With the demise of General Motors’ large, rear-wheel drive sedans, the “Grand” in Mercury’s Grand Marquis name has taken on a grander meaning.

The full-sized 1997 Mercury Grand Marquis is the embodiment of a big automobile whose body is mounted on a separate frame, is powered by a V-8 engine, offers comfort, easy of ride, and luxury accommodations.

It obviously is not designed to be a piece of drag or road-racing equipment, but owners of this luxury sedan aren’t interested in driving it that way.

Ford Motor Co. has the good sense to leave well enough alone for the 1998 model.

“There’s not much change,” said Tom Roush, head of Tom Roush Lincoln-Mercury-Mazda. “The grille and the tail lights, some interior trim . . . other than that, it’s much like we have now.”

What Lincoln-Mercury dealers have now is a Grand Marquis that virtually is a kissing cousin to a Lincoln Town Car.

It adheres to design concepts that have been in place since almost Day 1. The engine is in the front. The drive is in the rear. And six people can be cradled in safety and comfort between these two elements.

From my point of view, nothing beats a big automobile for comfort and security. The ’97 Grand Marquis provides it via a rigid body that’s mounted on a separate rigid frame.

The construction principle helps insulate road noises from the passenger compartment.

Even at interstate speeds, the interior noise level is so low that you can carry on a normal level of conversation.

By virtue of its size, the Grand is automatically able to offer conveniences of operation and use.

Entrance and exit is most convenient. In essence, driver and passenger just step in and sit down. The door openings and roofline are high enough that you don’t have to be an acrobat to get in or out of the front or back seats.

With 114 inches of wheelbase and 212 inches of overall length, the rear has almost as much legroom as the front seat of a midsized sedan.

The standard power controls are grouped around the driver for maximum convenience. Everything is clearly marked so there is no need to resort to the owner’s manual.

The exterior styling is modern, yet conservative. The lines flow in an appropriate aerodynamic manner that accounts for a 0.34 coefficient of drag. This is pretty good for a big sedan and accounts for the low wind noise and favorable fuel mileage.

Fuel consumption is rated at 17 miles per gallon city cycle and 25 mpg for the highway. That’s better than many of today’s popular sport utility vehicles.

The mileage takes on new meaning when you consider the engine. No pony power here. The motor is the 4.6-liter single overhead cam (per bank) V-8 that powers the Town Car.

This is an excellent piece of equipment that comes in either 190-horsepower or as an optional 210-horsepower V-8. It can move more than two tons of motor car from 0-60 mph in just over 9 seconds.

That sort of acceleration provides some passing insurance. And for quick maneuvering, a new stee ring gear puts the driver in command like never before.

The steering is ultra-responsive to driver input, providing precise, pin-point accurate control. To really take advantage of this, there is a handling package with upgraded suspension and tires. The package stiffens the suspension a bit without disturbing the quality of the ride too much. And it adds a bit of authority to the steering control.

The ’97 Grand Marquis takes it all in the mid-luxury market with GS and LS models. Base prices run from $22,500 to around $25,000 for the upgraded LS.

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