Mercury reaches back in its history for the name Marauder for a performance version of the 2003 Grand Marquis. Although sharing body and chassis with the Grand Marquis, the Marauder is cataloged as a separate model.
In 1963-64, the Marauder was a high-performance version of the Mercury Montclair and Monterey. Parnelli Jones drove a specially prepared model to victory at the 1963 Pikes Peak Hill Climb. In 1969-70, the Marauder X-100 was powered by a 429 cubic-inch (7-liter) V8.
The 2003 Mercury Marauder and Grand Marquis and the Ford Crown Victoria are lonely survivors of what was once the archetypical American family sedan, a genre long since supplanted by the minivan and sport-utility. These full-size sedans come with traditional full body-on-frame construction with a front-engine/rear-drive layout, and enough size to shade a lot of blacktop: almost 212 inches stem to stern, and more than 78 inches from one side to the other. Until the gas crises of the 1970s, this was the standard automobile.
The 2003 Marauder supplements the Grand Marquis as something the world hasn't seen since the demise of the 1994-96 Chevy Impala SS, the American full-size performance sedan, emphasis on performance.
Initially available in any color as long as it's black, the 302-horsepower Marauder has the ambiance of the X Files combined with the Blues Brothers, the Secret Service combined with the Wood Brothers (NASCAR). Cop motor, cop shocks. Actually, cops should have it this good.
The Marauder, in its standard ebony paint, gives the same menacing vibes as a black leather jacket. The black monochrome treatment has even been given to the headlamps with only the reflectors spared the blackout treatment. The taillamp bezels are dark tinted as well for what Mercury calls a serious, but understated appearance.
Up front, Cibie fog lamps are inserted in the front bumper, and the rear bumper has MARAUDER embossed in it while big dual 3.5-inch chrome exhaust tips protrude straight out the back.
A big car needs big tires, and the Marauder wears P235/50WR18 boots on front with wider, P245/55WR18 rubber at the rear. The larger rear tires give the Marauder a natural slight rake that enhances the performance image. Five-spoke forged aluminum wheels are eight inches wide and have cast into the wheel hubs the bas-relief image of Mercury, the swift messenger of the Roman gods and a Mercury revival from the Fifties.
The current Mercury logo is centered on the grille in a bright finish; we think the god's head logo should be here as well, but Mercury did not consult us on this. The exterior, according to Mercury representatives, was purposely kept simple because focus group attendees said they'd rather have it left plain to customize themselves.
Like Dorothy in Munchkinland realizing she's not in Kansas anymore, the driver of the Mercury Marauder knows he's not in a Grand Marquis.
The instrument panel has white faces, with a large round speedometer and tachometer flanked by smaller fuel and temperature gauges. The 140-mph speedometer incorporates a red-lit Marauder graphic.
Instead of a column shifter for the automatic transmission, a leather-wrapped shifter is mounted on a floor console that has two cup holders and a storage bin. An AutoMeter (a brand known to car enthusiasts) voltmeter and oil-pressure gauge are positioned just ahead of the shifter.
Marauders are also given dot-matrix gray trim accents on the instrument panel, while the dual eight-way power seats are finished in supple black leather, the best used in any Ford Motor Company product. Classic French stitching from earlier Marauders is revived for the 2003 edition. The seats were given extra padding for greater support, and of course there's a Mercury god's head de-bossed into the front seatbacks.
The optional six-disc CD changer for the 140-watt Alpine sound system is located in the trunk, where it's not as convenient, especially if the trunk is loaded, though this is a quibble brought on only by the new in-dash CD changers. There is a single CD player, as well as a cassette player for those in the retro mood or those who enjoy books on tape. (Sorry, no 8-track player, though the radio's AM band works well).
Filigrees aside, the interior delivers on the promise of the exterior with lots of room inside for five. Access to the cabin is easy through large doors, and finding a comfortable driving position is easy with the 8-way power seats, tilt wheel and adjustable pedals. The front buckets are wide (so much so that the seatbelt buckle end actually protrudes through the seat bottom cushion). The seats are soft, too. The back seat is wide and soft as well, with enough room across for three adult males, though the center rider loses foot room to the driveshaft tunnel of this rear-wheel-drive car.
The trunk is huge. If you need more luggage room than this, your name is Zsa Zsa and you should FedEx your steamer trunks of gowns ahead. The trunk organizer is nice to have, with adjustable section dividers, but not really necessary and offered on the Marauder, probably, mainly because it's available on the Grand Marquis.
Fire up the engine of the Mercury Marauder and you'll know this is no automotive Kansas. The V8 rumble from the dual exhaust announces that the Marauder is a true American performance car. The all-aluminum 4.6-liter engine was developed specifically for the Marauder, with four-valve-per-cylinder double-overhead camshaft heads. The compression ratio is 9.85:1, requiring premium fuel.
All this yields a power rating of 302 horsepower at 5750 rpm. Peak torque is 310 pounds-feet, and comes at a relatively high 4300 rpm. Mercury engineers specified a high stall speed torque converter for the automatic transmission, which means the engine can rev higher, reaching its power band before the automatic transmission transmits power, thus producing quicker acceleration. The engineers also biased the final drive selection, a 3.55:1 rear axle, for acceleration over fuel economy. The Marauder attained an EPA rating of 17 city/23 highway, impressive for a large car, so they obviously didn't go overboard. A limited-slip rear differential is used for better traction with beefy internals for durability.
The engine tuning works, as the Marauder accelerates with authority. Very few will be able to kick sand at the Marauder in the local stoplight grand prix. The base Grand Marquis, for example, is rated at 220 bhp, the Grand Marquis LSE at 235 bhp. The 1994 Impala SS produced 260 bhp, and was considered fast for its time. How our expectations change. Still, the Marauder weighs more than two tons, so the engine has its work cut out for it. Drivers who expect the Marauder to smoke its tires at every stop sign will be disappointed. Modern tires are much better than those of the Sixties, providing too much grip for this behavior. You can still spin the tires if you work at it. But otherwise, the power goes into acceleration, not tire spinning.
As good as the engine is, the new suspension is even better. Mercury delayed introduction of the Marauder (originally a concept car displayed at the SEMA show in Las Vegas in late 1998) to use the new chassis of the 2003 Grand Marquis. This new frame shared by the Marauder, Grand Marquis, and Crown Victoria has new stronger hydroformed front rails, a new aluminum No. 2 crossmember and is generally more robust for improved stiffness. Chassis rigidity allows better engine and suspension mounting for better handling, and less noise, vibration and harshness transmitted into the body.
To this, Mercury stiffened up the Grand Marquis suspension, using special gas-charged monotube shock absorbers and, at the rear, air springs. A new Gripper anti-roll bar was used up front for quicker response and a better on-center feel to the steering.
How good does it work? We tried the Marauder in two venues. One was the south course at Pocono International Raceway, a combination of the NASCAR Turn 1 high banking and a twisting road course across the infield. The track allowed acceleration onto the banking and a top speed through the big curve of around 100 mph. In almost any other family sedan, if it could go that fast, the tires would be howling in protest. The Marauder was asking for more, balanced front to rear and holding on like a championship square dancer in a power swing-your-partner.
Through the infield, the Marauder handled like a sports car, a big sports car. It was easy to place it anywhere on the track, thanks to precise variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering. The Marauder has what racers call good turn-in, or transition from driving straight to turning. It also has remarkable transient response, the ability to change from turning left to right and back again. Part of the credit goes to the excellent BFGoodrich g-Force T/A tires, which combine great grip with ride comfort. The only thing marring our attempt at playing Rapid Roy That Stock Car Boy were the seats, which simply lacked the lateral support to counter the lateral force the Marauder can develop, and an imprecise shifter that hobbled att
The Mercury Marauder is a performance car and will appeal primarily to the automotive enthusiast. Mercury expects 90 percent of buyers to be male. Not a car nut? Don't buy the Marauder. The Grand Marquis or the Ford Crown Victoria will fill your big-car bill much better, and for much less money.
That brings us to another point. We flinch at $35,000 for this car. But the four-door BMW 540i, with a 290 bhp 4.4-liter V8, costs about $55,000. The Lincoln LS with the 252-bhp 3.9-liter V8 lists for about $38,000. Of course, those cars aren't directly comparable to the Marauder, which is the only car of its kind on the market today. No doubt Mercury will sell a passel of Marauders to fans of big American muscle. Ford guys who wanted a car like the Impala SS but would never buy a Chevy finally have something to buy.