Trucks & SUVs

The Mercury Mountaineer Could Never Compete With the Ford Explorer

Automakers within the same ownership family will often produce similar model vehicles. For example, Chevrolet offers the Tahoe, similar to its GMC Yukon cousin. Looking back over the years at models past, though, some couldn’t keep up with their sibling competitors.

Mercury’s Mountaineer was one such vehicle. While it was considered by many as a reliable SUV, and ideal for towing, others would say it just never could compete with the Ford Explorer.

Do you remember the Mercury Mountaineer?

A Mercury Mountaineer on display at an auto show
A Mercury Mountaineer on display | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The Mercury Mountaineer was the only seven-passenger SUV produced by the automaker, according to MotorTrend. It came on stage in 1996 and presented with the body-on-frame design shared by its Ford Explorer counterpart.

The Mountaineer only lived for a few model years and did so without much in the way of improvements or significant upgrades. The ride wasn’t as smooth as others in the space, and it was slow to incorporate tech, but fans liked the engine variety and refined feel of this SUV.

It offered a 4.0L V6 as well as a 4.6L V8 engine. The added chrome and unique grille helped it to stand apart from the Explorer. It also provided a more robust off-road capability, with heartier payload and towing benchmarks.

But in comparison with the Ford Explorer, the Mercury Mountaineer fell short in tech, comfort, convenience, and engine options over the years.

Mercury called it quits on the Mountaineer

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The Mercury Mountaineer was available from its introduction in 1996 through its final model year, in 2010. It may have satisfied the need for adventure seekers in the early 2000s. However, it ran its course and ended up phasing out.

Considering that it shared the design and features of the Ford Explorer, it made sense. The SUV buying public had identified its preference for the Explorer as a whole. And the Mountaineer spent much of its life, trying to keep up its better selling relative.

A long and impressive run for the ‘The Big Cat’ badge

Mercury once dominated as an automaker and enjoyed a 70-year run of vehicle production. Ford saw its Mercury arm as the brand that would bring more refinement and upscale efforts to already popular vehicle designs.

Its most prominent year was 1978, and the most notable slogan, “The Sign of the Cat,” spoke to its badge and popularity of the popular Cougar. According to some of the data from AutoBlog the final years, 2009 only had a 0.8% share of the U.S. market. It’s that dismal performance that ultimately led to the Ford Motor Company calling it quits on the Mercury brand.

What does Mercury make these days?

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It doesn’t. As you know, the Mercury brand eventually found itself phased out, much like the Mountaineer. As part of the Ford and Lincoln family, Mercury only managed to limp along in terms of vehicle sales in its final production years.

Ford Motor Co. made the decision to pull the plug on the Mercury badge in 2010 and cited the opportunity to free up the Milan and Mariner lines for other, more successful vehicles. Critics at the time blamed Ford for having neglected the Mercury brand and not investing in its success enough to keep it afloat.

In the end, the Mercury Mountaineer, while mildly impressive, just never could compete with the Ford Explorer. And Mercury proved unsustainable as a brand, either. For those families who had a Mountaineer during its prime, though, it was a slightly more upscale and more adventurous SUV.

You probably won’t find one for sale today with low mileage, at least. But when you see them, you might look back and fondly remember the days when Mercury held its own.