A throwback car: Still huge, cushy and a luxury ride

Mercury Grand Marquis is a full-size sedan that offers luxury features and traditional driving style. The interior is comfortable and conservative, with plenty of room for six.

A couple of years ago, I went back to the old neighborhood and was surprised at how little things had changed.

There were subtle differences, some places upgraded, some in decline, but it all looked pretty much the same.

It gave me an eerie feeling, alternately reassuring and disconcerting. Time warps tend to do that.

I had a similar feeling when I climbed in behind the wheel of a 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis, one of the few great land yachts left on American roads. It was all so familiar, the monumental size, the conservative styling, the cushy interior.

Didn't I just drive one of these? I remembered reviewing this sedan, so I checked the newspaper's archives to find out when it published. 

Another surprise: Oct. 12, 1991. Whoa. But not only was I shocked at how long ago I reviewed the Grand Marquis, I was interested in how little the car had changed. It even looks the same. I could run the same review today, and it would still ring true.

Grand Marquis, along with corporate siblings Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car, are throwbacks to another era when cars were big and gas was cheap. This is the last of the breed, appealing most to those of retirement age, although big-rear-drive sedans are coming back in vogue.

Mercury likes to brag that Grand Marquis is "America's favorite six-passenger, body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive, V-8-powered, large sedan." That's a lot of qualifications, and its not hard to be the favorite when you're among the last ones standing.

What it is

Mercury sells plenty of these luxurious behemoths to older buyers attracted to the Grand Marquis' midrange price, cavernous interior and trunk, and sedate style and driving characteristics. There are some cosmetic changes for 2004, but its last full makeover was for the 1992 model year.

The test Mercury was a top-end LS Ultimate model.

Performance

The Grand Marquis is a classic turnpike cruiser, a 2-ton heavyweight that loves to roll at freeway speeds. Acceleration from the 4.6-liter V-8 may not be exciting, but the sedan does moves out smartly once it gets under way.

The standard engine makes 224 horsepower, but the test car was equipped with an optional handling package that boosts engine power to 239. Torque for the upgraded, twin-exhaust engine is substantial, at 287 pound-feet, which helps the big sedan feel quick and even somewhat muscular.

The single-overhead-cam engine is very smooth, an important characteristic in a traditional sedan. It sets up a distant growl under throttle, with a pleasing hint of husky roar on the highway. Passing and hill climbing are effortle ss.

A four-speed automatic comes standard, performing well with nearly imperceptible shifts.

Drivability

Even with the handling package, the ride is soft and the steering is light. Still, Grand Marquis corners with little wallow or float and keeps its footing over rough surfaces.

A new rear air suspension and steering system was added last year, as well as a stronger frame, and the improvements are welcome. The steering feels numb and too light to the touch at both low and high speeds. Four-wheel disc brakes with antilock come standard.

A major part of Grand Marquis' appeal is its safety record. The sedan aced both front- and side-impact government tests. Side-impact airbags are optional.

Styling

Nothing daring or controversial here, just a big sedan of traditional proportions. Grand Marquis has the same basic body as Crown Victoria, with different styling front and rear plus extra chrome details.

T is is a long-lived look, pleasantly bland, that has worked in the past and still works for its conservative owners.

The test car was set off with good-looking 16-inch alloy wheels, part of the handling package.

Interior

Grand Marquis is like a comfortable easy chair, soft and roomy. The leather seating has plenty of room for six, including a rarely seen bench seat for three up front. Arm rests fold down when the center seat is unoccupied.

The placid dashboard is finished in dark wood. An annoyingly tacky addition on the LS Ultimate dashboard is the large, script Grand Marquis lettering in the center of the wood trim.

Everything in here is simple and straightforward, with a midluxury level of power and convenience features, including optional power-adjustable pedals on the test car.

Pricing

Base price for the LS Ultimate started at $30,170, which provides a high level of features. Options on the test car were upgraded leather seating, $995; the handling package, which at just $615 is a no-brainer for improved drivability and performance; upgraded audio system with six-disc CD, $395; side air bags, $395; heated seats, $295; laminated security side glass, $295; trunk organizer, $200; and shipping, $725.

At a total of $33,090, the Grand Marquis may not be cheap, but it's a lot of large, well-equipped car for the money.

Bottom line

Mercury, which once looked ready to follow Plymouth and Oldsmobile into extinction, gets some new products in the coming years, including a new sedan with an old name, Montego.

But there are no plans to end the reign of the Grand Marquis. Expect the big sedan to soldier on as long as there are drivers who appreciate its traditional values.