First, let's talk about tax credit. If you buy a Toyota hybrid, you're pretty much out of luck in that department. The same can be said for Honda although I seem to recall the IRS webpage mentioning that there is still one Honda that qualifies. On the other hand, if you buy a Ford hybrid you can still count on the tax credit to offset part of the extra cost. For the two-wheel drive Mariner hybrid, you can get a $3000 tax credit. For me with the 4X4, I only got $1950. According to blogspot.com, the 2009 Mariner hybrid has an 11% improvement in horsepower and a 1 mpg improvement over the previous model. 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid ~ Hybrid Car Review The model that I bought has full-time four wheel drive and did not come with the navigation system. This doesn't bother me at all, actually. I've not had a navigation system before so I don't know what I'm missing. That can be a good thing. Being a veteran hybrid owner, I can pretty much tell when the engine isn't running and don't really need a display screen to remind me to get good mileage. Besides, there are two displays on the dash that do give me the information I do need such as average mpg and how many miles I have left before running out of gasoline. The Mariner comes with Sync, as many Ford cars do. It's a voice-activated system that allows me to control my bluetooth cellphone and my iPod. I know that it does other things but those two are what I use. It's great to be able to tell the car to call someone and it does it so that I don't have to fiddle with the phone myself. The iPod can connect to either the USB port or the audio jack port. When using USB, of course, it charges the iPod and Sync can control it so all that I have to do is hit the media button on the steering wheel, say to it “USB” then tell it to play whatever I want. Of course, since Sync is associated with Microsoft, it has a problem with any songs that apparently didn't come from a legitimate source such as a prerecorded CD or iTunes. I have one song that I sort of created where one song is interlaced with another (both from prerecorded CDs) and every time that I connect the iPod, Sync tells me that it couldn't index all songs, blah blah blah. Otherwise, Sync is great and one of Ford's best features. Unlike GM's OnStar, Sync has nothing to do with security and doesn't require a monthly subscription fee. My Mariner does come with a free six-month subscription to Sirius satellite radio though. That's pretty cool. As I said in a previous post, the car has zero defects and no fit and finish problems. The interior is bright and the moon roof adds to that. All of the interior's materials are attractive and fit well together. The steering wheel is leather-wrapped and a thick, soft feel to it without being squishy. The seats are neither too big nor too small. The back is broad so that it doesn't cramp my shoulders. In order to fold down the back seats for more cargo, you have to remove the headrests, then you slide the seat cushions out and they fold down against the front seats and on to the floor. This allows the backs to fold down and lock to the floor. There is a third headrest that is a little thing in the middle that cracks me up. It almost looks like an afterthought but it has the advantage of not obstructing my rearview which is probably what Ford had in mind. The car doesn't handle like a sports car, exactly, but it is a little more responsive than the HiHy. The car also handles well in corners and curves. I don't get the vague feeling that I got with the HiHy that a sharp turn will tip it over but the Highlander and the Mariner are very different in that the HiHy is more like a full-sized SUV whereas the Mariner is on the small side. This is one reason why I like the Mariner a lot more than the Highlander. Toyota seems to be incapable of offering a small SUV hybrid. The tires of my Mariner are big and beefy. It was a bit of a happy coincidence that two days after I got the 4X4 Mariner, it snowed here. The Mariner handles very well in snow and I was able to hang a sharp right turn without slipping much. The vehicle is not only equipped with anti-lock brakes, it also has stability, traction and roll control that can be turned off with a switch at the bottom of the center dashboard. A very useful feature if you ever get stuck and need the extra control. Overall, the Mariner feels very secure and stable in snow and very wet roads. If you have a Highlander hybrid, you may have an Econ buttom. When turned on, it basically idles half of the cylinders so that you get better mileage, not to mention a more sluggish engine. It also has an EV button that is practically worthless since it doesn't work in many circumstances but I digress. The Mariner hybrid has an Econ button, too, but it does something different. What it does is keeps the AC compressor from engaging so that you can actually run the car in EV mode with the AC on, albeit in a reduced capacity. The exterior has some nice features, including a cap-less fuel filler. No more worries about unscrewing a gas cap that gets in the way or scuffs the paint job. The exterior mirrors are big which gives me more viewing area than the HiHy's mirrors. The rear door's window pops open when I push the unlock button on the key fob. The HiHy that I had didn't do that but I understand that others do. It's a really useful feature that should be standard. There are two buttons on the rear door. One opens the door itself and the other will open the window. The Mariner has a 15-gallon fuel tank and a one thousand pound towing capacity. Since all that I ever intend on “towing” with the Mariner is my bike rack and a bike or two, one thousand pounds is plenty. As I stated in a previous post, the EPA estimates are 29 city and 27 highway but I found it almost effortless to achieve 34 in the city and 32 in mixed driving. Nitpicking There are a few things that I feel need to be improved upon. Since Ford does seem to listen to hybrid owners here or elsewhere, if I mention them, perhaps they'll take a look at these as well. First and foremost, the cruise control has four buttons on the steering wheel. On a Toyota, there's the third stalk on the steering column. The advantage to the Toyota way of doing it is that you never have to take your hand off of the steering wheel or your eyes off of the road. Simply push in the button on the end of the cruise control's stalk to enable it, lift it up and your cruising speed is set. Push it down and it decreases. Push it up and it increases. Pull it toward you and it disengages. That is intuitive and very cool. With four buttons, I have to look down or feel my way through counting them. Not cool at all. The other thing that was somewhat irritating is how busy the center console's button array is. Rows and rows of buttons and four or five big knobs that control fan speed, temperature and volume on the stereo. I still haven't gotten used to which is which but after looking at pictures of Mariner hybrids with the navigation system, this is a problem that they don't seem to have. Lastly, and this is nitpicking, there aren't many places to put stuff. The center armrest has a fair-sized compartment but it's not very big. The glove compartment is rather smallish and that's pretty much it. I'd like to see more places to secure things but the Mariner isn't the only car out there that lacks this feature. Overall, this is a great car and, quite frankly, Ford does a better job with the SUV segment of the hybrid market than Toyota does. If you have a large family, you'll be attracted to the third row of the HiHy but I was talking to a woman in the parking lot who has one and she says that she's only getting 24 mpg with it. She was intrigued with my Mariner hybrid with its 34 mpg and tax credit. But she was interested in replacing her Honda Civic hybrid which is pretty cramped when you have to fit a family in to it. From experience with friends who have three kids and two large dogs, I know that the Escape/Mariner has room for them all. One happy surprise is that I don't get charged the extra money at the car wash that they charge owners of large vehicles. With the Mariner hybrid, I get the best of both worlds, really good mileage and a truck that has four-wheel drive and room to spare. Did I mention zero defects?