Mercury Marauder's glowering black presence seems to hold such promise: power, performance and prestige.Talk about disappointment. After all the hype and expectation, and the comparisons to Chevrolet's late muscle car, the Impala SS, Marauder turns out to be a sloppy amalgam of style over substance.Marauder is designed to be a performance version of the Grand Marquis, the ultra-conservative, full-size sedan most often spotted in and around retirement communities. If this were a review of the regular Grand Marquis, I would say, fine, the stiffer suspension improves the handling, and the engine feels a tad stronger than the usual mill.The muscle-car formula is simple: Take Ford's big, bread-and-butter sedan, the same as the Crown Victoria, paint it a glossy black with monochromatic details, then add huge, 18-inch chrome rims with performance tires, stiffened suspension, and a beefier V-8.Problem is, Marauder fails to perform. It's neither fast nor sporty. Nor is it particularly interesting to drive. It comes off as a poseur that may look like a muscle car but isn't. And for the premium price of $35,000, one should well expect it to be.This is the third incarnation of Marauder, Mercury's performance nameplate from back when Mercury had a performance image. The last Marauder, in 1969 and 1970, was powered by a high-performance 429-cubic-inch V-8. The current model, in cubic-inch terms, in powered by a 280-cubic-inch (4.6-liter) V-8.The small engine lacks low-end torque to move this beast from a standstill, though it does pick up power as the revs climb. This is the same 300-horsepower engine in some performance versions of Mustang, including the new Mach 1. In the Mustang, the V-8 has decent pull, though it also needs to get high up in the rpm to find its power band.In the Marauder, that same engine feels sluggish and uninspired. The difference? About 700 pounds, the weight gap between the svelte Mustang and the hefty Marauder.The engine also requires premium gas.You have to wonder why Marauder does not have the supercharged V-8 of the Mustang Cobra, which puts out 390 horsepower. Or even the mighty 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 from the Lightning pickup truck. That engine has 380 horsepower, but a muscular 450 pounds-feet of torque to help motivate the heavy sedan.Now that would be a Marauder.Obviously, if they're going to do a muscle car, why not do it right? What's needed is Ford's Special Vehicles Team, which is responsible for the Cobra and the Lightning, to lay hands on the Marauder and make it what it should be.The stiffened suspension feels poorly controlled, jostling driver and passenger over even the gentlest undulations, but the handling is much improved over the standard model. On rough surfaces, the hood shook so much, I got out to make sure it was latched. It was.The all-wheel disc brakes are good but not as powerful as they should be.The i nterior is black and boring, the white-faced main gauges and hot rod-style auxiliary gauges for oil pressure and alternator failing to add the desired effect. Mushy front seats offer scant support.Out in the real world, no one seemed to care about the Marauder.There were few sidelong glances or appreciative comments.No one seemed impressed.If you look past the Marauder affectations, the Grand Marquis (and the less-pricey Crown Victoria) is an eminently practical car, very roomy with a huge trunk, proven reliability and sturdiness, and low maintenance costs. Actually, driving around in the Marauder, I felt more like a cop than a hot-rodder. On the freeway, other drivers could be seen casting worried looks in their mirrors until they notice the big chrome wheels and realized that this was not a real police car.Unfortunately, it's not a real muscle car, either.Mercury Marauder Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, rear-wheel drive.Base price: $33,790.Price as tested: $35,045.Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 302 horsepower at 5,750 rpm, 318 pounds-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm.Transmission: Four-speed automatic.Wheelbase: 114.7 inches.Curb weight: 4,195 pounds.EPA mileage: 17 city, 23 highway.Highs: Roomy interior.Cavernous trunk.Good reputation.Lows:Where's the muscle?Fails to uphold image.Overpriced.
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