REVIEWS: 2003-2004 Mercury Marauder

August 1, 2002
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The new Mercury Marauder takes its name from the big Mercury muscle cars of the 1960s, but its true spiritual ancestors are two black Mercury sedans that starred with Jack Lord in the long-running television series Hawaii Five-O. Lord portrayed the granite-jawed Steve McGarrett, head of Hawaii's elite Five-O police unit, his demeanor cop-show tough, his hair a perfect North Shore wave, his car no standard police-issue Ford Custom 500 or LTD but a big black Mercury in which he stormed around Oahu.
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"Steve McGarrett's car is as much a character in the series as any of the people." So claims Karen Rhodes in Booking Hawaii Five-O, the best and as far as we know, the only scholarly tome on the cop show. "The big, black Mercury sets a tone of power and intimidation," she continues. "Steve is . . . tough and threatening on his own, but the black Mercury adds a further dimension of strength, even a sinister darkness, to McGarrett." That's some pretty impressive work for a '68 Park Lane and, later, a '74 Marquis, either of which, off-screen, might have been driven by your grandfather.
Twenty-two years after McGarrett screeched his big black sedan to a stop for the last time, Mercury has served up a machine perfectly suited to the marque's most telegenic enthusiast. The Marauder is a badass cop car with some major attitude.
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The reborn Marauder first appeared not in Honolulu but in Las Vegas, as a concept car at the 1998 SEMA show. Considering what populates the miles of aisles at SEMA--wildly winged Honda Civics with hyperkinetic paint jobs, slammed SUVs on huge chrome wheels, bikini-clad babes stroking shock absorbers--Mercury's Grand Marquis in Darth Vader livery garnered a surprising amount of attention.
Now that it's here, the real thing looks virtually identical to that concept, with black paint, a blacked-out grille, most of the chrome trim removed, foglamps, and straight-spoked chrome wheels (eighteen-inchers all around, compared with the show car's seventeens up front and eighteens at the rear). The big wheels wear BFGoodrich g-Force T/A tires, size 235/WR50-18 in front and 245/WR55-18 in back.
Inside, in place of the Grand Marquis's bench front seat, we find buckets, a center console, and a floor shift for the four-speed automatic. The driver's seat is comfortable enough for an all-night stakeout, but when you're on the move, the driving position suffers for lack of a dead pedal.
In an obvious nod to hot rodders, the console houses Auto Meter oil pressure and voltmeter gauges; their white faces are echoed in the dash gauges (which include a tach). Aluminum-look accents replace the Grand Marquis's wood, and the upholstery is a sober gray leather. One back-to-the-'60s touch is the Mercury-head logo (from the Roman messenger of the gods) embossed in the seatbacks; it's also in the wheel centers.
Come this fall, the interior will be fancied up some more, with a two-tone gray color scheme, heated seats, and a sunroof. Traction control and a second exterior color, dark blue, also will be added.
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The production Marauder differs from the concept car under the hood. The Vegas show car featured a supercharged, SOHC, 4.6-liter V-8 with an iron block, two valves per cylinder, and an advertised output of 335 horsepower and 355 pound-feet of torque. The production car does without the blower and instead employs a DOHC, 32-valve version of the 4.6 with an aluminum block and heads. Roush Performance helped out along the way, notably in the development of a new intake manifold and the dual exhaust system. The net result is 302 horsepower (at 5750 rpm) and 318 pound-feet of torque (at 4300 rpm). That falls short of the concept Marauder's supercharged engine but handily betters the Grand Marquis's top V-8, which can muster only 235 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque.
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To deal with the greater grunt, the four-speed automatic is beefed up, and the rear axle is lowered to 3.55:1 from the Grand Marquis's 3.27:1 for faster takeoffs. Still, the big Merc doesn't exactly lunge away from a stop, and anyone expecting a muscle-car-style tire smoke display will be disappointed. Once it's rolling, though, the Marauder gets up and moves, scrambling to 60 mph in just over seven seconds. We recorded a quarter-mile time of 15.6 seconds at 94 mph, which is respectable but not intimidating. Put it this way: If some Honolulu miscreant were fleeing in a mid-'90s Chevy Impala SS, our man McGarrett would have to rely on his driving skill and his iron will to catch him, as the performance of the two cars is virtually identical.
On the other hand, it would take only one tire-squealing corner for the Five-O chief to realize that this new Mercury is a whole different kettle of poi from the hubcap-shedding understeerers he drove for a dozen years. The Marauder is also vastly improved versus the Grand Marquis we're familiar with, mostly because of the extensive chassis makeover that Ford lavished upon all its big rear-wheel-drive sedans for 2003, and partly because of some special tweaks for the Marauder alone.
Like its siblings, the big Merc benefits from a stiffened frame, with hydroformed front rails; variable-ratio, speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering in place of recirculating-ball; a redesigned control-arm front suspension; a beefier front anti-roll bar; and monotube dampers all around, with the rears relocated outside the frame rails. Compared with the Grand Marquis, the Marauder sits a few millimeters lower in front on shortened police-spec springs but rides a bit higher at the rear with its taller-sidewalled rear tires. The Marauder's rear air springs (taken from the Lincoln Town Car) feature load leveling, which should keep the car from dragging its butt even with a trunk full of shotguns, bullhorns, and hair spray.
This car's rack-and-pinion steering is far more precise than the recirculating-ball system in last year's Grand Marquis, and, of course, it's leagues better than the Marauder's Five-O-era forebears. A unique power steering boost curve gives the Marauder pleasantly high steering efforts that build naturally. Bend this big Merc into a corner, and it will actually turn in, but more impressive is the tenacity with which the g-Force T/As hang on. The repositioned rear dampers go a long way toward taming axle hop over bumpy corners. Although understeer is still the order of the day, we were able to dial in a little power oversteer on the slick hairpin corners of mist-shrouded Round Hill Drive, above Honolulu.
The Marauder borrows its vented rear disc brakes from the Town Car, and, like all of Ford's big '03 sedans, it also employs electronic brake force distribution, which makes the standard anti-lock braking system less likely to be called upon during hard stops in front of Five-O head-quarters--or anyplace else, for that matter.
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The Marauder may have arrived too late for McGarrett, which is too bad because it's certainly his kind of car. It's not a smoldering muscle car, but it is good fun for anyone with an appreciation of V-8-powered, rear-wheel-drive American iron, even if they weren't warped by excessive viewing of '70s cop shows at an impressionable age. Now, excuse us while we crank up composer Morton Stevens's iconic Hawaii Five-O theme music. Aloha.

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