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2003 Mercury Marauder: Americanarchetype


If you don’t already get it, nothing we say will make you understand. The Mercury Marauder draws its inspiration from an old-school construct, one that broadly dictates V8 power and rear-wheel drive in a full-size car. Think muscle car on a large scale, or muscle sedan, if you will. It is an emotional anti-thesis to today’s high-revving, front-drive pocket rocket.

There are subtleties to this formula. It must be American-bred, steel and rubber and glass forged in a factory powered by Rust-Belt blood, sweat and tears. Cars from Stuttgart, Munich or Tokyo cannot qualify.

Power must be plenty, too; sound produced under power must have a palpable grunt. Five, even six, adults should fit comfortably within its four doors: They need not be swathed in the trappings of today’s standard luxury—high-tech materials, electronic gadgetry, sophisticated cockpit design—but braced in a simple, practical, understated cabin with a hint of the sinister oozing from its seams. Given that, the car’s identity should remain shrouded—clearly from those who don’t get it—in the guise of another grandfatherly full-sized car. The smallest giveaways are allowed: monochrome paint, big wheels, ever slight trim mods, and oversized pipes tucked under its rear bumper.

That’s the idea, anyway. And it is how every hot rod four-door 409, Fury and Torino of the original era appeared. How Marauder stacks up against those ideals is something else.

The Marauder gets its motivation from an all-aluminum 4.6-liter dohc V8 pumping out 300 horsepower at 5750 rpm and 310 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm. While those aren’t numbers to sneeze at, consider that the top previous-generation Marauder, from 1969 to 1970, had a big-block 429-cid engine turning out 360 horses. Consider also that the new car’s 300 horsepower must move 4165 pounds of body-on-frame heft. The old car weighed about the same, though options could push it to 4500 pounds.

The new Marauder moves out, no doubt. But relatively high peak numbers combined with weight means getting tires to chirp—let alone scream—off the line requires more than just stomping the gas pedal. Only if you brake torque the engine can you break its rear tires loose; once off the line the Marauder quickly scoots down the road. We’ll have to wait to fully track-test the Marauder to see just how quickly, though Mercury thinks it’ll do just under seven seconds to 60 mph and turn in a high-14-seconds in the quarter-mile.

This is a segment in which bragging rights rule, and raucous standing-starts weren’t a problem for the last rear-drive, V8-powered, big American muscle car, the 1994-96 Chevrolet Impala SS. With its bigger 5.7-liter pushrod engine, the Impala SS didn’t turn out as many ponies, at 260 hp, as the Marauder, but displacement helped it give 330 lb-ft of torque at just 2400 revs, so burning rubber required little more than a heavy right foot. Marauder could have more power— that is, more usable power down low. Ideally Mercury would drop in its supercharged 4.6-liter V8 from the Marauder convertible concept unveiled at the Chicago auto show. That mill turns out 335 horsepower and 355 lb-ft of torque at a much more reasonable 3000 rpm. Now that would give Marauder’s muscle car creds a definite boost.

Marauder’s four-speed automatic, like so many Ford boxes, doesn’t like to shift smoothly; it produces clunky one- and two- gear downshifts if called upon too suddenly. But at least Mercury knew to place the shifter on the floor instead of the column, something Chevy’s Impala SS didn’t get right until its last production year.

From a ride-and-handling standpoint, the Marauder exceeds our expectations. Under hard braking, Marauder’s four-wheel antilock discs produce little dive. Even when hustled aggressively, the Marauder exhibits little lean through the corners. Perhaps its size and mass helped foster an assumption that the Marauder would wallow when pushed; perhaps knowing how the Grand Marquis—on which it is based—performs is responsible for the misconception. Whatever the reason, it didn’t take long to learn that Marauder’s independent front suspension—with unequal-length control arms, coil springs, monotube shocks and antiroll bar—and its air-sprung live rear suspension give it a great sense of the road. And the Marauder’s new rack-and-pinion steering is a tremendous improvement over the Marquis’ recirculating-ball system.

We also were taken by the Marauder’s looks. Again, those of you who don’t get it probably see little more than a sedate sedan in these pictures. That’s the point.

Marauder makes its understated yet aggressive statement with a monochromatic paint scheme, for one, as well as its 18-inch polished alloy rims. Most notable are the twin polished exhaust tips peeking out from behind, and the fully welded exhaust pipes they’re connected to. We would prefer a more hunkered-down stance, achieved either with a slightly lowered ride height, a better body kit with subtle ground effects, or both. Mercury insists ride height is limit-ed by the car’s suspension and by a mandate that dictates a minimum ground clearance. We would gladly sacrifice a bit of both for a more aggressive mien. We also wouldn’t mind a slightly darker tint on the windows, and would love it if Mercury bagged the waterfall badge on the Marauder’s grille and steering wheel for the winged god’s head found on the wheels and seats. Continuity, guys.

Inside, the car’s good looks are helped by its all-black design and sporty leather buckets. Nice touches include a carbon fiber-look trim that accents the dash, white-faced gauges and Auto Meter voltmeter and oil pressure gauges set low on the center dash module. In retaining its big muscle car heritage, Mercury kept superfluity to a minimum, both inside the Marauder and out.

Understated cool will cost some cash, though. This old-school ride, on sale this summer, starts at $34,495. For its return foray to a segment in which Mercury once thrived, Marauder holds so much promise of getting it right. We love the Marauder idea but think it can—and should—be more potent. Then again, Chevy took three years to make the Impala SS right. Can Dearborn steer a similar course? If so, then Marauder—heck, all of Mercury—has a better shot at long-term survival.

That’s something everyone should understand.

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My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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