Wednesday, April 11, 2012
The Zen of the Mercury Grand Marquis
This post is an expansion of my original review of the 2001 Mercury Grand Marquis.
If cars can be objects of lust, then the Mercury Grand Marquis is the old lady gone slightly seedy, hanging out past closing-time, waiting for any man to take her home. Okay, that's a little unfair, so let's try again. This ancient hold-over of full-frame construction, RWD and V8 power is from an era of long highway drives, three martini lunches, and Brylcreem. No, no - a little too Mad Men. The Marquis is a popular car with elderly drivers who prefer size and comfort over efficiency and the latest techno-wiz doo-dads. That's better. It's also a retired platform, finally joining the Caprice and Roadmaster up in car heaven.
I drive a Grand Marquis almost everyday. What's it like to be in an old-fogey machine with the performance of a 4-cyl Camry and the gas-mileage of a Chevy Corvette? Interesting, to say the least. To wring any kind of performance out of this heavy beast requires an equally heavy foot. The 225hp 4.6L V8, coupled to a 3900lb car (without passengers) with 2.73 highway gears is not a recipe for speed. However, on the highway it is very good, with very nice acceleration all the way up to the top-speed limiter. Much of the off-the-line blame lies with the torque output of the SOHC engine, which churns out a relatively measly 275lb-ft. Sure, this sound like a lot if you're used to driving normally-aspirated four or six cylinders, but my heavier Roadmaster, on the other hand, with only 260hp but 330lb-ft of torque, was a stop-light warrior. In this case, the big torque down low coupled with 3.08 gears really pulled the car off the line.
Handling is better than expected, but not exactly a canyon carver. But still, I've managed to leave some econo FWD cars behind on tight country corners - it's mostly the confidence and familiarity I have with RWD cars. The weight balance is better, with less plowing and understeer. The Marquis is also helped by the numerous braces and whatnot in the suspension. Again, this isn't any sort of real high-performance machine, and first-time drivers of the Marquis will be intimidated by the sheer weight and size as you try to squeeze through the corners. However, the Marquis brother, the Crown Vic Police Interceptor, seems to do a well-enough job in this regard, so let's leave it there.
Okay, so what's it like to actually drive one of these land yachts, er tugs? Well, imagine a hood the size of a football field, where the car in front of you is like a small animal waiting to be crushed by your superior size. I'm obviously exaggerating, but the girth of the Grand Marquis is its strongest (and perhaps only) selling point. If you believe that weight and size are important for surviving a crash, then you can't get much bigger than this for a passenger car. With this size comes confidence - knowing that the tailgater behind you can't actually do anything about it - What, buddy? You're going to push me off the road with your Kia? Yeah! Good luck there, pipsqueak!
Steering is responsive and predictable with less slop than your 80s-era GM product. The nose of the car goes exactly where you point it, with only some hassle over rough surfaces. As per most large full-framed cars, the drive is much smoother than your average non-luxury FWD car. My Marquis doesn't have the air shocks, so the ride is probably closer to a newer truck than a Cadillac. However, road feel is good without being overly intrusive. It's a good balance, much better than, let's say, my old Volvo 850 GLT which felt every dimple and pebble.
In general, this car gets ignored. People are more likely to want to pass you, even if you are going well over the speed limit, just because they will assume you are an old man at the wheel. Bonus: At certain times, especially at night, other drivers are apt to think you are behind the wheel of a cop car. Hilarity ensues as they stab the brakes and start driving all slow 'n' mellow. Who me, officer? Hilarity ceases when they get pissed off, realizing they were fooled.
Interior room for the front driver and passenger is a bastion of comfort. If you suffer from aphenphobia, haphenphobia, or just don't like people in general, then you couldn't ask for a much wider car. When riding along in my buddy's Nissan Versa, our elbows are touching! Egads! With the Marquis, you're kept a safe distance from your fellow plague carriers. Seat comfort, with the cloth bucket seats, is fairly good with minimal discomfort over long hauls. The back seat passengers are given second-rate seating arrangements with an uncomfortable bench seat and reduced legroom. Oddly enough, my Olde Buick Roadmaster had less legroom for the front passengers, but was more comfortable out back. Go figure.
Trunk space, as to be expected, is the other selling point. If you like golf, boxing, kayaking, ping-pong, or any other sport of kings, then you can do them all - even at the same time - within the comfort of your own trunk. There's enough room here to keep the most bloodthirsty of Mafia members happy as they careen through the night, looking for a place to bury their victims. Not that I would know anything about that, but a trip to Ikea is no sweat, except for sofas, wardrobes, and long tables. It's also good if your wife likes to pack her entire wardrobe in multiple suitcases. Bonus - when not in use, you can sublet your trunk for extra money to pay for the gasoline you are going to use like a man in the desert with glass of water.
Which brings us to mileage. The SOHC 4.6L, though no model of efficiency, is certainly better than the old push-rod engine. Well, perhaps marginally better. In the city, I average somewhere between 15-17mpg, depending on weather, my twitchy right foot, and the speed and direction of the wind. The best performance, of course, lies on the highway where I can get up to 25mpg or even slightly more if speeds are kept under control. This is where the difficulty lies, since as the speed increases, the gas mileage quickly decreases pushing this long and heavy metal box down the road. This ancient transmission could really do with a 5th or even 6th gear. Or perhaps some cylinder drop technology? Nah, Ford already planned to obsolete this car, so why would they throw any more money at this dinosaur? The only way to squeeze any kind of gas mileage out of this car is to drive it S-L-O-W-L-Y which is probably why all of the old geezers you see driving these things are going well under the speed limit. They are just trying to save a buck so they can spend it on cat food, or whatever gourmet meal they are planning.
Reliability has been fairly good - the one major repair was a broken ball joint and the heater control unit replacement. I also had a $10 sensor go bad, but a quick job with the scanner pinpointed the problem for a quick home mechanic replacement. The drivetrain should be solid since it's so primitive - something I've generally found to be true even with RWD cars from the 70s and 80s.
So, what do I think of the Mercury Grand Marquis overall? The car does lack a bit of soul, falling on the vanilla bland side of the fence. It's quite predictable, boring, and fairly anonymous. But on the positive side it's also comfortable, big, and great for highway cruising. Though the performance is well into the snooze category - don't expect to win many drag races - it's slightly better than expected, provided you don't ask too much out of the ancient design. I won't exactly be sad to see it gone, but, like a girlfriend who has overstayed her welcome, when the day does come, I'll easily remember the good things.