2003 Mercury Marauder

So why does a GM (particularly Pontiac) guy go and spend hard-earned money on a Ford product? The answer is in the pictures below:

The SUV and the minivan... the two worst black marks on the safety records of today's roads. 5000 lbs of steel and plastic hurtling down the road at you, the driver distracted by spilling coffee, important cell phone conversations, screaming kids, and the feeling of invincibility. And all you have between it and your family is a thin sheet of metal enveloping your efficient but lightweight Civic...

This may sound ominous, but that's the way it is around my neighborhood. Soccer moms, up-and-coming executives, seasoned directors and vice-presidents... all preoccupied with what is considered by them to be THE most important problem of the world. All others come second, and that includes you AND your family.

With the current single babyseat occupying the center of the rear bench, at least there was the element of 'crush-space' that was working in our favour, but the thought of having a second kid and being forced to move the baby seats outward to right beside the rear doors left me with many a sleepless night. No way that thin little door would have a chance against such massive vehicles as the minivan or SUV, in a side impact. Combined with the need for more comfort for rear passengers while the baby seat was installed (we had visitors scheduled to spend a few weeks with us) and the need to search out an automatic transmission-equipped winter car (the thought of a 4cylinder automatic was scary as well), we arrived at the choice to purchase this car. But it was a convoluted road to this decision, indeed!

Travelling was once a very crucial part of my job, before I decided to focus mostly on my family. As such, the rental car was an important part of my life, and being a car fanatic, I usually paid a little extra out of my pocket just to allow myself the opportunity to sample some automobiles I otherwise would never have had a chance to drive. My all-time favorite rental cars since 1994 came down to 3 choices: the early 90s Mitsubishi Diamante (for class and comfort), the late 90s Volvo S70 (for handling), and the mid 90s Lincoln Mark VIII (for sheer acceleration fun!).

All this changed in the summer of 2002. Having previously rented a Volvo S80 and being totally disappointed at the lack of power, the harsh suspension, and the annoying road noise transmitted into the cabin, I decided to try out a Lincoln LS V8. The Lincoln LS V8 is built on the same chassis as the new Thunderbird, including the all-new small 3.9 liter V8. I had hardly even heard of the car, but was totally and pleasantly surprised.

In fact, I was totally smitten. Good power, great 'big car' comfortable ride with the added bonus of good handling, fantastic luxury... I was constantly being reminded of the great driving experiences I had with the old beloved 1985 Parisienne, described elsewhere on this site. This car planted the seeds of upgrading the family winter car to something really nice.

Fast forward to the 2003 International Auto Show in Montreal, where I immediately gravitated to the black LS V8 on the display floor. The price tag was a little off-putting but then again we weren't seriously looking to buy a car anyway. My wife was more interested in the Town Car, though. I really disliked the previous Town Car styling, but I had to admit the redesign for 2003 resulted in a very handsome automobile! The full perimeter frame with body-on-frame construction seemed like the hot ticket for the anti-SUV defense I was so desperately after.

Again, the price tag shocked us into reality. As I was just getting into the 'big car' thing (the reasons listed up above), I suggested we look at the Grand Marquis as the cheaper alternative. Based on the same frame, it offered a fair amount of luxury (something my wife was really interested in) and handsome styling (also slightly redesigned for 2003, mostly on the front end).

Regardless, I feared being saddled with an "old man's" car, plagued with a vague and mushy suspension and numb steering, not to mention that I was never impressed with the single overhead cam (SOHC) version of Ford's V8 (4.6 liter). I had rented a mid 90s Crown Victoria in 1996, and it seemed fairly anemic at low RPM, even if rated at 190hp. To sacrifice driving pleasure for convenience, I'd want something cheaper but unfortunately the 2003 Crown Victoria was no longer available in Canada except for Police or Fleet duty. General Motors, of course, had abandoned the large body-on-frame sedan market in 1996 in favor of more SUV-building capacity, so the Impala SS / Roadmaster / Caprice was no longer there to suit my needs. So, in this market segment, that left the Town Car, the Grand Marquis, and...

OH MY GOD! What is THIS?? I had no idea the Mercury Marauder was being made available in Canada (it was introduced to the Canadian market in late 2002, six months after the US availability). I drooled over this car as I walked around it, fascinated by the large 18 inch wheels and the shiny dual exhaust pipes. This CLEARLY looked better than any Impala SS I'd ever seen! Truly well executed, and the price tag being less than the Town Car made it even more interesting to me.

But alas, my wife had absolutely no interest in the car. I walked away with brochures and pictures, but no hope of ever considering a purchase of this car. Looking back, I should have realized it offered EXACTLY what I was after... handling, safety, solidity, a kickass motor, and LOOKS!!! Here was a car being built BRAND NEW that was totally reminiscent of what the old Parisienne looked like, but with tons more horsepower (using more-or-less the same motor the Mustang Cobra had used in 2002 - a 4.6 liter double-overhead-cam (DOHC) motor).

Fast forward to January 2003... on business in San Diego, I was about to rent another Lincoln LS V8 but at the last minute I changed my mind. One customer came back to the counter to complain his reserved car was just too big... a new 2003 Lincoln Town Car. Here was my chance... I could evaluate this car for one whole week and if I liked it, I'd shift my attention towards the Town Car as a possible purchase.

Initially, I hated it. Big time. The suspension was too jiggly and bouncy (no doubt a result of the targeted buyer). The engine was way underpowered (also a 4.6 liter SOHC). The consumption was insane... if I wanted to spend that much money on gas, I would hope to have a *little* more power available to me! Driver and passenger comfort was exceptional, though. I honestly tried to like it, but felt no love lost when I drove it back the morning of my return flight home. I guess I was just not ready for that type of car just yet...

Upon returning home, I eventually tracked down a Marauder for a test drive, and was pleasantly surprised but not overwhelmed. It seemed docile enough for the intended purpose: a family hauler with a little attitude. Luckily I was not totally put off by the docility of the engine's low-RPM performance, because the engine does really wake up as it breaks in. Even with such little mileage on the car, it sounded heavenly and the suspension was just about perfect: damped just right, but not too harsh. However, the dealer was totally unwilling to negotiate a price, which I found bizarre because US dealers were being offered crazy incentives to move the car, and another dealer had shown a willingness to negotiate a lower-than-sticker purchase price. Unfortunately, the other dealer that HAD been willing to negotiate was unable to deal since his in-stock Marauder had a deposit on it. This left a poor taste in my mouth, and I promised not to give any business to the arrogant dealership.

So for months I stared at the above dealer-promo photo and lusted over the car. All the while, I researched the car to death, thanks to a Marauder-specific site ( Mercury Marauder . net). After months of deliberation and soul-searching, the decision was made to put the 1998 Civic up for sale, and to replace it with a Marauder. The search was on, and calls were made to various dealers. In the end, Terrebonne Ford of Terrebonne Quebec presented me with the best offer on a brand new black 2003 Marauder with 12 kilometers on it (7 miles) that had been inside the showroom since it's arrival in mid February, having been built on February 13 2003. We finally scored our musclecar. No more having to stare at this photo day and night...