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Review 2003 Mercury Marauder

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SEE ALSO Mercury Buyer's Guide

2003 Mercury Marauder
Base price: $34,495
Price as tested: $35,045
EPA mileage:  17 city/23 highway

By Des Toups
	Huge and menacing in shimmering black, the Mercury Marauder -- a name 
resurrected from the 1960s applied to a sedan that dates to the 1970s -- 
aims to recapture the glory of big honkin' American iron.
	As a tribute, it's almost flawless. There are reasons those of us old 
enough to remember the factory eight-track look back on behemoths such as 
these so fondly: their effortless power, their limitless elbow room, their 
unabashed excess. And those traits, packaged with modern fuel efficiency 
and tight handling, make a compelling case for the return of the fast 
full-size sedan.
	So it's hard not to fall a little in love with the idea of a Marauder, its 
lovely sounding V-8, its acres of leather seating, its astoundingly 
competent road manners.	But the Marauder is, at its heart, an old car that 
went out of style without ever going out of production, and there are 
compromises inherent in its 24-year-old platform that keep it from being 
anything else. Instead, let's call it a good start, if this does indeed 
point to a future for the beleaguered, bewildered Mercury brand.
	All would be forgiven if the Marauder's engine made good on its promise; 
after all, 302 horsepower should be plenty. Yet stepping on the Marauder's 
gas pedal for the first time is like hearing Mike Tyson speak -- you were 
expecting so much more. Muscle cars earn their stripes at stoplights, but 
the Marauder's 281-cubic-inch V-8 doesn't really pull in earnest until 
about 40 mph. It sounds great (those chrome tips at the rear are a genuine 
dual exhaust), though that's small consolation when a kid in his mommy's 
Regal can nail you so easily.
	To spin the Marauder's fat rear tires, it's necessary to stand one foot on 
the brake and the other on the gas until the V-8 nears its power peak, then 
let go. Even then, the result is underwhelming. Around town, without the 
two-footed showboating, the Marauder feels merely quick.
	In a two-ton sedan, there's no substitute for torque, the muscle that 
actually moves the car. The Marauder delivers maximum thrust at 4,250 rpm; 
the eight-cylinder VW Passat, in contrast, peaks at 2,750 rpm. The 
difference in real-world driving is effort. The Mercury demands you put 
your foot to the floor before it feels fast; the VW feels fast all the time.
	Though the engine is in fact the most modern component of the Marauder, 
it's the nips and tucks to its frame and suspension that make it a blast to 
drive. The chief improvement is rack-and-pinion steering in place of the 
archaic recirculating-ball steering of yore. There's no more giant dead 
spot on center, and there's enough feedback to give you an idea of how hard 
the tires are working.
	All the big, rear-wheel-drive Fords (Marauder, Grand Marquis, Crown 
Victoria, Lincoln Town Car) share the revised steering, a revised front 
suspension and a stiffer frame that noticeably cuts the amount of jiggle 
that comes through the steering column. On top of that, the Marauder gets 
stiffer springs, bigger anti-roll bars and sport-tuned dampers. Flashy, 
18-inch chrome wheels wear aggressive Goodrich T/A 50-series tires up 
front, 55 in back.
	Who'd have guessed a gussied-up Grand Marquis could feel so darned good on 
a mountain road? Not only are the car's limits high, they're approached 
without a lot of body roll or tire-squealing hysterics. A few runs through 
a parking-lot autocross proved the Marauder more than capable of chasing 
flyweight sports cars, despite its sheer size (six feet longer than a Mini 
Cooper), slippery, flat seats and lack of low-end power. The front end 
doesn't plow in tight corners; the rear end doesn't come around easily. Few 
sedans in this front-drive-heavy price range are as easy to drive quickly.
	But those front-drive sedans are the big Merc's competition for your 
$35,000, and if you care for grippy seats or first-class interior fittings, 
they win going away. The beautiful black leather in the Marauder wraps very 
flat, springy chairs, giving the driver a precarious-feeling perch in a car 
that otherwise demands to be flung about.
  	The dashboard is blocky and dated, though the Marauder gets round, 
white-faced gauges and a floor-mounted shifter that help lighten the 
Granddad feel. Gaps between panels are huge, the radio is an arm's length 
away (some controls are duplicated on the steering wheel) and the 
metallic-mesh trim on the doors and dashboard looks cheap. Gas and brake 
pedals are height-adjustable, but they go from too high to way too high.
	And while the Marauder is among the biggest sedans on the road, rear-seat 
legroom is merely average, and a poorly placed spare eats up much of what 
should be a gargantuan trunk.
	Packaging like that isn't going to go away before the next redesign, but 
there's no reason Mercury can't refit the car's interior with more 
luxurious door panels, for instance, or add bolstering to the driver's seat.
	In fact, there's no reason not to add another 50 horsepower and better 
gearing to put it to the pavement. Go bold, Mercury, because as a family 
sedan, the Marauder has little besides familiarity and size to recommend 
it. As an outlandish anachronism, though, it's only 50 horsepower and a 
better interior away from being irresistible.