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.
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.