“Is that your cop car out there?” James asked me as he welcomed me with an outstretched hand.
“Yes it is,” I replied.
Having made my way to the Emerald Isle of the National Rent-a-Car section of the Baltimore/Washington Airport (BWI), I quickly realized that my choices were quite limited. Looking over my options, I saw one of each of the following:
Dodge Caliber – Quite possibly the worst rental car I’ve ever driven. Front Wheel Drive (FWD) with a terrible gearbox, interior and dynamic.
Chevrolet Impala – Quite possibly the worst car sold in the United States relative to its class peers; seriously, a bad car.
Ford Fusion – FWD and competent.
Mazda5 – Great chassis based on the Mazda3, handles well and is a minivan. At least it was black.
Mercury Grand Marquis – A blazing beige rear wheel drive geriatric hauler based on the venerable Panther Platform with a Ford V8 from a dead brand. Gentlemen, we have a winner!
I don’t know why this full-sized, semi-luxury car was in the Emerald Isle and not in the more exclusive VIP section that I don’t have access to. I didn’t care. I knew that I only had so many opportunities to drive one of these relics before they all turn into Chinese-made refrigerators, so I grabbed the keys and hopped in, making my way to the garage exit.
I don’t normally drive full-sized cars. I don’t care for them. They are, by definition, large, soft and this one particularly has the blue-hair set in mind. Having driven a Ford Taurus SHO the week before, I had gotten used to piloting a car with corners beyond my field of vision and stretched beyond reason. While the SHO was modern, athletic and begged for its twin-turbo V6 to be throttled, the Merc was quite content to cruise along, its V8 reluctantly rustling into action when the pedal on the right was dropped.
Now, you might think that a car with a unibody that swayed more than some sea-faring vessels, an engine that struggled to pull the immense weight its steel and seats that implied you should eat more French Fries would be a chore to drive. You would be wrong. It was an absolute blast! Normally, I like to be close to the wheel and pedals for quick inputs, but I found myself leaning back, relaxing and resting my head on the car’s giant headrests. I’m serious, I’ve slept on pillows smaller than these headrests. They assure you that if you have a wife named Ethel who just got a perm, her blue hair is going to be well-supported.
I left each trip in the Merc beaming!
Once one figures out that the engine takes just a second to warm up, you can begin to anticipate the necessary inputs to make the all-season radials scream all the way through a round-a-bout. Not that I would have done such a thing.
The steering wheel has great feel despite the immense lack of steering feel in the car overall. However, once you determine that the steering is a little vague, you can delay the inputs till the last second, mash the throttle and break the rear end loose while executing any turn that is at least 90 degrees. Not that I would have done such a thing.
I would assume that had I done such things, I would have thrown everything that was loose in the car sliding across the two leather bench seats (front and back!!!) including my own backside since the seats offered absolutely no bolstering. The squealing of the tires behind the car along with the crashing of company-owned property inside would likely delight a person to the point of cackling. Not that I would do such a thing.
Look, the Mercury brand is dead. The Panther Platform is dead. As such, the Grand Marquis is dead. The competition has moved on. Luxury has gotten more refined, more agile, more efficient, more… well, more everything. I know why this bastion of assisted living was planted in the aisle that is normally reserved for Chevy HHR’s and Jeep Liberties, it simply doesn’t hold up to what people consider luxurious any longer. However, I greatly enjoyed my time with the Grand Marquis. I wouldn’t buy one, but I am really tempted to go and purchase a used Crown Victoria in full police-spec to practice car control on, and maybe make other people think that I’ve got a cop car parked out front. I know it would bring a smile to my face every time I heard those tires squeal. Not that I would do such a thing.