The Grand Marquis has long been equated with safety, and it's the only car to win, nine years running, the government's five-star rating for driver and front-passenger frontal crash tests. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags, and traction control (except on the base GS) are standard; front side airbags are optional on the LS. The safety equipment profile is about average for cars of its class, though you'll find a few more airbags available on some of the competition. In side-impact testing, the Grand Marquis scores five stars for front and rear seat when equipped with the side bags, without the additional protection, the front is rated at four stars. To its credit, the Mercury earns five stars in the new rollover tests. Electronic stability control isn't available; rear-drive competitors like the Chrysler 300 offer it as standard equipment on most trim levels.
Only one powerplant is offered, and unlike many of its rivals' standard engines, it's a V-8. The 4.6-liter/224-horse SOHC V-8 is mated to the lone available transmission, a four-speed automatic. Notably, several of the Grand Marquis's peers have five-speed automatics available, and many also boast V-6s that produce more horsepower than the Marquis's V-8. A dual-exhaust system, part of the optional Handling Package, will boost power to 239 hp--still short of the 250 hp found in the Chrysler 300 Touring's standard V-6 (never mind the 340-hp 300C or the 425-hp 300C SRT8). Fuel economy is a fair 18/25 city/highway mpg. This same powertrain pairing, like almost all of the Marquis' components, is found in Ford's Crown Victoria.
The Grand Marquis handles as it was meant to, like an American land yacht. Body lean is prominent during all but the gentlest cornering. The Marquis floats on its soft suspension, so it feels less maneuverable than large cars that are better damped, such as the Chrysler 300 and even Mercury's own Montego. Those with jaundiced joints and bum backs might care less about handling than cushiness, and that's where the Grand Marquis excels; bumps don't jolt the cabin, they merely exacerbate the floating undulations. At the end of the day, the car's handling is sufficient for the typical challenges it will face.
Traction control is essential (standard on all but the base GS) if you live in snow country. Braking performance is acceptable but hardly great, and the pedal feels as mushy as the rest of the controls. The V-8 offers merely adequate performance in motivating the two-ton-plus car. As a result, passing and merging require advance planning. The eight-cylinder torque gives the big Merc greater oomph than its performance numbers bear, making it quite acceptable to the intended mature driver. The four-speed transmission is a disappointment as downshifts lag during passing and merging maneuvers, and the widely spaced ratios don't make the most of the available power. It's just as well; the noise when the V-8 winds up is more of a cacophony than a symphony.