Machine Design

Make way for the Marauder

Those of us who occasionally drive hot new review cars are accustomed to getting admiring looks from people who appreciate our wheels. But I wasn't prepared for what happened with the 2003 Mercury Marauder. The black-gloss-finished sedan seemed to get the most attention from cops!

That's probably because the Marauder, based on the Grand Marquis, takes a few design cues from its cousin the Crown Vic, a popular police cruiser. Mercury engineers also blacked-out nonfunctional areas of the headlamp units and dark-tinted the tail lamp bezels to give the Marauder a don't-mess-with-me appearance. Three-inch chrome exhaust tips, 18-in. chromed spoke wheels, and fog lamps integrated into the fascia further promote this image.

Under the hood is a 302-hp DOHC V8. The 4.6-literall-aluminum engine is basically the same one that powers the 2002 Mustang Cobra. Interestingly enough, the car is available only with an automatic transmission, though it targets driving enthusiasts. The transmission is a four-speed with overdrive, and Mercury engineers also added a high-stall torque converter, limited-slip differential, and 3.55:1 rear-axle ratio to improve acceleration.

Nevertheless, the Marauder won't give you a push-back-into-the-seat blast off. The big V8 makes a lot of noise but doesn't really start to fly until it hits mid to high-end power. It is speed-limited to 120 mph and the red line is 6,250 rpm. Its 0-to-60 time is listed at 6.5 sec. The19-gallon fuel tank takes premium fuel. With all this power, expect to get 17/25 mpg in city/highway driving.

Tall drivers will appreciate the ample headroom, 39.4 in., and the interior is generally roomy with lots of leg room. The dual eight-way-power reclining bucket seats are comfortable, with extra padding for thigh, lumbar, and shoulder support. Seat controls are conveniently located within easy reach on the door. White-faced gauges give the instrument panel a street-racer feel; oil-pressure and voltmeter gauges sit just in front of the shifter to reinforce this idea. Dot-matrix-gray trim accents and a black leather interior with French seam-stitching derived from vintage Marauders finish out the interior. (For readers too young to remember, the last Mercury Marauder came out in 1970.)

The Marauder rides on a Grand Marquis base that received a number of updates this year. Torsional rigidity and ride qualities are said to be much improved. The independent front suspension is a short and long-arm design with steel upper and aluminum lower-control arms. Coil-over-shock springs and monotube dampers along with a solid stabilizer bar round out the front components. The live axle in back rides on upper and lower-control arms and a lateral Watt's linkage along with load-leveling air springs and monotube dampers. The air springs are designed to keep the car level even with the20.6-ft3 of trunk space fully loaded. There's a stabilizer bar in back as well to reduce body roll.

Mercury engineers tuned the Marauder suspension for a sportier ride than the Marquis. Nevertheless,it still has the feel of a big car that smooths out bumps, rather than the connectedness of something designed to telegraph curves. Suffice it to say that the Marauder handling qualities will not be mistaken for those of a sports car.

Steering and braking are both strong points, however. Power rack and pinion makes steering response relatively crisp. Dual-piston calipers and 12.4-in. rotors in the front, single-piston calipers, and 11.1-in. rotors in back provide a comfortable amount of stopping power. There is also a booster that applies full braking power in a panic stop even if the driver doesn't tromp on the pedal hard enough to engage ABS.

The base price for the Marauder is$33,790, which includes a $705 destination charge. The only options are a trunk organizer and a six-CD changer, which bring the total to $34,340. Despite its appeal to law-enforcement officials, Mercury has not announced any plans to include a mount for shotguns in future models. - Lee Teschler

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