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Published: 08/27/2010 - by Lee Pray, Contributor
"Kah-chank, kah-chank, kah-chank..." The sound of the 2010 Mercury Grand Marquis' turn signals are enough to trigger unconscious sense memories of your dad's old Colony Park wagon or your grandfather's Turnpike Cruiser. That's not the sound of microprocessors at work or carefully metered, market-researched synthetic tones. It's the sound of real switches opening and closing. You know, like those big levers that turned on the electrodes in Dr. Frankenstein's lab. It's throwback technology.
The Grand Marquis is the very last of its breed: the full-size, front-engine, rear-drive, V8-powered, solid-rear-axle, American-made mainstream sedan underpinned by a full frame and available to retail buyers. GM killed its big body-on-frame cars back in 1996 and Chrysler hasn't had a traditional full-size sedan for sale since 1981. Ford's Crown Victoria, the Grand Marquis' virtual twin, has since 2008 been only available to fleets — most often as a cab or cop car. Lincoln dealers are still selling the Grand Marquis' sister, the Town Car, but well, that's a luxury machine. Anyhow, all of Ford's "Panther" platform big cars — the Grand Marquis, the Crown Vic and Town Car — are doomed.
Ford is shutting down the Mercury division, and sometime during the fourth quarter of this year the very last Mercury of them all will be produced. Maybe that last Mercury will be a Mariner small SUV or a Milan compact sedan. But, if there's such a thing as poetic justice, it ought to be a Grand Marquis.
And this is likely to be Inside Line's last test of a new Mercury. Ever.
Oldest School Possible
The Grand Marquis hasn't changed much since its current generation was introduced for the 1992 model year. But while even by that measure the Marquis is ancient, in many ways it's older than that. After all, while the exterior sheet metal and drivetrain were new for '92, much of the chassis carried over from the first "downsized" Panther platform versions of the full-size Ford products that first showed up as 1979 models. And while the Panther was scaled down from previous Ford behemoths, it's at least conceptually not much different from the all coil-sprung full-size chassis introduced for 1965.
In fact, the Grand Marquis has changed so little over the years that Ford hasn't bothered posting updated information about it on its media Web site since 2008. And there aren't any examples in Ford's press fleet either. Inside Line rented this Grand Marquis LS "Ultimate Edition" from Avis. Or was it Thrifty? Maybe it was Enterprise.
It's not even dead yet and Ford can't wait to bury the Grand Marquis.
The 2010 Mercury Grand Marquis doesn't have seats in the way other cars do. Instead it accommodates up to six passengers in what would qualify as couches if they were installed in a dentist's waiting room.
Upholstered in "leather trim" that feels like industrial-grade vinyl, the rear couch has the consistently squishy padding of a freshly baked Twinkie. Sitting back there it's as if there's a constant gravity trying to suck you down until your butt travels through a black hole and pokes out in some random other part of the universe. But there are 38 inches of rear legroom (0.8 inch more than what a 2010 Honda Accord sedan offers) and because you sit so far back in the seat, it seems like more. There's also a large parcel shelf between the top of the seat and the rear window that's a perfect platform for constructing a stuffed animal diorama, or for your lap dog to nap.
The driver doesn't so much sit in the split front couch as sprawl across it. Get in and your lower body instinctively slouches toward the transmission center hump while your left shoulder slumps into the door and left arm naturally perches up on the door sill. That's how you drive the Grand Marquis — right hand on the wheel, left elbow sticking out the window, legs spread apart and, ideally, your belly drooping over the seatbelt. Sit in this car like it's a BMW or Mercedes and there's no way to get comfortable. There's six-way power adjustment and power lumbar support built into the front driver's lounge, but no amount of fiddling will result in anything resembling an ergonomically correct driving position.
The 2010 Mercury Grand Marquis' interior is for people who like to loosen their belt a few notches after conquering the buffet at Golden Corral and have to wait for their blood sugar to stabilize before turning the ignition key. It's the automotive equivalent of a food coma. It doesn't get any better than that.
Hey, on the way home, let's stop at Red Lobster!
Slow and Built To Stay That Way
On Inside Line's scales, the Grand Marquis weighed in at not-that-porky 4,042 pounds — about 158 pounds lighter than the Cadillac CTS-V coupe that just showed its taillights to the BMW M3. But where that Caddy has 556 horsepower to push it around, the Grand Marquis has just 224. That's a grim 18 pounds per hp.
Power for the 2010 Mercury Grand Marquis comes from Ford's familiar and creamy smooth 4.6-liter SOHC 16-valve iron-block "Modular" V8. Asthmatically exhaling through a single exhaust, the Mod motor operates in virtual silence mostly because it's not doing very much. The engine sort of lazily builds revs when the accelerator is slammed to the floor and then gives out an almost audible sigh of relief when the four-speed automatic transmission makes one of its mushy shifts.
Speed is a relative thing, and relatively speaking, the Grand Marquis is slow. It takes the barge 9.3 seconds to reach 60 mph (9.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip) and it steams through the quarter-mile in 16.7 seconds at 84.6 mph. A Honda CR-Z hybrid will crush it in any heads-up race.
But turn off the traction control, put the column shifter into Reverse, let the Marquis run out toward its terminal velocity going backward, and this thing does absolutely spectacular Jim Rockford-certified reverse 180s. It's simply a matter of slamming the shifter into Drive in the middle of its twirl and the Grand Marquis waltzes away. So if you're a P.I. and often find yourself running from assorted pissed-off people, the Grand Marquis isn't all bad.
Riding on modest 225/60R17 Michelin Energy LX4 all-season tires apparently equipped with "Super Squeal" technology, the Grand Marquis isn't built to handle as much as it is to smother. This car leans over on its suspension even when you're parallel parking. On Inside Line's slalom course it felt like it was going to scrape its door handles off on the pavement. But it's not like you can concentrate on that since the car is swinging its tail by the end of the second gate, and without some serious steering correction, the car will spin off like Oksana Baiul after losing an all-night game of Quarters.
Yeah, the big Mercury made it through the slalom in a numb 58.4 mph with the traction control off. And it managed to hold on to the skid pad all the way to 0.78g. But that doesn't tell the handling story.
The 2010 Mercury Grand Marquis is a car built for one-handed operation. Taken on its own terms as a cruiser built to slowly chase the horizon, it works great. The rack-and-pinion steering actually has good on-center feel and it does well in cutting through the urban jungle with surprising agility. Of course, the chassis never lets the driver know what's going on and the full frame adds an additional level of anesthesia to the whole enterprise, but the float and wallow are novelties compared to all the other cars out there pretending to be BMWs. It's fun in its own dorky way.
Braking, on the other hand, is just this side of terrifying. Not that the ABS-aided 127-foot stopping distance from 60 mph was all that terrible (though it was hardly good) or the fade extreme. It was the nose dive — so extreme from the driver seat it looked as if the car was aiming to drill down through the pavement.
With its huge trunk, capacious interior and rugged construction, the Grand Marquis still makes sense as a commercial sedan. It's a truck cleverly disguised as a four-door sedan. And with a starting price of $30,685 it's a lot of car for the money.
It costs a lot less if you're buying your Grand Marquis a dozen at a time, too.
But in today's world, the 2010 Mercury Grand Marquis is hard to justify for us civilians. A new 2011 Ford Taurus does everything a Grand Marquis does except hold six people. And it does it all more comfortably, more precisely, more quickly and more enjoyably for about the same or less money. And in the real world, the Taurus will get much better fuel economy, too (the Grand Marquis is EPA rated at 16 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway). In today's context, it's a goofball. For the record, there is a 2011 Grand Marquis which, inexplicably, costs $125 more than the one we tested here. Somehow the whole concept of model years seems inconsistent with this grand old dame.
But it's tough to see the Grand Marquis go. It represents more than a century of body-on-frame American cars and it's not without its particular and very peculiar charms. And soon, we just won't build them that way anymore.
Edmunds rented this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation. Seriously.
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