- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

There have been a number of rather rotund male actors and dancers that were light of foot. Remember Oliver Hardy dancing through the pathos of the Depression years?

Baby boomers, male ones at least, are well acquainted with Curly's balanced shuffling in the Three Stooges, and a newer generation has grown up watching John Belushi, John Candy and Chris Farley cement the notion that big guys can dance. Mercury provides the automotive counterpoint.

For a big car, Marauder certainly does handle well. So well in fact, that more than one tester paled at the realization that police departments, guided with trained drivers and Crown Victorias with uprated suspensions, could give their nimble sporty cars a real run for their money.

Powering the big Mercury through an interstate cloverleaf at twice the recommended speed is no sweat. There are very few solid rear-axle cars that feel this connected to the road.

Monotube shock absorbers, for enhanced response, and a four-link rear suspension with additional Watt's linkage go a long way to putting distance between this taut handler and the land yachts of yore.

The engineers at Mercury should be proud.

There will be drivers of Camaros getting mighty surprised at that big lump of black catching them on cloverleafs.

Complimenting the well-sorted suspension are BF Goodrich g-Force KDWS tires. Goodrich has developed this all season tire from its sensational g-Force lineup of ultrahigh-performance tires.

The tires are mated to polished 18-inch alloy wheels and provide the final bit of shine to neat package no matter whether your perspective is inside the car or out.

The classic image of the Roman god Mercury is cast into each of the wheel caps to further communicate the car's personality and storied heritage.

With great tires and new rack-and-pinion steering, the steering feel is very good. All of this adds up to an unexpected gracefulness that significantly enhances the Marauder's appeal.

Monstrous 12-inch ventilated front and 11-inch ventilated rear brake rotors, and twin-piston front and single-piston rear calipers complete the package.

The Marauder is finished in black gloss paint for the time being. Non-functional areas of the headlamp units are blacked-out and the tail lamp bezels are dark-tinted to continue the serious, but understated appearance.

Unmistakable but subtle performance cues include the high-intensity Cibie fog lamps integrated into the fascia, the three-inch chrome exhaust tips and the "Marauder" name embossed on the rear bumper.

Inside, dual eight-way power reclining bucket seats are appointed in rich black leather with classic French seam stitching derived from vintage Marauders.

The seats have extra padding for better thigh, lumbar and shoulder support.

A modern rendition of the Mercury god's head is debossed into the front seat backs.

Of course it's the engine that will attract buyers. The all-aluminum V-8 sports dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder for better breathing and a broader power band. It pumps out 318 foot-pounds of torque at 4,300 rpm and 302 horsepower at 5,750 rpm.

In use, coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission, this car accelerates smartly if you floor the throttle.

Part throttle launches are smooth as silk as the transmission's gearing takes advantage of the engine's power delivery characteristics.

Best of all, the Marauder V-8 exhaust rumbles with authority. Not as obnoxiously loud as an import racer, but definitely attention-getting.

A nice contradiction to the "buzzin' bumblebee" sound coming from so many smaller engines these days.

"The Mercury Marauder sends the message that the V-8 rear-drive muscle car is back," said Steve Park, Marauder's chief designer.

With the windows rolled up and the stereo on, the Marauder is a comfortable cruiser.

The front seats, while soft and a tad springy, do seem to provide sufficient lateral grip to keep the driver well located during spirited running but are relaxed and compliant enough for long cruises. The upside of a sedan this size is that the driver can easily impress four friends, this being a true five-place sedan rather than a four+one configuration found in most four-door sedans.

A modern, technical-looking dot matrix gray trim accents the instrument panel.

A leather-wrapped floor shifter highlights the floor console area that flows into space for two cup holders and a high storage bin for CDs and cell phones.

The white-faced gauges include a 7,000-rpm tachometer that redlines at 6,250 rpm. The 140-mph speedometer has a red-lit "Marauder" graphic. Auto Meter-brand high-performance oil-pressure and voltmeter gauges are located just in front of the shifter.

The audio system is a 140-watt Alpine AM/FM/CD/cassette player with four 100-amp speakers and a rear subwoofer for excellent top-down sound quality.

For convenience, the steering wheel features secondary audio and climate controls.

The only available options are a trunk organizer for $200 and a trunk-mounted, six-disc CD player, which is $350.

This is the perfect car for the NASCAR fan.

While there are no longer any Mercurys on the grid, the Marauder has a lot more in common with the real race cars that the fans remember than any Monte Carlo, Gran Prix, Taurus or Dodge that sits on the showroom floor.

And if Chevy is kicking itself about giving up on the Impala, Cadillac has to be quaking at the prospect of Mercury guys building the convertible concept they showed at Chicago.

There are few cars that resonate so fondly in memories, not only in the United States but wherever Hollywood movies are shown, as the big, spacious convertibles of the '50s and '60s.

Why Cadillac has not even rolled out a concept is a puzzle. And the Marauder droptop has to have them worried.

At this time, the convertible model is purely a concept, but public reaction will be closely monitored to gauge whether sufficient demand exists to justify a full development program.

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