- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

If you love cop cars or otherwise muscle-bound versions of big, full-size sedans the 2003 Mercury Marauder is for you.
Based on the roomy and more relaxed-riding Mercury Grand Marquis, the new-for-2003 Marauder is powered up with a 302-horsepower V-8, 18-inch wheels and tires, updated chassis and a no-nonsense cop-car look.
Why, several drivers moved over to the shoulder to let me pass as I drove the black Marauder. I chuckled because they must have thought I was on official business of a law-enforcement kind.
The test Marauder also brought stares from a curious neighbor, who's a retired state police officer.
Obviously, you don't get these reactions from other new cars, and it takes a certain kind of person to enjoy them.
Mercury said target buyers are predominantly men in their mid-40s with college degrees and household income of $70,000-plus.
"They want a cool car like they had in their teens," said Nancy Carollo, Lincoln-Mercury spokeswoman.
The Mercury Marauder name dates back to the 1960s, about the time these kinds of buyers were impressionable youths.
The original Marauders, like the new one, were based on mainstream Mercury sedans. But they were designed to exude all-American performance as the nation's muscle-car era took shape.
Today, "the potential market encompasses any person who ever owned a rear-wheel-drive muscle car and everyone who ever wanted one," said Steve Babcock, Marauder program manager at Ford Motor Co.
To be sure, there isn't a direct competitor to the new Marauder one that's a performance-oriented, domestic-labeled, V-8-powered, rear-drive, full-size sedan. And that's before you add in the Marauder's dark, monotone paint job, black grille and cop-carlike taillights.
Note that no cheery paint colors are offered on the Marauder. In fact, until March, only black and dark blue are the exterior paint choices. In March, a silver-gray paint will be added, Mr. Carollo said.
Interior leather colors of charcoal and lighter flint are similarly businesslike.
Riders notice right off that in place of the front bench seat available on the 2003 Grand Marquis, the Marauder has two large bucket seats and a shifter in the center console.
The long, straight dashboard has the same shape and size as the one in the Grand Marquis, but gauges are satin aluminum here, and the word "Marauder" is a red-lighted graphic.
In addition, there are two additional gauges under the Marauder's low-mounted radio. They are Auto Meter-branded, high-performance oil pressure and voltmeter gauges.
The Marauder's biggest differentiator from its Grand Marquis sibling is the 4.6-liter, double-overhead-cam V- with aluminum block and heads.
With the help of four valves per cylinder and revised intake manifold and exhaust system, it generates peak torque of 318 foot-pounds at 4,300 rpm and uses premium unleaded gasoline.
In contrast, the 2003 Grand Marquis is available with a 224-horsepower, 4.6-liter, single-overhead-cam V-8 with two valves per cylinder and a cast-iron block. Maximum torque is 272 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm, and regular unleaded gas is the recommended fuel.
Where the Grand Marquis power comes on in a smooth, predictable way, the launching power in the test Marauder was a bit unpredictable, due to a sensitive throttle tip-in.
For instance, I peeled away from stop signs when I wasn't even trying to lay a patch of rubber. Only later during the test drive did I learn to modulate the gas pedal better and save me and my passengers from more neck-bending experiences.
Still, I found myself craving the deep rumbling from the Marauder's two-pipe exhaust system. The awesome sounds made it seem as if this big black sedan were surging forward with gusto, even when it wasn't. And I loved watching heads turn as onlookers heard the sound, too.
The Marauder also impressed as a long-distance traveler, where it managed many road bumps handily and kept passengers mostly above the road imperfections and more comfortable than expected.
Even on twisty mountain roads, this full-size sedan felt surprisingly composed, and in slalom maneuvers, body roll was tempered and body motions nicely predictable.
Mercury upgraded the 16-inch tires and wheels of the Grand Marquis to 18-inch, performance rubber on the Marauder. And because power hits the road via the rear tires, these tires are a bit wider than the ones on the Marauder's front wheels.
Meanwhile, the chassis for this nearly 4,200-pound car is stiffened, and suspension includes load-leveling air springs at the rear that also are used on Ford police cars.
As you might expect in a full-size sedan, there's ample room for prisoners, er, passengers, front and back.
But I noticed that seats are stitched and fashioned to look more like Mercury models of old rather than well-bolstered to keep drivers well-planted during aggressive going.
This car's trunk is sizable, too, at 20.6 cubic feet. It's the same as in a Grand Marquis.
Don't miss the gray-silver trim on the Marauder dashboard. It looks as if it's metallic, but on close inspection, you'll see it's a well-done plastic.
The Marauder has no wood trim, but this four-door comes with standard climate control, antilock brakes, power windows, mirrors and door locks, remote keyless entry, floor mats, AM/FM stereo with CD and cassette players, side airbags and traction control.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $34,495 for a Marauder. This is nearly $10,000 more than the price of a base 2003 Grand Marquis.

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