Hear that rumble?
Could it be the new 2003 Mercury Marauder or the sound of a left-for-dead marque showing signs of life?
It seems like both.
For some time, rumors circulated that Mercury soon would join Oldsmobile and Plymouth in the great automotive junkyard in the sky. That would be a shame, because a 1949 Mercury was driven by James Dean in ''Rebel Without A Cause.''
Mercury paced Indianapolis in 1950, 1957 and 1966. Heck, even Jack Lord drove a Merc in the TV Series ''Hawaii Five-0.''
But, now it seems that Mercury, and its place in the automotive firmament, is secure with the appointment of Elena Ford. Ford is CEO Bill Ford's cousin, and as Mercury Brand Manager.
You can hear the sounds of that future as Mercury revives the Marauder, a label first used in 1963 on high-performance versions of full-sized Mercs. For 2003, Mercury gives the old Grand Marquis an image boost by adding horsepower and tweaking the suspension as well as its looks.
For many, this recalls what Chevrolet did with the Caprice — adding extra horsepower, tweaking the suspension and reviving the Impala SS name from the 1960s. But Chevy killed the Impala SS back in 1996, so one wonders why it took Ford so long to answer Chevrolet, especially since the Mercury's current styling dates to 1992 (with a freshening in mid-decade), while its basic platform dates to 1979.
But none of that really matters once you turn the key. Then, the double-overhead-cam 4.6-liter V-8 comes alive, with an unmistakable rumble from its picturesque twin tailpipes.
For those who hung out at the Ritz Barbecue or who dragged along Hamilton or Linden streets in their misspent youth, the sound from those tailpipes will be familiar. With 302 horsepower at 5,750 rpm and 318-pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm on tap, that sound isn't just for show.
This is one massive, muscular Mercury.
It moves, just as any big, menacing Merc should. Like any double-overhead-cam engine, speed off the line could be a bit better, but this car comes alive over 20 mph. Shifts are firm and prompt, although easy cruising finds the heavy-duty four-speed automatic upshifting a bit too quickly in the name of fuel economy.
What this Marauder does that previous ones couldn't is handle a corner. Despite the age of the basic platform, Ford has re-engineered its large-car platform for 2003. It's 25 percent stiffer and that shows up when tossing this car into a corner. The Marauder has a firm feel without the trembling generally associated with large Detroit iron. Ford also switched to a rack-and-pinion steering system.
But the Marauder goes further, providing stabilizer bars front and rear, along with a sub-frame that hold various suspension components. Mercury also gives the Marauder 18-inch wheels. It all adds up to a most sophisticated Merc with excellent handling. Got a corner? The Maraude r stays flat. Got a bump? The Marauder grips without any bump steer. The rear air suspension does a good job of filtering out the bad stuff while returning a civilized ride.
Braking is just as good. Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with anti-lock do a great job of slowing down this 4,100-plus pound sedan.
The Marauder's muscle car attitude is mirrored in its looks. For now, it comes in Henry Ford's favorite color: black. The car has been stripped of chrome accents (with the exception of the dual exhaust) and it looks as mean as its name. It also looks to some like an unmarked police cruiser, so other drivers tend to move aside until they can decide whether you're friend or foe.
The interior adds to the air of menace by continuing the all-black theme in the extreme. Mercury has eliminated wood trim, bench seats and column shifters. But the long, horizontal dash is unmistakably American. Sports gauges accent the instrument panel, although two gauges sit at the base of the center console.
The large front bucket seats are pretty flat, and the lumbar support is too aggressive.
Actually, the interior certainly has the look of menace to match its exterior, but the quality is disappointing. The glovebox door is thin and unlined. The AM/FM/Cassette/CD audio system pulls in only the closest radio stations. The leather-wrapped steering wheel cover was coming loose. The multi-function trip computer displays only a compass and nothing else. The center console felt loose.
The car lacks a sunroof option, something worth having on such a sporting car. Instead, there's a large roof-mounted console that looks more at home in a minivan.
The trunk was large, and Mercury offers an optional trunk organizer that has removable partitions to shape the compartment any way one pleases. The lid of the organizer raises the trunk floor level, making cargo easier to reach.
The base price is $34,495. There are two options: the trunk organizer ($200) and a six-CD changer ($350.) The test car had both and listed for $35,045. That's luxury car territory, making the interior ambience questionable.
What is beyond question is the Merc's muscular demeanor, something in short supply from the Big Three.
A big, rear-drive American sedan with a menacing, rumbling V-8 is just what the doctor ordered to help revive Mercury's long-forgotten performance image.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||December 9, 2002|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||November 21, 2002|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||October 26, 2002|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||October 9, 2002|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||September 29, 2002|
|Royal Ford||Boston.com||September 22, 2002|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||August 4, 2002|
|Matt Nauman||TheMercuryNews.com||July 26, 2002|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||July 3, 2002|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||June 2, 2002|
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