They're almost all gone now, the dying embers of a fading ethic and sadly shifting priorities. Glorious (and immensely safe) full-frame construction cars, with a separate body bolted on to a girder-like understructure. Understressed, endlessly torquey V-8 engine driving the rear wheels. Massive slab-sided proportions inside and out, with room for six and a body or two in the trunk. Enough rolling steel, all told, to flatten a Honda Civic without hardly mussing the bumper.
There's only one passenger sedan left that can deliver these things for under $25,000. Behold the mighty Ford Crown Victoria, quite possibly the last of its kind.
With the demise of the Chevy Caprice ("Shamu the car") in 1996, the Crown Victoria and its in-house twin, the Mercury Grand Marquis became the sole representatives of what had just 10 or so years before been the dominant type of passenger sedan built by U.S. automakers for 50-odd years.
Today, the majority of passenger sedans sold in the United States, whether import or domestic, are front-wheel-drive and have at most six-cylinder engines. To get a biggun’ comparable in mechanical and physical layout (e.g., full-frame, V-8, rear-drive, room for six) to the Crown Vic, you'd need to ante up for a full-boogie luxury sedan such as the Mercedes E430 or BMW 5-Series, each of which goes for roughly twice the Crown Vic's $21,965 base price.
2001 Ford Crown Victoria Interior
If you don’t find enough room in a Crown Vic, maybe you should just lease a 767.
2001 Ford Crown Victoria
Meanwhile, consider all you get for the Crown Vic's asking price of $21,965: a 225-hp V-8; standard four-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel-disc brakes and 16-inch rims; air conditioning, power locks, power windows, variable speed wipers, cruise (with secondary steering wheel-mounted controls), plus the aforementioned six-passenger capacity and absolutely tank-like construction wrapping up a simple, reliable powertrain design/layout that will last 200,000 miles with minimal care and little expense, if treated at all decently. There's a reason why cops and cabbies like this car; it can rack up 50,000 miles a year and not need a new transaxle, constant MacPherson strut replacement, or any of the other expensive things that would otherwise break on a more fragile front-wheel-drive car.
Hold the unobtainium, please
The more expensive LX ($24,080) comes with all the above plus remote keyless entry, eight-way power driver's seat with lumbar support, and trim upgrades. There's an optionally available Ride and Handling package for $740 more that gets you an upgraded 4.6 liter engine — 235 hp vs. the standard 225 — dual exhausts, 3.55 axle ratio, rear air suspension and special 16-inch rims shod with more aggressive, performance-type tires. This is basically Ford's police-interceptor package, so you can drive around in the same car, sans light bar and a few other small details, as Officer Friendly.
Some downsides: ABS is still a rather expensive option at $600, and Ford has not gotten around to installing a modern audio system with in-dash (as opposed to trunk-mounted) CD changer. Some drivers will also find its size a bit ponderous, though it is really quite manageable, even in close-in city driving.
The other thing to bear in mind is that this is not a luxury car in the sense of equivalent-in-size or layout Mercedes, BMW, Lexus and other such cars. It does not have all the super fancy electronic stuff (satellite navigation system, stability control, variable valve timing, "unobtainium" metals and real wood trim, etc.) that defines today's "luxury" cars — or the presence and prestige that these cars offer.
2001 Ford Crown Victoria
But on the other hand, the Crown Vic does have all the truly important elements of what used to be considered "luxurious." It is wonderfully roomy in a way that Americans less than 30 years old probably have no memory of. The ride is as one would expect from a big, heavy, rear-drive car, which is to say, smooth and placid as a Barry White CD. Its handling is not sportscar agile, but it is happily predictable. The Crown Vic is very hard to get off kilter — and easy to recover if you manage to lose it. Even better, if you have the misfortune to hit something or be hit by someone, the Crown Vic is one of the safest places to be in for under $40,000. Size and mass trump all the air bags and gee-golly-whiz safety gadgets the engineers can gin up.
Further, most of the genuinely useful power options (windows, locks, cruise, defroster, etc.) are there as well. Unless image is of major importance, the Crown Vic gets better looking the more you look at it.
Another nice side benefit: People get out of your way when they see you coming — especially if the car is dark blue. They just assume you're an undercover, unmarked cop car.
|2001 Ford Crown Victoria
Base price range:
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 225-hp (235-hp w/handling package)
Transmission: four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 114.7 in
Length: 212 in
Width: 78.2 in
Height: 56.8 in
Curb Weight: 3946 lb
EPA (cty/hwy): 18/25 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags w/seat position sensors; ABS and traction
Major standard features: V-8 engine, automatic transmission, air conditioning, 16x7 wheels, power windows and locks, cruise, secondary audio controls mounted on steering wheel, AM/FM stereo w/cassette, intermittent wipers, electric rear defroster
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles
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