Think upscale Escape, and you’re in the ballpark with the new Mercury Mariner. The Mariner offers the same engine choices (4-cylinder and V6) as the Ford Escape, same towing capacity (3500 pounds with V6), same cargo volume (66.3 cubic feet with rear seat down), same steering (power rack and pinion) – all among a host of other “same as” items. But the Mariner does have an assortment of exclusive appointments, like a driver’s side keypad for keyless vehicle entry, two-toned door panels and seats, wood grain and chrome interior accents, and turn signal lamps on the front fenders. The unibody-constructed Mariner with four-wheel independent suspension is an immensely pleasurable compact sport utility vehicle – both in terms of driving and riding. Available in front wheel drive and 4WD, Mariner is a classy-brassy-sassy travel companion.

Packed with an array of standard equipment, the Mariner Premier-trimmed SUV features privacy glass, leather wrapped steering wheel, heated leather seats, electronic message center, anti-lock brakes and brake assist, automatic dimming rearview mirror, and 16-inch aluminum wheels. Mariner does strike an aura that is unique from the Ford Escape, and that’s a good thing. There are, of course, a number of Mercury design cues – grille, taillights, etc. – but the functional underpinnings are what really make this vehicle (and the Escape) a great ride and drive. When fitted with V6 and 4-speed automatic transmission, the 4WD Mariner grabs fuel per gallon numbers of 18 city and 23 highway and carries a MSRP of $26,405.