Luxury car features and value in a full-size sedan. by Jim McCraw
Base Price $24,395
Price As Tested $27,035
If you want a real American six-passenger sedan that has rear-wheel drive, body-on-frame construction, lots of luxury amenities, and a reasonable price, you are shopping in a very narrow segment. Chrysler Corporation gave up on rear-wheel-drive passenger cars years ago, and 1996 was the last year in which General Motors made any large sedans with rear-wheel drive (the Cadillac Brougham and the Chevrolet Caprice were canceled after that). That leaves the Ford Crown Victoria for the police forces, daily rental and taxicab companies, and the Mercury Grand Marquis for the rest of us.
The Grand Marquis has posted strong sales gains over the past few years. Mercury officials credit changing American demographics -- more older couples who have children or parents living with them, for instance -- and the car's solid value, an important factor for those on fixed incomes. Only four years ago, the Grand Marquis had less than 15 percent of the large-car market, now it's closer to 27 percent. Owner loyalty, which speaks volumes, is more than 42 percent, the highest in this part of the market. Grand Marquis competes against Oldsmobile Delta 88, Pontiac Bonneville and Buick LeSabre as well as Chrysler Concorde and Toyota Avalon.
The so-called Panther platform on which the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis are built, along with the Lincoln Town Car, has been around since 1990. After seven years on cruise control, Ford Motor Company has given the Panther cars a substantial number of upgrades for the 1998 model year.
The Grand Marquis has been restyled with a more vertical grille treatment, a different grille texture, jeweled headlamp treatments and new taillamps. It will share showrooms with the Lincoln Navigator, Town Car and Continental.
Underneath the car is a completely new frame that allowed the Grand Marquis to earn a five-star rating for crash standards front and rear. While the center of the frame is quite similar to the old car's, the front and rear extensions have been upgraded and strengthened, and the front and rear suspensions have been improved for a smoother, more vibration-free ride. The traditional recirculating ball steering system has been upgraded with premium bearings and materials to improve steering feel and response; a power steering fluid cooler has been made standard.
The Grand Marquis is still a big car, with a base curb weight over 3900 pounds, a 114-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 212 inches. So no matter how good the steering and the tires and suspension are, it still takes some skill and effort to negotiate a supermarket parking lot.
The 1998 package includes upgrades to suspension, steering, tires and wheels, brakes, battery, security, interior, powertrain, and styling, in short, just about every area of the car.
The Inside Story
The list of standard equipment on a Grand Marquis rivals that of its sibling, the Lincoln Town Car. There are still two flavors, the GS and the LS. Dual-exhaust is restricted to the LS version, which also comes with more standard equipment: floor mats, cruise control, power door locks, illuminated keyless entry system, chrome wheel covers, a light group, and a bodyside tape stripe.
Ford's old Preferred Equipment Packages, or PEPs, are gone, replaced with three simplified option groups: premium, ultimate, and performance. The $1000 premium package adds alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, electronic climate control, a power passenger seat and an auto-dimming mirror with compass. To that, the $2400 ultimate package adds: anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic instrumentation, and a premium sound system. The $855 handling package, which we recommend, includes a completely retuned suspension with rear air shocks, a big rear stabilizer bar, a 3.27:1 axle ratio, the dual-exhaust engine, 16-inch alloy wheels and Goodyear high-performance tires. Our test car had the ultimate package, but not the handling package.
The interior offers enough real estate to package all the controls and instruments in a logical, intuitive, and spacious manner. The seats are huge, thick and comfortable as the family rocker. Nothing seems out of place and nothing about the entire interior is cramped. For 95th percentile drivers like me (6'3" and 215 pounds), there is enough room for long legs, broad shoulders and gangly arms, but there is also enough latitude in seat adjustment to accommodate more petite family members. Rear-seat roominess and comfort are at the top of the class, and trunk capacity is rated at almost 21 cubic feet. Fit and finish inside the car are superb, and the materials chosen are excellent.
Ride and Drive
The engine that powers the Grand Marquis is a 4.6-liter single overhead-cam V-8 that was introduced with these cars in 1990, and it has turned out to be one of the best engines Ford Motor Company has ever built in terms of quality and durability. It, too, has been upgraded for 1997, and now makes 200 horsepower with single exhaust and 220 hp with the optional dual exhaust system, a 10-hp increase over previous calibrations. The engine now has coil-on-plug ignition which is simpler and more reliable.
Likewise, the four-speed automatic overdrive transmission designed to mate with the 4.6-liter V-8 has been shaped up and smoothed out for 1998, with 50 percent quicker, smoother, and more positive shifts, and no maintenance required for the life of the car. With this combination, the Grand Marquis is rated a Class 1 tow vehicle, to tow 2000 pounds continuously.
And, whether you tow a small trailer or boat and trailer, you might consider that ABS and traction control come as a single package in 1998, and that traction control has been upgraded from low-speed-only to all-speed, which makes it a great deal more flexible in many weather conditions. The system can be switched off with a switch hidden in the glovebox.
Wheels have been increased from 15-inch to 16-inch. Steel wheels are standard, aluminum alloy wheels are optional. Special alloy wheels come with the handling package. Standard tires are P225/60R-16 all-season radials that ride better and bite better than the smaller tires used last year. Brakes, too, have been enlarged and upgraded, with larger, thicker rotors and dual-piston calipers on the front discs for better, longer brake performance.
For 1998, the Grand Marquis rear suspension has been altered substantially to get that quiet, smooth and unperturbed ride. The rear trailing arms, which used to point inward toward the driveshaft, have been reshaped and remounted between the frame and the rear axle assembly to provide control of the axle's up and down motions. At the same time, the rear axle assembly has been fitted with a Watts linkage, a simple mechanical link between the center of the frame and the axle assembly that locates the axle laterally. Mercury's Precision Trac suspension system with coil springs and relocated shock absorbers controls the ride. With one set of bars for vertical motions and the Watts link for lateral motions, the car is much less susceptible to wallow and is not as affected by crosswinds as it was before. This was clearly the best-handling big Merc we've ever driven, a pleasure on a winding road.
If splendid isolation is what you're looking for, or if you plan to cover lots of North American territory on the big highways, the Grand Marquis belongs on your shopping list. With its body-on-frame construction, quiet and smooth V-8 engine and rear drive, the Grand Marquis goes out of its way to separate you and your traveling partners from mechanical noise and intrusions caused by the road surface. The new steering and suspension really work well to improve ride quality, road feel and handling, and for the $27,000 as-tested price, you get luxury-car value in a full-sized sedan.
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