2003 Mercury Marauder Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 20, 2002

Is Mercury in Ford’s Future? (5/20/2002)

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A musclecar experience packaged with contemporary dynamics — that’s how Mercury bills the 2003 Marauder, a hopped-up Grand Marquis with a name harking back to a past when the brand’s product throttle opened a lot wider.

How well does it fill the bill? Of America’s full-size sedans, none has the potential to conjure the musclecar era like the Grand Marquis on which the Marauder’s based. That’s because it’s the only big rear-driver at its price. Coincidentally that’s also the reason it dominates the police-car market.

With a stoked-up version of Ford’s mass-market V-8, it’s a practical and inexpensive foundation for all sorts of mayhem. And when it comes to reviving the true musclecar in four-door form, the Marauder’s virtually alone in its ambition.

So does it win on virtue or single-mindedness?

How about both?

Time bandit

How Mercury gets from the stuffy Grand Marquis to the swinging Marauder is no unsolved mystery: it’s a simple formula, what with its massaged motor, better shocks and gallons of jet-black paint, the same path taken by garage jockeys and Big Three skunkworks alike for decades. (More colors are coming, we’re told.)

Underneath the Marauder looks like a history lesson in how cars used to be made: full frame, iron-block engine and a big V-8 with an automatic transmission. But though the platform might have been born in the late 1970s, it’s gradually edging its way to modernity. Over the years it’s been substantially reworked, and for 2003 use in the Marauder (and Grand Marquis/Crown Victoria) it gains hydroformed front frame rails and new crossmembers for a roughly 20-percent increase in body stiffness. Monotube shocks are fitted, and rack-and-pinion steering also makes the cut for the first time.

2003 Mercury Marauder

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Ford’s modular 4.6-liter V-8 has many horsepower guises, and here it’s tuned for 302 ponies. From the stock powerplant found in the Marq and Vic, the Marauder’s V-8 adds a more efficient air intake and better upper and lower intake manifolds and higher-flow fuel injectors. Wide, stainless-steel exhausts help give the big Merc a rumbly, authentic American engine note. A four-speed automatic is the only gearbox and there’s no thought of a six-speed version, mostly because the front-end structure would have to be completely reworked to accommodate a do-it-yourself shifter, say Merc reps.

The front suspension pairs short and long arms and a Tokico monotube shock; the rear end combines a Watts linkage with control arms and the rear axle itself, as well as load-leveling air springs.

Road rules

Though our experience with the Marauder was brief — a two-hour, four-lane drive punctuated by an hour on West Virginia’s Summit Point road course — we can confirm most of what that opening line promises. The Marauder is indeed more musclecar-like than any vehicle we can think of short of Ford’s own Mustang (we’re not counting in the terminal Camaro/Firebird). And the dynamics, heirloom in essence, are modernized enough to keep the comparisons to Town Cars to a minimum.

 

2003 Mercury Marauder

2003 Mercury Marauder

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Smart tuning performs the equivalent of a Just For Men dye job here. The Marauder’s still-generous body roll isn’t too much a mismatch for the quick and decently weighted rack-and-pinion steering gear. Once you modify your driving style to accommodate the motion of the Marauder’s 4165-lb heft, it becomes fairly simple to push it into a corner, rotate it gently with a squeeze on the gas, and let the 18-inch tires claw their way out.

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The ride quality won’t remind you of any German sedan. It’s far too plush for that consideration set, although the average Marquis driver might think he’s stumbled on the long-fabled de Sade edition. You might actually hear a thunk over a pothole passing beneath, but the bumps aren’t felt distantly, they’re practically estranged. It’s not as completely isolated from reality as Al Gore, but the Marauder’s still a battened-down version of a highway cruiser, not an Integra.

Black arts

The Marauder’s commoditized shape wears its somber suit pretty well, and the details are nicely understated. The headlamps are blacked out in part, the taillamps smoked and bright foglamps are faired in neatly. True, those big polished wheels are as giveaway Detroit as a Red Wings jersey and the accompanying hockey hair, but the fabulous godhead logo on them and on the seats is an indication that Ford really does know what heritage it should be mining.

Inside the white-faced gauges have long since been de-hipped, but look decent, as does the metallic-look dash trim. A strong 140-watt Alpine CD player is a welcome piece of hardware, as are the steering-wheel controls for it. The tightened handling does spell a little trouble for the driver snared into the Marauder’s driver’s seat, though. Unique sport seats can’t overcome the vast side-by-side room and slick leather seating offered up by the basic large-car architecture. It’s up to the armrest and the floor-mounted shifter to pin the driver in the proper seating position.

As for safety equipment, four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard, as is Ford’s Personal Safety System of front, side and curtain airbags. The merits of a full-perimeter frame and more than two tons of battle heft speak for themselves.

Like Ford’s other men in black — the F-150 Harley and the Lincoln Blackwood — the Marauder asks you to dial back the conventional strengths of a perfectly fine vehicle for more than an inkling of attitude. If you want something big, bad and black, it’s probably the most realistic choice of the three. And most of all, it’s a good way to have one last fling with disrespectability while getting used to the idea of bumping around in a Grand Marquis on golf days.

2003 Mercury Marauder
Base price
: $34,495
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 302 hp
Drivetrain: Four-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 211.9 x 78.2 x 56.8 in
Wheelbase: 114.7 in
Curb weight: 4165 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 17/23 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front and side impact airbags, curtain airbags, anti-lock braking
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning, keyless entry, 140-watt Alpine AM/FM/CD player, leather seating
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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