by Jim McCraw
Maturing nicely and priced right, it's Ford's family limousine.
Base Price $22,825
As Tested $28,125
The Mercury Grand Marquis is among just three full-size passenger cars Ford Motor Company makes that feature four doors and rear-wheel drive. The Lincoln Town Car is designed for affluent buyers, while the Ford Crown Victoria serves America's police forces, fills rental fleets and does duty for cab companies. The Mercury Grand Marquis is the full-size car for the rest of us, a car that offers the comfort of the Town Car with strength and durability.
Sales of the Grand Marquis have been growing over the past few years. Mercury officials credit changing demographics -- more folks have children or parents living with them, nowadays. And the Grand Marquis offers a lot of car for the money. Only four years ago, the Grand Marquis owned less than 15 percent of the large-car market, but now it's closer to 27 percent.
Owner loyalty is the highest in the segment: More than 42 percent of Grand Marquis buyers return for another one. Grand Marquis competes against Oldsmobile Delta 88, Pontiac Bonneville, Buick LeSabre, Chrysler Concorde and Toyota Avalon.
The Grand Marquis was restyled last year with a more vertical grille treatment, a different grille texture, complex reflector headlamps and new taillamps.
The Grand Marquis is a big, roomy car, with curb weight over 3900 pounds, a 114-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 212 inches. Bigger cars tend to be safer in crashes than smaller cars and that's true with the Grand Marquis. Its frame design helped it earn a five-star rating from the government for crash performance front and rear.
The front and rear extensions were strengthened last year. The front and rear suspensions were improved for a smoother, more vibration-free ride. The recirculating-ball steering system was upgraded with premium bearings and materials to improve steering feel and response. A power steering fluid cooler has been made standard.
Two models are available: $22,825 GS and $24,725 LS. (All prices include destination charges.)
LS comes with more standard equipment than GS, including floor mats, cruise control, power door locks, an illuminated keyless entry system, chrome wheel covers, a light group, and a bodyside tape stripe. The LS also comes with the dual-exhaust system, which significantly increases power output.
Option packages have been streamlined for 1999, which simplifies life for the factory, the dealers, and the customer. The $1,000 Premium Package includes alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, electronic climate control, a power passenger seat and an auto-dimming mirror with compass. The $2,400 Ultimate Package adds anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic instrumentation, and a premium sound system. A $460 Limited Package adds gold-plate aluminum wheels, exterior gold trim package, rear center console with cupholders, dual front storage arm rests and light parchment leather trim.
Don't want all that stuff? This year, the anti-lock brake system is available as a separate, free-standing option for $600. We highly recommend it as it allows the driver to maintain steering control during emergency braking maneuvers. For $775, you can get ABS and traction control; traction control uses the anti-lock brake system to reduce wheel spin -- a big benefit on slippery roads.
The Inside Story
Settle into the Grand Marquis and you'll be treated to huge, thick seats that are as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. All controls and instruments are arrayed in a logical, intuitive, and spacious manner; nothing seems out of place. The interior is spacious with plenty of room for long legs, broad shoulders and gangly arms. There's also enough latitude in seat adjustment to accommodate petite family members.
Rear seat roominess and comfort are at the top of the class. Trunk capacity is rated at almost 21 cubic feet. Fit and finish inside the car are superb, and the materials chosen are excellent.
There are a lot of detail changes to the interior for 1999. New carpeting and new floor mats are standard on both models. All models have new front door trim panel armrests.
Ride & Drive
Refinements were engineered into the Grand Marquis last year that resulted in a car that rides better and handles better. The transmission is substantially improved and the engine is slightly more powerful.
The 4.6-liter single overhead-cam V8 that comes with these cars is one of the best engines Ford Motor Company has ever built in terms of quality and durability. The engine is rated at 200 horsepower with single exhaust and 215 horsepower with the optional dual exhaust system. The engine now has coil-on-plug ignition which is simpler and more reliable.
The transmission changes gears 50 percent quicker than the previous generation. Shifting is smoother and more positive. No transmission maintenance is required for the life of the car. The Grand Marquis is rated to tow 2000 pounds.
The Grand Marquis provides a smooth, quiet ride. It's stable at high speeds and in crosswinds. This is also the best-handling big Mercury we've ever driven. It is a pleasure to drive on a winding road. The rear suspension was altered substantially last year to achieve this balance. The rear trailing arms were redesigned and relocated to provide control of up and down motions. A Watts linkage was also added -- a simple mechanical link between the center of the frame and the axle assembly that locates the axle laterally.
Braking performance is surprisingly good for such a large car. The brakes were enlarged and upgraded last year, with larger, thicker rotors and dual-piston calipers on the front discs. Those changes improve braking performance. They also reduce the chance of brake fade when descending steep mountain grades.
Steel 16-inch wheels are standard, aluminum alloy wheels are optional. Standard tires are P225/60R-16 all-season radials that ride better and provide better grip than before.
An $855 Handling Package includes a completely retuned suspension with rear air shocks, a larger rear stabilizer bar, a quicker 3.27:1 axle ratio, the more powerful dual exhaust engine, special 16-inch alloy wheels and Goodyear high-performance tires. (The package is just $535 when added to packages that include aluminum wheels.) The Handling Package sharpens handling response significantly and improves acceleration performance.
The Grand Marquis is a great ride for covering lots of North American territory on the big highways. With its body-on-frame construction, quiet and smooth V8 engine and rear-wheel 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 steering and suspension really work well to improve ride quality, road feel and handling.
When equipped like ours, the Grand Marquis provides luxury car value in a full-size sedan.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.