, yet rugged exterior design may appeal to both sexes and certainly to families. The interior’s clumsy controls, however, may put many off with their non-ergonomic feel and look. The in-dash screen for navigation, audio, and fuel economy is small with tiny, indecipherable buttons.

Perhaps this system would work well if most of the controls were built into the steering wheel, which seems reasonable for a car worth almost $34,000. But this is not the case as the 2006 model only has the cruise controls built into the wheel.

The Mercury Mariner Hybrid is certainly easy on the wallet at the gas pump. It gets a whopping 33 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, making the estimated fuel costs only $1,066.

Interestingly, the only other small SUV hybrid is the American-made Ford Escape as the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and the Lexus RX 400h are both rated as mid-sized SUVs.

Beware: Consumer Reports does not recommend the Mercury Mariner because both the Mariner and its twin, the Escape, did not perform well in government-backed rollover tests.

Here are more notes on the Mercury Mariner Hybrid from a senior perspective:

Seniors: Grandma Joanne says she “found the front seat very comfortable and the vehicle had easy maneuverability.” However, she had a hard time understanding the controls. “For instance, the dashboard navigation system screen was small and hard to read,” she writes. “Also, I suggest the audio and temperature controls be installed on the steering wheel for less driver distraction.” An environmentalist at heart, Grandma Joanne was excited about the gas savings and the almost zero emissions, but she wasn’t comfortable with the Mariner’s acceleration for highway and freeway driving.

Toyota RAV4

With an all-new design for 2006, Toyota’s RAV4 now looks more like its mid-sized SUV counterparts rather than its former Suzuki Samurai-like exterior. When buying a car, Consumer Reports rates the new Toyota RAV4 as “one of our highest-rated small SUVs, with a flexible, well-designed interior and angle handling.”

I couldn’t agree more. The 2.4 liter, four-cylinder engine is quite nimble in city driving, and the interior does have quite the friendly design at a base price of $24,000. However, the engine wasn’t powerful enough for my tastes and has quite the noisy whine. Perhaps the RAV4 would have the required pick up for my tastes in the more powerful 3.5 liter V6 model.

The interior, however, is the star here. The in-dash audio and temperature controls are perhaps some of the best designed ever. The base price includes such luxuries as dual-control temperature zones with clean air filtration system, a six-disc, in-dash CD changer and audio controls built into the steering wheel.

At 23 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, the RAV4 is quite fuel efficient with estimated annual fuel costs at only $1,320.

Here are more notes on the Toyota RAV4 from the male, female and family perspectives:

Men: My sports-loving husband, Derick Alexander, was impressed with the built-in audio controls in the steering wheel as he could change from sports talk radio to FM stations with the push of a button.

Women: This 4X4 SUV certainly feels like a family car and has good braking ability. I wasn’t satisfied with the rather slow acceleration, which didn’t seem quick enough for highway or freeway driving. The re-designed exterior is quite pretty, but the interior is rather bland for the ladies with lots of black and beige plastic. However, the user-friendly controls and little luxuries make up for the more masculine interior design.

Family: The Toyota RAV4 is the only small SUV to feature two third-row seats, expanding the seating to seven persons. This is a terrific option for big families or for those who want the ability to invite their kids’ friends along for the ride. Even with the fold-down seats in the back, however, there is still plenty of room in the back for shopping trips.

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