Since the purchase of my wife’s Honda Element, I've recently taken over her low-mileage 2001 Grand Marquis. I've only driven a few miles on this old-fashioned beast, but here are some random thoughts on the venerable Panther platform.
The ride is rather smooth over the craters, er potholes, of West Michigan. However, really rough washboard pavement can cause the rear live-axle to momentarily lose contact with the road, resulting in some odd braking behavior. Regarding size, the Marquis actually feels smaller than my old Buick Roadmaster, though nose-to-nose, they are almost exactly the same length and width. The Marquis has better legroom, but the Buick seemed to wrap around you in a more protective fashion. Compared to the other cars on the road, the Marquis is truly a BIG car. Even the expensive BMW 7-series is smaller. This size and resulting weight certainly doesn’t help fuel consumption, but it does give one an added feeling of safety. With those miles of sheet-metal, the Marquis is also a hard car for trucks and SUVs to ‘intimidate.’
The general handling of the Marquis seems fairly tight. There are quite a number of braces in the front suspension which helps the nose stay relatively straight during hard cornering. Though not up to my old Volvo in overall handling, the RWD platform feels very stable and I feel safer pushing it hard into corners. Of course the shared platform Crown Vic has been used for years in police vehicles, so this is hardly a surprise. Of course I wouldn’t select this car for SCAA competition, but for day-to-day driving it is better than you would expect.
My model of the Marquis also has the traction control option, which takes a bit of the "70s cop show fun" out of driving it. It can be turned off, but I actually prefer do drive with it on since it stops me from doing something monumentally stupid. The traction control really does help during the worst parts of Michigan winters. Though FWD and AWD cars will provide amateur drivers with better grip, I prefer the predictability of RWD. When the back starts to kick out, it becomes natural to counter-steer and get the nose of the car pointed back in the right direction.
Interior quality is quite high - much better than many, many cars I have driven. It still feels modern, even though it is 10 years old now, and the wood trim actually has a bit of class to it. Sure, it's not a Lexus, but I like it. The seats are comfortable but oddly harder around the bottom seat edges, which can lead to the thighs falling asleep on long trips. This is one of the few cars where I can truly stretch out my legs. At 6’2”, this is a blessing.
The exterior is conservative and boring. This is a popular senior-citizen car, which is good and bad. First of all, it gets ignored by other drivers. And since the Marquis also looks much like its brother, the Crown Vic, it often gets mistaken as a police car. I've seen people afraid to pass me on the highway or tap their brakes at night. As for the bad, I've noticed people love to pass these cars. It's either the size or the suspected age of the driver, but everyone assumes you will be going slow when leaving the stoplight.
Finally - the engine. Acceleration with the 225hp-ish 4.6L SOHC engine is not all that stunning with over 4000lbs of car to pull around. Off-the-line grunt doesn't compare to my old Buick’s 5.7L LT1 engine in any way. Too bad Ford never made a 5.4L 'GT' edition or something like that. This car just needs more bottom-end torque to truly feel right to me. Having said that, the 4.6L is still very smooth. It starts to gather power higher up in the power band. Perfect for high-speed pursuits, but not the best for lower-speed streetlight action.
Overall, I still prefer the old GM B-body cars, but since they were last made in 1996, low mileage models are getting harder to find. I've always been more if a "GM guy" than a "Ford Guy", so I still feel more comfortable working on the old B body platform. But for a daily grind car for someone who is tall, the Marquis does a good job.
Sadly, the Marquis will no longer be sold after 2011. It’s time has come and gone, but if you don’t mind spending a little extra for gasoline, then go ahead and try one out. It rides better than many modern cars and is perfect for long highway driving.
Mileage in town: 15.8mpg average
Mileage on the Highway: 25.2mpg average