Once upon a time the dinosaurs roamed the earth exclusively, so too at one time the big V8 powered full-size cars roamed the United States in the same fashion. Small cars were rare and for the eccentric, small sports cars were the chariots of the hip crowd with money, and pickups were what country dwellers drove. If you wanted to fit in during this time then a big American car was the only ticket. Even performance cars and muscle cars were big solid cars during this time period. The big quintessential American car with almost as much steel as a skyscraper could be found in just about every driveway, parking lot, and garage during this era of better times.
Then the big bad wolf came to town in the form of government regulations. Add to that a couple of oil crises, and other factors – the net result was a drastic change to American car culture forever. Cars lost weight faster than Valerie Bertinelli, and suddenly only a few big rear-wheel drive cars remained. Chrysler dropped its big rear-wheel drive cars first – in the early 1980s (when the Chrysler R-bodies were cancelled). GM held on awhile longer but pulled the plug after the 1996 model year on its full-size rear-wheel drive fleet. Ford at this time still offered three big rear-wheel drive cars; Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car. All of which were built on Ford’s Panther platform. The Panther platform had made its introduction in 1979 and with GM’s exit from producing rear-wheel drive full-size cars, GM handed over this entirely profitable market niche to Ford’s Panther cars.
In recent years Ford’s Panther cars though still stylish and modern, now see the biggest customer base being fleet and commercial buyers. The Crown Victoria has been for the last thirteen years the Police Car of choice; currently it encompasses approximately 80% of the U.S. new police car sales. The Crown Victoria during this time has also became the Taxi cab of choice. With a massive trunk and a passenger cabin that can fit six adults comfortably, it is no surprise the Crown Victoria has mastered this market. The downside is that Ford starting with the 2008 model year, now only sells the Crown Victoria as a fleet vehicle only.
The Lincoln Town Car has been Lincoln’s (rear-wheel drive) luxury flagship for years. In recent years it has been most popular with the senior citizen crowd and executive limousine companies.
Somewhere in between the lavish Town Car and the fleet only Crown Victoria, the Mercury Grand Marquis has found its home. It is more luxurious and upscale than the Crown Victoria yet it is not as lavish as the Lincoln Town Car. The Grand Marquis’ main purpose is to provide big car spaciousness and luxury for a reasonable price. The Grand Marquis hits this mark with a bullseye. Though its buyers are mostly older their loyality speaks volumes, and sales still remain very good for a car that has only had slight appearance changes since 1998 (for 2003 the Panther platform did however receive upgrades to the frame body, suspension, and steering).
The 2010 Grand Marquis has a reason for its existence; to be a modern version of the big rear-wheel drive cars from yesteryear. It is a car that can fit six big adults comfortably, has the largest trunk in its class (21 cubic feet of total trunk space), and move with authority by the power of its smooth V8. Back when these cars were the mainstay, American families would pack themselves and hords of luggage into cars like the Grand Marquis and head off on long trips to the beach, mountains, etc. Most cars can’t do this task anymore, they just don’t have the interior space or trunk capacity – this is one of the reasons why in recent years many buyers have gravitated to buying SUVs which have more the space capacities of the old rear-wheel drive full-size cars.
The Grand Marquis which only comes in one trim package – the LS, is downright roomy, and it doesn’t matter how much girth you have or how tall you are you still come to this conclusion when entering into any of its four doors. It feels like the mansion of cars. The room is better than the biggest of SUVs and it has one big advantage over them, the seats are closer to the ground so even short people can enter into the Grand Marquis with ease. Sitting behind the steering wheel gives the driver the feeling of tranquility – there is the not the boxed in feel of most cars. You feel like you are sitting on a big comforable couch with nobody around. The steering wheel controls are close enough to reach but far enough away not to be obtrusive. There is also no front center console to get the way. The front 40/20/40 bench seating area is so wide that three Tony Sopranos (sitting side-by-side) can fit comfortably (the same is true with the rear seating area).
Leather seating is standard in the Grand Marquis along with a leather wrapped steering wheel. And if a combination wood and leather wrapped steering wheel is your cup of tea that is optional. The wood-trimmed dashboard is stylish for a modern version of the old “big car” dashboards – it does not take any strange curves towards the driver like many modern dashboards. The shifter is a traditional column shifter that is easily accessible along with all the other driver controls. And there are a lot of controls – the Grand Marquis is littered with power and convience options.
The most surprising thing about the Grand Marquis is the sporty instrument cluster found in the midst of a conservative dashboard design. The round gauges are easily readable and look great. Here’s where the good news ends. The Grand Marquis has high-quality sound CD stereo system as standard with an optional CD/Cassette stereo system. This would have been above par ten years ago, however today its way behind the curve where most luxury cars now offer satellite radio and on-board navigation systems. The lack of these two essential options is a terrible faux-pas on Ford’s part.
The exterior styling is well done; it is a refined evolution of 1998 Grand Marquis which was a good looking car from the start. Standard fog lamps are found in the front fascia below the front bumper. Chrome trim is tastefully done throughout the entire exterior. The 17 inch aluminum wheels are a nice touch, and for an extra $300 a set of optional 17 inch chrome aluminum wheels can be had.
Powering the Grand Marquis is a standard 224 horsepower (272 lbs/feet of torque) 4.6 liter Single Overhead Cam (SOHC) V8 which is a Flex Fuel motor that can also run on E85 fuel mated to a four-speed automatic transmission (with overdrive). The SOHC 4.6 is smooth and moves effortlessly off the line, and fools the driver into believing there’s a bigger V8 under the hood. 0-60 mph comes in at around mid-8 second range which for a 4,200 lbs luxury car is impressive. Also impressive is that this vehicle is capable of highway fuel efficiency as high as 29 mpg.
The steering is precise and nimble for a big luxury car especially one not really made for the curves. Mercury offered before 2008, a special handling package for Grand Marquis buyers who wanted better handling; the package improved handling along with providing a 239 horsepower version of the 4.6 liter V8 SOHC V8. This package is sorely missed, and with the Grand Marquis on its death bed, it is a safe bet that the package will not be coming back.
On the 2010 Grand Marquis, the ride is par excellence; the rear air suspension even though it is a solid axle design, absorbs road bumps and imperfections with ease. The Grand Marquis like its Panther brothers has a very sturdy and rugged body on frame design which was how they used to make them (now, many cars are uni-body). The design can take punishment and holds up better in accidents and it is a contributing factor in the Grand Marquis’ five star crash rating the past two decades.
The Grand Marquis offers a lot of car for the money, for a base price of $29,410 this car comes loaded with goodies. Add all the available options and the price tag tops off at around $32,000 which is still a bargain.
With the current times as crazy as they are, it is a great feeling driving the Grand Marquis. It is like traveling back to a happier time given that the Grand Marquis gives you that fuzzy joyful feeling knowing that though most modern things change for the worst the Grand Marquis never deviates from its main purpose. My wish is that the execs at Ford will see the necessity of keeping a car as great as the Grand Marquis in the Mercury lineup for many years to come. With Ford offering no comittment to produce the Panther platform (or a replacement rear-wheel drive platform) after 2011, my fear is that the dye is already cast and the Grand Marquis along with its Ford Panther brethern will soon be extinct dinosaurs. The Grand Marquis is too good a car to suffer this wretched fate.
Written contents in this article – © 2009 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved