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Review: 2003 Mercury Marauder

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO Mercury Buyer's Guide

By Robert Bowden, The Car Place


Major macho looks
An exhaust note to love
Passes with great ease
Comfortable ride yet handling is good
Nice instruments and dash layout
It's one of a kind today


Just gulps premium gasoline!
No low-end grunt at all
Seats need far more lumbar and lateral support
Automatic transmission is the only transmission
Comes only in black -- hot and dirties easily


Style: retro muscle sedan
Engine: 4.6-liter V8
Transmission: four-speed automatic
Drivetrain: rear-wheel drive
Horsepower: 302 hp @ 5,750 rpm
Torque: 318 ft-lbs. @ 4,300 rpm
EPA mileage: 17 city/23 highway
Weight: 4,195 lb.
Base price: $34,495
Price as tested: $34,495

Just the bottom line This car is targeted for this reviewer. If I don't like it, it's a flop. Bet on it.

Why? I'm the demographic it seeks. It's a throwback, a retro sedan from the '60s muscle car era. It's a return to vehicular dinosaurs, hoping to attract former hot rodders who sold their ImClone shares even before Martha did. These folks have the cash to pony up $35,000 for a car and they just can't warm up to turbocharged four-cylinder imports. My generation.

I'm their guy.

Need more? My first car was a Mercury, a used 1949 model similar to the one James Dean drove in :"Rebel Without a Cause." Working after school and weekends at an A&P grocery store, I earned enough to customize that Merc into something special -- a down-on-the-ground, flame-painted, Moon-disced, Lakes-plug equipped beauty with twin glasspacks exhausting the old flathead V8. Peers knew that car when they saw it.

I'm their guy.

My generation still favors cubic inches over tricks, still likes lots of elbow room inside a vehicle, still wants to turn heads with the car of our choice, still mourns the loss of wing windows and simple controls. We want a real car, mind you. Not a black Yukon with dark windows or lowered Accord with a silly high wing on the rear deck. No way.

So I can tell you this: the black-only, evil-wicked-mean-and-nasty looking Mercury Marauder suits me fine. Really. It could be a keeper -- if I could get past that $35,000 price tag for what is essentially a black Grand Marquis with 18-inch wheels and a Cobra engine.

That price tag, you understand, can buy a lot of comfort and luxury, much prized by my generation as backs weaken with age and wives no longer appreciate the thrill of full-bore acceleration. Can anyone say "Lexus"?

And, even though there is much to like about the Marauder, there are problems. Begin with the fact that this car can't spin the rear tires unless you stand on the brakes, rev the V8 as high as it will go, and cross your heart three times while singing "Winky Dink and You.".

It just can't launch with authority. Nothing really happens until about 3,000 rpm, and everything ends at about 6,000 rpm. This is a good range for passing at highway speed; not good for those who get a kick out of occasionally lighting up rear tires for a city block.

No can do in a Marauder.

Anybody remember the first Marauder. Frankly, I didn't. Even looking at a photograph did nothing to jog the memory. That original Marauder came out in 1963, offering a 300-horsepower, 390 cubic-inch V8 as standard and a stunning 427 cubic-inch V8 (that's 7.1 liters for you itty-bitty car guys) producing 425 horsepower and sucking fuel through twin four-barrels.

It was a flop. Ford dropped it from the Mercury lineup, but brought it back in 1969 with a 429 cubic-inch big boy under the hood. Nope. Young buyers were into Camaros or Mustangs, GTO Judges or Road Runners, and the Chevy Chevelle SS396 was the hot ticket. Mercury dumped the Marauder in 1970. No interest.

But now this retro thing is all the vogue. Just look at the reception given the New Beetle, the PT Cruiser. So struggling Mercury, needing an image car like Buick needs a new Grand National, revived the Marauder for 2003.

Ford admits the demise of the Chevy Impala SS in 1997 helped tilt executives into committing to a production run of the Marauder. The '90s Caprice is recorded in automotive history as one of the ugliest cars ever produced. It was Mike Tyson in a tutu. It was fat, gross and ponderous. Seeking to make some kind of Shinola from this pile, Chevy created the Impala SS from that Caprice. Whoa. The SS was black, slightly lowered, had a Corvette V8, rear-wheel drive -- and didn't look so ugly any more.

Yeh, it was big, but some people prefer Mae West to Kate Moss. The SS was a Renoir woman among cars.

Today, those big Impalas are becoming collectible, with a cult following.

As is often the case with GM models, the Impala SS was dumped from the lineup just about the time Chevy got things right (but it still had a column shifter for the automatic transmission!).

The Marauder thus picks up the market vacated when the last of the vehicular dinosaurs disappeared after a brief meteor shower of favorable reviews.

The Marauder is based on the Mercury Grand Marquis, of course, a platform also used for the Ford Crown Victoria, every cop's favorite chase car right up to the time it gets hit from behind. In Florida, where I live, the Grand Marquis is the best-selling car. Why? Older demographics. Retired folks need room for six, a huge trunk for golf clubs, rear-wheel drive just 'cause, a V8 just 'cause and four big doors that open wide. That pretty well narrows the market choices these days.

The Marauder, though, is a Grand Marquis that opted for tattoos and body piercing. Definitely the black sheep of the Mercury clan.

It can scoot from 0-to-60 in about 6.5 seconds. That much power is scary to contemplate placing in the hands of some blue hairs on their way to Bingo. It corners flat and fast while Grand Marquis drivers try just to stay in their lane. It stops on a dime; and Grand Marquis drivers stop six car lengths from the car ahead at each stop light.

So this is not your grandfather's Grand Marquis.

And it really is different under the hood. The V8 from the 2002 Ford Mustang Cobra has been dropped into the Marauder. It's coupled to a smooth-shifting four-speed automatic. Actually, this is probably a good choice for 90 percent of drivers 99 percent of the time. This unit downshifts quickly when passing power is needed, never jolts or jerks those inside the car. I felt the need for a manual only for launch prowess. This one is lacking in that department.

Ah, but the sound ....

Check it out here as the car is cranked and briefly revved. Note that the throaty Cobra roar is heard by others as you pass, but is not a problem for those in the Marauder at cruising speed. For those who love old muscle cars -- myself included -- this is the way a car should sound.

The Grand Marquis has done well in recent crash tests, and the Marauder is equipped with front and side air bags, as well as anti-lock brakes. The brakes apply full force if the pedal is jabbed and feature Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, which moves braking power from rear to front as needed during weight transfer -- such as a panic stop. The seat belt restraints have pre-tensioners and the air bags deploy with force related to the severity of the impact.

From the outside, there's no mistaking a black Marauder. It's downright sinister looking. Just in case a further tip off is needed, the 18-inch chrome wheels have the old winged Mercury dude as a centerfold. Look for jutting dual exhausts with oversized chrome tips under each end of the rear bumper, as well.

Open the driver's side door and step inside. The bench seat available with the Grand Marquis -- and much beloved by the Early Bird Special set -- is gone, swapped for two bucket seats. Unfortunately, the driver's seat lacks both sufficient lateral and lumbar support. I exited grabbing my back after long stints behind the wheel. But the pedals are adjustable, the steering wheel can be positioned to your liking, and the power seat moves every which-a-way. (Take a look around the interior with this panoramic shot.)

On the back of the front seats, just in case a further reminder is needed, you'll find that Marauder dude again.

The instruments are nicely done, with black numerals against white faces. But the stereo and climate control buttons are the too-many-Chiclets layout that should have disappeared when Alfa Romeo pulled out of U.S. distribution.

Further, digital readouts are done with green diodes that disappear when standard sunglasses are worn. Come on, guys. No green. No orange. White on black for digital readouts. Black on white for analog. Maximize contrast, avoid problems for the color blind, and let them be seen through any color sunglasses.

Crank up the car and enjoy that exhaust sound. Note that the steering wheel has room to rest your hand at the bottom and has redundant controls for audio and cruise control. It's a pleasant environment, quite dark in tone, with fake carbon-fiber accents. Visibility front and rear is good.

Reach down to the gear selector on the floor. Straight gate. No notched puzzle or maze to navigate. Brushed accent, not bright chrome to kick sun back into your eyes. In front of it there are old-fashioned gauges for oil pressure and amps. Thankfully, these are well thought out. They are the first I've seen in a production vehicle that use the common-sense technique of race cars -- straight up is OK.

When both indicators are displaying acceptable readings, their neon-red needles are straight up. That way, they can be read quickly. No way should a driver take eyes off the road, look way down to the front of the floor shifter and have to examine a gauge. Other manufacturers should just copy these.

My biggest disappointment with the Marauder is fuel inefficiency. I'm not sure what planet the EPA resides on to come up with estimates of 17/23. There are very few reviews of the new Marauder yet, but one other reviewer got 13.9 gallons in mixed conditions. I did not get exact figures, but exclusive interstate cruising using the most efficient cruise control was about 15 miles per gallon. And that's premium fuel, which just shot above $1.75 a gallon where I live.

A partial fillup easily topped $20 and that expensive juice lasted only about 125 miles. In steady interstate driving, the range from this car was under 300 miles. As gas bills soared, I parked the Marauder until it was picked up and sent to another reviewer. "Needs a refueling plane flying overhead at all times," I told the Ford rep.

Atrocious fuel inefficiency, the need for the priciest fuel and a $35,000 initial price make the Marauder a bit unattractive. It's for the hard-core, aged rodder/family man in need of a sedan. It's all there is. Unless, of course, that rodder looks around at what $35,000 could buy in the way of a collectible muscle car, restored to showroom perfection. Hmmmm. Viewed for value, those '60s Camaros and Mustangs, GTO Judges and Road Runners, still look pretty competitive.

Mercury plans a mere 18,000 Marauders.

Now you can guess why.

'nuff said.