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If you want a real American six-passenger sedan that has rear-wheel drive, body-on-frame construction, lots of luxury amenities, and a reasonable price, you are shopping in a very narrow segment. Chrysler Corporation gave up on rear-wheel-drive passenger cars years ago, and 1996 was the last year in which General Motors made any large sedans with rear-wheel drive (the Cadillac Brougham and the Chevrolet Caprice were canceled after that). That leaves the Ford Crown Victoria for the police forces, daily rental and taxicab companies, and the Mercury Grand Marquis for the rest of us.
The Grand Marquis has posted strong sales gains over the past few years. Mercury officials credit changing American demographics - more older couples who have children or parents living with them, for instance - and the car's solid value, an important factor for those on fixed incomes. Only four years ago, the Grand Marquis had less than 15 percent of the large-car market, now it's closer to 27 percent. Owner loyalty, which speaks volumes, is more than 42 percent, the highest in this part of the market. Grand Marquis competes against Oldsmobile Delta 88, Pontiac Bonneville and Buick LeSabre as well as Chrysler Concorde and Toyota Avalon.
The engine that powers the Grand Marquis is a 4.6-liter single overhead-cam V8 that was introduced with these cars in 1990, and it has turned out to be one of the best engines Ford Motor Company has ever built in terms of quality and durability. It, too, has been upgraded for 1997, and now makes 200 horsepower with single exhaust and 220 hp with the optional dual exhaust system, a 10-hp increase over previous calibrations. The engine now has coil-on-plug ignition which is simpler and more reliable.
Likewise, the 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission designed to mate with the 4.6-liter V8 has been shaped up and smoothed out for 1998, with 50 percent quicker, smoother, and more positive shifts, and no maintenance required for the life of the car. With this combination, the Grand Marquis is rated a Class 1 tow vehicle, to tow 2000 pounds continuously.
And, whether you tow a small trailer or boat and trailer, you might consider that ABS and traction control come as a single package in 1998, and that traction control has been upgraded from low-speed-only to all-speed, which makes it a great deal more flexible in many weather conditions. The system can be switched off with a switch hidden in the glovebox.
Wheels have been increased from 15-inch to 16-inch. Steel wheels are standard, aluminum alloy wheels are optional. Special alloy wheels come with the handling package. Standard tires are P225/60R-16 all-season radials that ride better and bite better than the smaller tires used last year. Brakes, too, have been enlarged and upgraded, with larger, thicker rotors and dual-piston calipers on the front discs for better, longer brake performance.
For 1998, the Grand Marquis rear suspension has been altered substantially to get that quiet, smooth and unperturbed ride. The rear trailing arms, which used to point inward toward the driveshaft, have been reshaped and remounted between the frame and the rear axle assembly to provide control of the axle's up and down motions. At the same time, the rear axle assembly has been fitted with a Watts linkage, a simple mechanical link between the center of the frame and the axle assembly that locates the axle laterally. Mercury's Precision Trac suspension system with coil springs and relocated shock absorbers controls the ride. With one set of bars for vertical motions and the Watts link for lateral motions, the car is much less susceptible to wallow and is not as affected by crosswinds as it was before. This was clearly the best-handling big Merc we've ever driven, a pleasure on a winding road.
If splendid isolation is what you're looking for, or if you plan to cover lots of North American territory on the big highways, the Grand Marquis belongs on your shopping list. With its body-on-frame construction, quiet and smooth V8 engine and rear drive, the Grand Marquis goes out of its way to separate you and your traveling partners from mechanical noise and intrusions caused by the road surface. The new steering and suspension really work well to improve ride quality, road feel and handling, and for the $27,000 as-tested price, you get luxury car value in a full-sized sedan. That's a deal!