`Few extra gray hairs pop out this morning, Padre?" Twin No. 1 asked."Earned each and every one," we replied with a smile. "Were you holdin' the handrail goin' down the stairs this morning?" offered Twin No. 2. "Can never be too careful," we noted with a grin. "Sit down at the table, your pureed cereal is ready," cooed the wife. "Soft food is good for the digestion," we beamed. "By the way, anyone seen my AARP newsletter?" Just another birthday. No cause for alarm. Sure the trips to the bathroom are more frequent but age isn't measured only by how you feel or the number of notches added to the belt, but by how others perceive you look and feel. "Oh, almost forgot," Twin No. 1 interjected. "A car was left for you this morning-a Ford Crown Victoria. If you want to drive it, I'll toss on the antique plates." "Yikes!!!" we screamed as we jumped up from the breakfast nook and knocked over the diuretics, vitamins A through D, kelp capsules and the tube of Ben-Gay. "If you want to see the car, I'll get your walker or do you feel frisky today and want to make do with only your cane?" Twin No. 1 chuckled. Suddenly the hair felt gray, the bones brittle, the eyes foggy, the ears plugged and the bladder full. A Ford Crown Victoria. The car Methuselah tooled around in. The retirement village sedan of choice. The vehicle preferred by those with a blue hue to their hair and 24 Visa payments left on their teeth. It had come to this. Ford Motor Co., the outfit with the best-selling car (Taurus) and truck (F-Series) and sport-utility vehicle (Explorer) still turns out one of the oldest vehicles known to man-a full-size, rear-wheel-drive sedan. Cops, cabbies and coupon clippers are the customers for what has become a sensible sedan, Ford's version of the Chevrolet Caprice-Mrs. Methuselah's car. Still, since the first pension check won't arrive for a few more years, we opted to test the 1995 Crown Vic LX, a rear-wheel-drive relic in an age of front-wheel-drive, a car whose claim to fame is that it can still tow a boat. Have to admit that the buggy has grown old rather gracefully. Styling is ultra-conservative-meaning bleak-though grille, bumpers and taillamps got revised cosmetic treatment for '95. But the sedan still has some spring to its step thanks to the addition of a 4.6-liter, 190-horsepower, V-8 teamed with 4-speed automatic transmission. Don't underestimate the allure of a V-8 to 60-something buyers who grew up learning that bigger is better, a V-6 is a toy and a 4-cylinder a joke. Detroit builds 6s and 4s; God built the V-8-on the seventh day while He was resting. These are the same people who were teethed on rear-wheel-drive and still resist accepting front-wheel-drive as anything other than a gimmick. They may never tow that boa t and seldom venture into the passing lane, but they want the satisfaction of knowing that if they did, there would be power in reserve. The price you pay for the V-8 is frequent stops at the pump. The 4.6 is generously rated at 17 miles per gallon city/25 m.p.g. highway. We say "generous" because over a week, we found the fuel gauge needle moves much more briskly than most Crown Vic owners. Another advantage of the Crown Vic is roominess. It will hold five to six adults. That trio in back might be squeezed a tad, but not packed like sardines as they would be in the smaller Taurus. And the trunk is spacious. Pack it with golf clubs or luggage, perhaps both. Our only gripe is that the Crown Vic holds to the deep dish trunk design, which means it holds a lot, but you have to bend over a lot to put items in and get them out. Then again, that's what the kelp capsules are for. The main attraction of the car for those up a bit in yearsi that it offers all the safety goodies-dual air bags, anti-lock brakes and traction control. But, though the air cushions are standard, ABS and traction control cost extra. When you order ABS, traction control comes with the system. The argument over FWD versus RWD focuses on vehicle stability and traction on wet or snowy roads. With ABS and traction control in a RWD car, the argument is a bit moot. But, in our test car the ABS/TC systems were part of a $4,395 package that included memory seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and automatic dimming mirror-items that contribute far more to the well-being of the automaker's financial statement than the peace and joy of the motorist. For $665 you can buy ABS/TC as a free-standing option. ABS/TC should be the first box you check when ordering this car, because the two could prevent the air bag from having to deploy. But there is a gripe over the ABS/TC system. Ford fails to acknowledge the two with dash lights or wording. "We apply a badge when we want to call attention to a different or exclusive benefit, such as a V-8 badge on the Thunderbird because the rest of the cars in that segment offer V-6s," a Ford spokesman said. "A badge for ABS/TC wasn't considered on the Crown Vic." Shame on Ford. Such wording would remind motorists that they have the added insurance of ABS/TC. Also, unless you save the window sticker listing standard and optional equipment, the second or third owner is going to have to take someone's word that the vehicle has added value from those systems. If Ford can provide an arrow in the dash informing the motorist what side the gas tank door is on so that he or she doesn't pull up to the wrong pump, you'd think the automaker could spend a couple of more pennies to tell any and all that ABS/TC is available for their protection. Base price of the Crown Vic LX we tested is $21,970. Standard equipment includes all-season radial tires, deluxe wheel covers, dual remote power mirrors, tilt steering wheel, dual cupholders, air conditioning, power windows, speed-sensitive power steering, nitrogen gas-pressurized shocks, childproof rear door locks and four-wheel power disc brakes. You'll want to add ABS/TC at $665, the handling suspension at $410, which reduces lean or sway in corners and bouncing and jostling on the straightaways, but should take a pass on leather seats and save the $530. Changes for 1995 include moving power seat controls to the door panel from the seat and adding heated sideview mirrors as standard, rear seat ducts for faster rear-compartment warmup, solar-tinted windshield and rear glass for improved interior cooling and a "battery saver" that turns off lamps after 10 minutes if the lights have been left on. Also, the decklid is aluminum to save 19 pounds, the previously optional rear window defroster is sta ndard and a power plug has been added near the floor heat register to handle 12-volt accessories, such as cellular phones. Options deleted include the cellular phone system, compact disc changer and power antenna, which was replaced by an antenna hidden in the rear window.
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