Limousine luxury at a bargain price.
by Jim McCraw
Base Price $22,415
As Tested $28,350
Price-conscious shoppers who do their research will learn that the Mercury Grand Marquis is one of the great full-size sedan bargains on the American market. It offers rear-wheel drive, lots of interior space, five-star crash performance, strength and durability, along with almost all the comfort and convenience features of the Lincoln Town Car -- at a much more affordable price.
The Grand Marquis competes against the Pontiac Bonneville, Buick LeSabre, Chrysler Concorde, and Toyota Avalon.
The Grand Marquis comes in GS ($22,415) and LS ($24,315) trim levels.
Both are powered by a 4.6-liter V8 coupled to a 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission. Buyers have the option of either a single-exhaust system that makes 200 horsepower, or a dual-exhaust system that bumps power output to 215 horsepower.
The better-breathing system is standard on the LS version, which comes with more standard equipment than the GS, including cruise control, power door locks, an illuminated keyless entry system, chrome wheel covers, a light group, and pinstripes.
This is a big, roomy car. It boasts a curb weight over 3900 pounds, a 114-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 212 inches. Buyers concerned about safety will appreciate the heft, as bigger cars tend to be safer in collisions than smaller cars. The size of the Grand Marquis, as well as a new frame design that was part of the 1999 model year overhaul, helped it earn a five-star rating in government front and rear crash tests.
The Grand Marquis was restyled for 1999 with a new and more vertical grille, new complex-reflector headlamps and new tail lamps. Other improvements included revised front and rear suspensions for a smoother ride. The recirculating-ball steering system was upgraded with premium bearings and materials to improve steering feel and response. A power steering fluid cooler is now standard.
Option packages have been streamlined, which simplifies life for the factory, the dealers, and the customer. Our test car came with the $2,400 Ultimate Package, which includes the Premium Package plus anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic instrumentation, and a premium sound system. The Premium Package is available separately for $1,000 and includes alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, electronic climate control, a power passenger seat and an auto-dimming mirror with compass.
The anti-lock brake system is also available as a stand-alone option for $600. We highly recommend it as it allows the driver to maintain steering control during emergency braking maneuvers. You can also get ABS and traction control packaged together for $775. The traction control uses the anti-lock brake system to reduce wheel spin -- a big benefit on slippery roads.
Sit down in the Grand Marquis and you'll be treated to huge, thick seats as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. The Grand Marquis retains that big-car feel many of us grew up with. The interior is spacious, with plenty of room for long legs, broad shoulders and gangly arms, and it will comfortably seat six adults. The Grand Marquis provides more front and rear headroom than the Buick LeSabre Custom does.
Despite the car's size, there's enough fore-aft seat adjustment to accommodate petite family members. Like many bench seats, these seats are made for cruising cross-country and won't hold you in place in sharp corners. One minor annoyance: The hump running down the center of the floor for the driveshaft reduces foot space for anyone sitting in the center. It is the single largest drawback in the Grand Marquis' rear-drive design.
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 choice of materials is excellent.
All controls and instruments are arrayed in a logical, intuitive, and spacious manner; nothing seems out of place. There have been numerous detail changes to the interior, such as new front door panel arm rests, in an effort to keep the look fresh.
Mercury engineers refined the Grand Marquis last year to produce a car that rides and handles better than its predecessor. The 4.6-liter, single overhead-cam V8 is one of the best engines Ford has ever built in terms of quality and durability, and it received a slight power gain last year. In both 200- and 215-horsepower configurations (depending on the exhaust), it is smooth and quiet, yet delivers strong acceleration with plenty of power for quick passing. The engine now has a coil-on-plug ignition system that is simpler and more reliable. The Grand Marquis is rated to tow 2000 pounds.
The transmission delivers smooth, precise, quick shifts. Like many transmissions on the market today, it requires no maintenance for the life of the car.
The Grand Marquis offers a smooth, quiet ride. It is stable at high speeds and in crosswinds. Better yet, the rear suspension was altered substantially for 1999, resulting in the best-handling big Mercury we've ever driven. The rear trailing arms were redesigned and relocated to provide better control of vertical wheel motions. A Watt link -- a simple mechanical linkage between the center of the frame and the axle assembly that locates the axle laterally -- was added. The car does float over undulating pavement, though not at uncomfortable levels. The steering is a bit light at higher speeds, but the power-assist makes it easy to maneuver the big car in crowded parking lots.
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 and reduce the chance of brake fade when descending steep mountain grades. Steel 16-inch wheels are standard, while aluminum alloy wheels are optional. Standard tires are P225/60R-16.
We found our Grand Marquis to be a pleasure to drive on a winding road, yet Mercury has more in store for serious drivers. An optional Handling Package includes a completely retuned suspension with revised air shocks and a larger rear stabilizer bar, plus a quicker 3.27:1 axle ratio, the more powerful dual-exhaust engine, special 16-inch alloy wheels and Goodyear high-performance tires. The Handling Package sharpens cornering response and improves acceleration. At the same time, it doesn't degrade the ride quality.
The Grand Marquis is a wonderful sedan for covering lots of territory on the wide-open North American highways. With its body-on-frame construction, quiet and smooth V8 engine and rear-wheel drive, this car separates you and your companions from noise and intrusions caused by the road surface, but it doesn't totally disengage you from the driving experience. The steering and suspension work well to deliver competent ride quality and handling.
If you want a big, plush rear-wheel-drive sedan, but you don't want to spend $40,000 or more for a high-end luxury car, then the Mercury Grand Marquis may be the car for you.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.