The mid-size SUV market shares a trait with Los Angeles. Both are densely populated. You need to stand out from the crowd to get ahead. Mercury is trying to do that with the 2008 Mariner, which, in a fashion that’s soooo L.A., got a complete makeover – face lift and body work – with eye-pleasing results. Designers updated the model, first introduced in 2005, by giving it cleaner lines and moldings the color of body paint. Then they blinged the Mariner out with aluminum accents. One Mercury trademark is the “waterfall” grill. It’s more prominent now on the Mariner. They also thought that what worked outside would work inside. They ended up with pleasing results, here, too. Our test model featured a black pearl slate clear-coat paint job that sparkled. That color scheme carried over to an interior done up in a black/stone leather and suede. It’s a two-toned effect that’s pleasing, not overpowering. Interior touches also include satin pewter and chrome accents. The Mariner offers a pleasing inner space experience. Mercury put on a new acoustic windshield laminate and thicker side glass, which adds up to a quieter ride. The carpets are plusher, too. This model also featured a navigation system and six-CD radio system with MP3 player capability similar to those sported by its cousins, Ford’s Edge and Lincoln’s Navigator. Wouldn’t be surprised to see this sound system in other Ford Motor Co. products. When something works as good as this rolling entertainment system, might as well stick with it. The Mariner also has ample cargo space (it will get your foursome to the golf course in style and comfort.) The only drawback is that the rear seats don’t fold all the way flat – at least they didn’t on the test model. And some models in this class offer third-row seating. The overall package rates high marks for style. All this would be for naught, though, if the Mariner didn’t ride right. It does. The Mariner takes to the streets and freeways with a sporty posture. This premier edition featured all-wheel drive and a 3.0 liter V6 engine. It felt quicker off the line than the much bigger and heavier Navigator, and visibility was good – and high – all around. It also had the popular reverse sensing system that helps with parallel and back-in parking. The Mariner also features Ford’s new speed-sensitive Electric Power Steering and a new braking system. Electric power steering systems promise weight reduction, fuel savings and package flexibility at no cost penalty. Power-plant options include a standard 2.3-liter gasoline engine and a gas-electric hybrid. In the latter, the company said 2008 modifications include software for a more efficient transition between gasoline and electric operation. This model is also available in either front-wheel or four-wheel drive. Previously, four-wheel-drive was the only option. Driver and passenger safety features include Ford’s canopy side air curtains and side air bags in the front seats. “Positioned as one of the more upscale small SUVs, the Mercury Mariner comes with all the amenities you’ll need regardless of the trim level you select,” said the Web site Edmunds.com. We agree. [email protected] (818) 713-3743 MERCURY MARINER PREMIER TOP SPEED: 140 mph ENGINE: 3 liter Duratec V6 TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic with overdrive SUSPENSION: 4-wheel independent BRAKES: Antilock FUEL ECONOMY: N/A PRICE: $20,730 base, $29,945 as tested TRIVIA: Last year Ford delivered a special “Presidential Edition” hybrid Mariner to former President Bill Clinton. Custom features included a refrigerator. THE WIFE SAYS: “Why did they call it the Mariner? I know it won’t float.” SOURCE: Daily News research COMING NEXT WEEK: Saturn Aura160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!