2003 Mercury Marauder Car review
"Yeah, We post a lot about this car. But that's because web sites and magazines keep talking about it. Stacy94PGT"
By Joe Wiesenfelder, cars.com
You have a right to 302 horsepower. You have a right to 310 pounds-feet of torque. You have a right to rack-and-pinion steering and BFGoodrich g-Force T/A tires. If you give up these rights, the same rights may be used against you at a stoplight by someone driving a 2003 Mercury Marauder.
The Marauder’s specification sheet reads like the scene in Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s 1980 film “The Blues Brothers,” in which Jake Blues is paroled from the Joliet, Ill., Correctional Center and Elwood picks him up in a 1974 Dodge Monaco he bought at a police auction. “It’s got a cop motor . . . cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks . . .” Elwood says.
Based on the Police Interceptor version of Ford’s Crown Victoria, the Marauder is definitely the new Bluesmobile. (Fans of the movie will be satisfied to know that even its cigarette lighter works.) The squad-car-turned-civilian is not a new idea. Chevrolet did it first with the limited-production Impala SS, from 1994 to 1996. Thanks to the limited supply and the understanding that the platform on which it was based would itself soon go away, this car was a big hit. Fond of large cars, I thought of buying one myself, but I’d just picked up a low-mileage used car for a good price and didn’t want the depreciation hit of a new-car purchase. Two years later, used Impalas were selling for about as much as they’d cost new. Curses!
When General Motors decided to get out of the full-size rear-wheel-drive (RWD) car business, Ford gladly took up the slack with its Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis. With the exception of expensive luxury brands, Ford Motor became the only game in town.
Honestly, I thought Ford would continue to sell the heck out of this platform, the last of the full-size body-on-frame car foundations, making as little an investment as possible until the customer base diminished. (The average Grand Marquis buyer is 70 years old.) But for the 2003 model year, Ford significantly upgraded the platform, which also benefits the Lincoln Town Car. Engineers addressed frame stiffness, suspension, steering and elements as seemingly small as the mounts between the body and frame. In short, they did a lot more than they had to do, and all of the cars are better for it.
Exterior & Styling
The Marauder’s styling proves that less can definitely be more. Until later in the model year when dark-blue paint is offered, black is the only color available. There’s nary a hint of chrome on the body, which only enhances the impact of the chrome 18-inch wheels and straight, 3.5-inch-diameter dual exhaust pipes, and makes the Mercury logos pop (see photos). The logo is one of the only things that distinguishes the rear end from that of the Crown Vic. “MARAUDER” is embossed in the rear bumper, an appropriately subtle treatment for an aggressive name. In addition to the contemporary Mercury badges, the Mercury “god’s head” emblem appears in the center of each wheel, looking suspiciously like a decapitation of the FTD floral-delivery company logo (see photo).
The Marauder’s front end is based on the Grand Marquis, but the monochrome and the tinted headlight lenses go a long way in differentiating the Marauder. Cibié brand fog lights are standard equipment (see photos). Inside and out, the Marauder’s design is a welcome exercise in restraint.
Unlike the smattering of “heritage” vehicles of the past few years — the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Thunderbird, Volkswagen New Beetle — the Marauder pays no real homage to its predecessors in terms of its styling. Nowhere was this clearer than at the 2003’s regional introduction, at which two farmers named Joe provided a rolling history lesson in the form of two vintage Marauders that practically bookended the original Marauder era.
The first Marauders built for consumer sale were souped-up versions of Mercury’s coupes and sedans, inspired by the stock car Parnelli Jones drove to victory in the ’63 Pike’s Peak Hill Climb. Available on the Montclair, Monterey and Park Lane from 1963 to 1965, the Marauder option included a selection of beefy V-8 engines and a fastback roofline. Joel Ferris, a corn and soybean farmer from Archer, Neb., brought an exquisite 1964 Mercury Park Lane Marauder four-door (see photos). Joe Kolnik, a farmer and truck driver from Kenosha, Wis., represented the second wave of Marauders, which included the 1969 and 1970 model years, with a wicked 1970 Mercury Marauder X-100 (see photos). This one’s all hood . . . and trunk . . . and really big doors.
The Joes even let us journalists drive their babies, which underscored two things: One, Mercury enthusiasts are generous people who like to share their hobby. Two, though we may romanticize the cars of our past, a quick spin in well-preserved examples thereof reminds us how far the art and science of car building has come. With that, let’s get to the art and science of the third-generation Mercury Marauder.
Ride & Handling
Ride and particularly handling performance are the areas where the Marauder and its 2003 stablemates blow away the previous generation, and a lot of the current competition as well. Comparisons to the Impala SS are unavoidable, and though the Chevy still holds the crown in an area or two I’ll address in later sections, this is the arena in which the Marauder has the august old boy beat.
Engineers claim to have improved the platform’s torsional rigidity by 24 percent and its bending stiffness by 20 percent. Some of the credit is due to a new aluminum cross-member to which all front suspension components — and a new steering rack and pinion — are mounted. The independent front suspension employs shortened versions of the police-issue coil springs and Tokico brand monotube gas-charged>shock absorbers. The lower control arms and steering knuckles are aluminum for lower unsprung weight. Chassis engineers redesigned the rear suspension geometry to locate the shocks — also monotubes — farther outboard for better control and straight-line tracking. The Marauder borrows the air springs from the Lincoln Town Car here in the rear, which provide automatic leveling (see illustration).
The Marauder uses a solid, non-independent rear axle, but the new suspension does a great job controlling the rear end and minimizing axle hop, which typically surfaces when turning on rough pavement. The car does track markedly better than the previous cars on this platform. Where it differs from the Grand Marquis is in its ride quality, which is rather taut. While the Marquis and Crown Vic seem to have shed the tendency to wallow, they still are more softly sprung, the emphasis being on comfort.
The Marauder’s springs, shocks, and 28-mm front and 21-mm rear stabilizer bars are optimized for handling, and they do a splendid job. Where the sister cars tend to throw their weight around, the Marauder keeps body roll in check. The standard 18-inch wheels wear BFGoodrich g-Force T/A radials rated P235/50WR18 in the front and P245/55WR18 in the rear (see tire codes to decipher the specs). The tires grant tenacious grip, as I learned both on the road during my extended loan and on a gymkhana course that Mercury set up for the car’s regional introduction. It was on this course that I pushed the Marauder hard and got a feel for its dynamics. In this world of front-wheel drive, the Marauder feels blissfully balanced. Mercury cites a front/rear weight distribution of 55/45, and as one might expect, the car understeers in corners, but modulating the accelerator drives the rear end into the turn for a more balanced feel.
In a sustained high-speed turn, I noticed that the tires are nice and quiet when they begin to give up traction, and slight changes in accelerator input keep the hurtling hulk from getting away from you. What I wasn’t able to do was induce oversteer, or “hang the tail out.”
The rack-and-pinion steering, which boasts variable assist and variable ratio, replaces the heavier, number recirculating-ball mechanism used historically. It’s much more precise and offers more steering feedback. The Marauder is arguably a whole new car, but with this steering and the suspension changes, the related Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models feel like whole new cars as well. Bravo.
Going & Stopping
The Marauder’s only drivetrain choice is the 4.6-liter dual-overhead-camshaft aluminum V-8 (see photos) mated to a four-speed-automatic transmission. A limited-slip differential and 3.55-1 rear axle ratio are standard equipment. For all its horsepower, the Marauder doesn’t launch like the muscle car it’s intended to emulate. Once the tachometer climbs a bit, the Marauder digs in and starts making headway, but you won’t be smoking the tires unless you stand on the brake and the accelerator simultaneously — or mount inferior tires.
Horsepower 302 @ 5,750 rpm
Torque (lbs.-ft.) 310 @ 4,300 rpm
Redline 6,250 rpm
EPA-Estimated Fuel Economy (city / highway, mpg) 17 / 23
Recommended Gasoline premium unleaded
As I sat parked, jotting notes, a local cop pulled up next to me in a brand-new 2002 Ford Police Interceptor and asked, “How is that thing?” He said his cruiser was “a dog off the line,” and I told him this was by no means a dog, but all the action is higher up the rev range in the Marauder as well, as reflected in the table above. The Interceptor also uses a 4.6-liter V-8, but that version has an iron block, aluminum heads and single overhead camshafts (SOHC). It produces 235 hp at 4,750 rpm and 275 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. The Marauder’s higher output comes from the different valvetrain, including four rather than two valves per cylinder, a modified dual exhaust and an intake manifold designed by Roush Performance.
For comparison, the Chevy LT1 V-8 in the Impala SS had only 260 hp, but it peaked at 4,800 rpm and was accompanied by superior torque — 330 pounds-feet at a substantially lower 3,200 rpm. Oddly enough, the SS was quicker than the Marauder. It helped that it had a lower curb weight: 4,036 pounds in the 1996 version vs. the Marauder’s 4,165 pounds.
If I have a complaint about the Marauder, it’s the torque characteristics, and I know I’m not alone on this. When you get behind a V-8, you simply expect serious grunt at low rpm. That may be the whole point of having eight cylinders. The muscle-car era was based not on going fast but on getting fast. We have no autobahn here in the States. We live our lives going from zero to 35 mph, zero to 40 mph, zero to 45 mph. Any car can get to and beyond the legal speed limit if you give it enough time. It’s how quickly you get there that matters, and here the Marauder leaves room for improvement.
The automatic transmission isn’t much help in this regard. A five-speed might have allowed for the lowest gears to wring more juice out of the engine, but with four speeds, you’re limited. All the same, I have noticed my pet peeve, kickdown lag, on Ford five-speed automatics, and the Marauder’s four-speed was better in that regard — enough so that I would have liked it to kick down more readily to supply more power at moderate and higher speeds. Theoretically, Mercury could achieve this with different settings in the electronic drivetrain control, and I think it would be a wise move. The conservative program may be to keep fuel consumption in check, but there’s a solution for that, too — a selectable sport mode that you could activate to allow higher revving and liberal kickdown.
Another possible upgrade is a supercharger, which Mercury mounted to the SOHC engine in the enticing Marauder Convertible concept car (see photos). The two-door five-seater, introduced at the 2002 Chicago Auto Show (see coverage), isn’t a shoo-in for production, but it proves that more power is a distinct possibility for the sedan. The concept’s output is 335 hp @ 5,250 rpm and a welcome 355 pounds-feet of torque down at 3,000 rpm.
Though I believe the horrors of RWD in snow have been grossly exaggerated, I do think traction control is well worthwhile for most people, especially those who are considering a car with a V-8 engine. Mercury will include it later in the model year as standard equipment.
What didn’t disappoint about the drivetrain was its sound — both from the engine compartment and the exhaust. The true dual exhaust has a great rumble that’s audible but not overpowering at idle and under moderate acceleration, and more of a growl when you get on the gas. It even sounds good inside the car, where the engine and transmission emit a faint whine not unlike that of a supercharger. Hear it from outside and inside the cabin in Windows Media or Real Player audio.
The brakes are four-wheel discs with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD). The front set comprises dual-piston calipers and 12.4-inch rotors, and the rear ones have single-piston calipers and 11.1-inch rotors. The brakes do a nice job in normal driving, and the pedal feel is medium-hard, pretty good. With these super-grippy tires, the ABS activated only under the most extreme panic stops and did so without undue noise or pedal vibration.
In “The Blues Brothers,” Elwood jumped the 95th Street bridge over the Chicago River to prove the new Bluesmobile’s mettle to brother Jake, whose unfazed reaction was, “This car has good pickup.” I figured this was the ultimate acid test, but after staring down a similar cantilevered bridge near cars.com’s Chicago headquarters, I realized I could end up riding cop shocks and cop tires to the Joliet Correctional Center and thought better of it. I’d seen more than enough of that place in the movie.
Just as there are no lights on the Marauder’s roof, there is no plastic partition between its front and rear seats, no two-way radio and no gun rack. You might expect that. But Mercury also wisely distinguishes the Marauder’s interior from those of the civilian Grand Marquis and Crown Vic, with “dot matrix” metal-look trim in place of wood appliques (see photo). The muted-silver look continues on the instrument panel, on the trim bezel around the gear selector and on supplemental Auto Meter brand gauges directly in front of it (see photos). The gauges — one for oil pressure and one for voltage — are mounted too low, but they’re there for effect, and they do look good.
The floormats bear the Marauder name, and the front seatbacks are embossed with the god’s head (see photo). The seats are actually the weak link in the Marauder’s interior — unsupportive, flat and not up to the task of holding occupants in place for the kind of aggressive cornering for which the car itself is made (see photo). I had my passenger plastered against his door for a sizable segment of the private gymkhana course. With only vestigial side bolsters on my seat’s cushion and backrest, and no dead-pedal footrest, I also got well acquainted with my door and the center console. Some people prefer to have a lot of space in the footwell, which the Marauder certainly has, but Mercury could satisfy both preferences with a removable dead pedal.
Equipped with dual power seats, adjustable pedals (see photo) and adjustable head restraints that are positioned sufficiently forward, the Marauder is well above average when it comes to accommodating drivers of different sizes. The last positive addition would be a telescoping adjustment for the tilt steering wheel, which would help drivers of all statures get comfortable as well as distance themselves properly from the airbag. There was a time when I would have questioned if a shorter driver would be comfortable driving a car of this size, but nowadays, every time I see a full-size sport utility vehicle bearing down on other motorists, it’s at the hands of a diminutive woman who’s comfortable enough to be on the cell phone and sipping a latte at the same time. Nuff said.
The Marauder’s airbags are dual-stage designs that deploy at one of two intensities depending on crash severity, driver proximity and whether or not either occupant is belted. (Wearing a seat belt is always the safest move.) The Marauder also has standard side-impact airbags and seat belt pretensioners with load limiters for both front seats.
The backseat has three-point (lap-and-shoulder) seat belts in all three positions but no head restraints. There are three top-tether anchors on the rear deck, but only the outboard seats feature LATCH child-safety seat anchors.
The backseat is roomy but not as ample as you might expect in a car of this size (see photo). Headroom and legroom are 38.1 inches and 38.4 inches, respectively, in the outboard seats. The center floor hump is way high, and the cushion is raised too much in the center for my comfort.
Storage options include good-size front door pockets, a locking glove compartment, and a center storage console with a coin caddy and 12-volt accessory outlet inside (see photo). Backseat passengers get airplane-style pockets in the front seatbacks. There’s a pair of cupholders, front and rear, none of which is big enough for a large fast-food cup. (Do the cops stand for this?)
Cargo & Towing
The Marauder’s trunk offers a generous 20.6 cubic feet of cargo volume. The opening is gigantic, but the trunk lid’s hinges encroach a bit on the space below. The spare tire is full size, though still temporary, and stored oddly high and forward under the rear deck (see photos). I wonder if mounting it farther back would even out the front/rear weight distribution. . . . For a list price of $200, buyers can add an optional cargo organizer that helps contain items and prevent grocery bags from tipping over (see photo). A six-CD changer, a $350 option, mounts here on the left side of the trunk.
Large though the trunk is, the Marauder has a shortcoming common to full-size cars: no folding backseat option to extend the cargo space into the cabin. It also lacks a pass-thru door for long items such as skis.
Properly equipped, the Marauder can tow a trailer of up to 2,000 pounds.
The Marauder comes with a lengthy standard-equipment list. Significant features not already mentioned include power windows, door locks and heated side mirrors; remote keyless entry; an AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo; steering-wheel-mounted stereo and ventilation controls; lumbar adjustment on both front seats; cruise control; a rear defroster; intermittent windshield wipers; HomeLink; cornering lights; a fold-down center armrest for the backseat; dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors; a cargo net; and a stainless-steel exhaust. As mentioned, traction control will hit later in the model year.
Factory options include only the CD changer and cargo organizer mentioned earlier, but a few more options will be introduced this autumn, including seat heaters, a moonroof and the second paint choice, dark blue pearl. Dealer-installed options such as a block heater and trunk-lid spoiler are other possibilities.
All the current standard and optional features can be viewed in the Standard Features and Features sections, respectively, of the Marauder Model Report.
Marauder in the Market
At a glance, the Marauder’s $34,495 price (which includes the destination charge) seems a little high, but if you look at the equipment list, the pent-up demand and the fact that there’s no comparable car near this price, it makes sense.
For Mercury, the Marauder is no less than an attempt to redefine the brand, to inspire passion, to bring in younger buyers and to turn a profit in the process — a tall order, to be sure. It has been clear since the Marauder concept first appeared at the 1998 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show that many people don’t “get” this car. A surprising number have suggested that the car will appeal only to older men. Older men, yes, but not only to older men. There’s a whole generation of motorists in their 30s and 40s who drove the V-8-powered land barges of the 1960s and ’70s and miss them. I happen to be one of them. Many of these people have families and need the space, the four doors and the perceived safety of a full-size sedan on roads clogged with SUVs.
But that’s not the limit of the Marauder’s appeal. The very day I’d brought the Marauder home for evaluation — and for only the second time in five years of testing just about every type of vehicle — a stranger rang my doorbell and asked for a closer look at the car in the driveway. That stranger was a 17-year-old and three of his buddies. Two of them called the Marauder their “dream car.” One already owns a Crown Victoria. Old men indeed . . .
On July 1, when the Marauder first went on sale, more than 5,200 vehicles had been pre-sold. Mercury will build 18,000 units for the 2003 model year in its plant in Ontario, Canada. I believe the Marauder will sell very well, despite its shortcomings. I give the whole idea an A+, the revisions to the 2003 full-size platform an A- and Mercury’s execution of the Marauder itself a B+. Mercury has plenty of time and flexibility to raise that score. Designers and engineers are already looking into the seat issue, and there’s been enough griping about the power and torque, not just by me, that I suspect they’ll market the supercharger or some other solution.
Chevy and Mercury fans are certain to continue arguing the relative merits of the Impala SS and the Marauder. The Impala may have been the first domesticated cop car, one that holds up remarkably well eight years later. But the Marauder has something no one else does — a platform to work with. I’ve met innumerable police officers and cab drivers who bemoan the retirement of Chevrolet’s Caprice, who still can’t understand why Chevy gave that platform up. It doesn’t matter. What matters is they did give it up. General Motors has the right to remain silent.
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.....