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Though they were what most people drove in the 1950s and 1960s, full-size cars like the Ford Crown Victoria are now an anomaly. But Ford's biggest sedan still offers significant virtues, including affordable V8 performance and room for six people (if configured with a three-abreast front bench seat).
Today, the Crown Victoria's passenger and cargo volumes compare favorably against fashionable SUVs. Its low seat height doesn't afford a truck's elevated perspective of the road, but sliding into the Crown Vic is as effortless as settling into your favorite armchair. This lowness also pays a noticeable dividend in ride quality, avoiding the hobbyhorse head tossing of a truck or SUV.
The Crown Victoria is popular with a lot of people for its impressive safety ratings, easy entry/exit, big windows, pleasant ride quality, quiet interior, confusion-free controls, and optional power-adjustable pedals. Ford sells nearly 80,000 Crown Vics a year.
Ford substantially updated the Crown Victoria for 2003. A stiffer chassis provided front frame sections designed to better absorb crash energy. Handling precision was improved, thanks to more precise rack-and-pinion steering and an extensive redesign of the front and rear suspensions. For 2004, Ford has made changes to the transmission for better acceleration, and re-thought the layout of the optional overhead console. Laminated door glass is now available for even more quiet and security.
If your only experience with a Crown Victoria has been riding in a taxicab, careening through city streets, you've been misled. Truth is, the Crown Vic's driving personality is far more sedate. While some cars vie for your down payment by touting driver involvement, the big Ford goes the other way, trumpeting maximum driver isolation. It regards the world out there as bumpy and loud, and insulates you from it.
In the past, riding in a full-size sedan meant dreaming along the boulevard in sofa-like comfort, while suffering a sea-sick wallow on secondary roads. Steering was typically as vague as a politician's response to a direct question. Fortunately, the current Crown Victoria largely avoids these missteps, only straying into unpleasantness if you flagrantly disregard the posted speed limit. Within the boundaries of legal speeds, its steering and brakes are very slow responding (more so the steering), but competent and unruffled in a limousine sort of way. Both steering and brakes require only light effort, although the relaxed steering ratio does mean sometimes turning the wheel quite a bit more than you'd expect. The steering is accurate, however, a benefit of the new rack-and-pinion setup. A new steering gear shaved a foot off the pre-2003 Crown Vic's turning circle, easing parking-lot maneuvers.
The Crown Victoria handles back roads better than you might expect. Live-axle rear suspensions have a habit of unsettling both rear wheels when only one of them hits a bump. Taking a railroad crossing at an angle, for instance, is likely to tighten your grip on your commuter cup. But it doesn't have to be that way, and the Crown Vic's rear axle is so accurately located and smoothly controlled that it's rarely ruffled.
Ride quality is generally smooth. The big Ford is particularly adept at sapping the sting from sharp jolts. There's little fore and aft head toss, an annoying experience accepted by drivers of today's taller vehicles. On the downside, the Crown Vic's tires follow road contours more rigorously than we'd like.
In terms of interior noise, the Crown Vic truly shines, delivering near-concert-hall quiet even as it absorbs crashing bumps. It's an ideal environment for conversation, music-listening or just quiet contemplation.
The big Ford earns high marks not only for a controlled ride and acoustic isolation, but also improved structural solidity. The redesigned perimeter frame introduced last year is roughly 20 percent more resistant to bending and twisting than its predecessor. In human-speak this means less shake, creak and booming, as well as an impressive double-five-star safety rating in the federal government's front-end crash tests.
Acceleration is V8-brisk, and even better for 2004, thanks to a re-engineered torque converter in the transmission. Squeezing down the go-pedal returns a satisfyingly quick twirl of the speedometer needle and an authoritative intake note. When a good dose of scoot is called for, a punch of the Crown Vic's throttle does the job, sending 224 horsepower to the rear wheels in fire-brigade buckets full.
Driven normally, you should expect a satisfactory 17 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and smooth shifts from the four-speed automatic transmission.
And it's in just this sort of breezing along where the Crown Vic really shines, effectively isolating you from exterior noise and the harshest of road surfaces. Behind the wheel, you're invited to relax and ignore the frenzy of modern traffic. The Ford Crown Victoria is a rolling respite from traffic anxiety disorder.
Ford Crown Victoria may be the most traditional domestic automobile available today. Or, depending on how you look at it, it could be one of most unconventional, given how far the market has migrated from the original recipe. In the Crown Victoria, you have the classic ingredients of the American automobile: size, V8 power, rear-wheel drive, and four doors, all packaged in the once-ubiquitous three-box sedan configuration. There's room for six, a huge trunk, safety features aplenty, a well-cushioned ride and a silence-is-golden acoustic experience.
Yet, technical upgrades such as rack-and-pinion steering, a revamped suspension, and a stiffer chassis give the Crown Vic a driving experience that is far from lackluster. Its character is fluid and relaxed, its performance surprisingly competent. That's why Crown Victoria remains a popular choice.