I spent a week this past summer on the water at Martin Lake in Northern Saskatchewan cruising around in a Campion 595. This isn’t to say that I know my boats, far from it. I just know what it is like to enjoy the open water with a beer in hand and to feel like I have Meniere’s disease afterwards. In the future, I will know to expect this sensation when boating and I will also know not to exasperate it with alcohol. What I didn’t expect was to feel the same vertigo-like symptoms again (and so soon) on a recent spur-of-the-moment trip to the World Golf Village and area in Northeastern Florida. I wasn’t even planning on seeing much water on the trip (other than the veritable ocean surrounding the 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass) so it was with great surprise that I felt an odd sensation of déjà vu when I took the first I-95 on-ramp with a little too much zest in the rental car.
I had ordered a “Premium Large” car sight unseen because my friend and I needed a commodious trunk room for our luggage and golf clubs. Little did I know that Avis thought that the Mercury Grand Marquis fit the premium billing. Rather than get into a logic-based argument about calling a domestic car designed in the 1970’s “premium” with a large, disgruntled, and disinterested woman, I took the keys and set off to the nicest golf course I’d ever played in a car whose Panther platform made the Ford Ranger platform look like a spring chicken.
So I set off for TPC Sawgrass, Home of the Players, in what could be considered a small boat. I don’t use the nautical cliches lightly because the suspension really could cause motion sickness in the corners. Luckily, Florida doesn’t have many. Or at least not on the roads we took. Thanks goodness.
It proved to be a comfortable car on longer cruises and the local taxi companies seemed to agree as it was also their transportation of choice. One of the big problems with our particular Grand Marquis was that it was white in colour and as such, looked like an unmarked Police cruiser. This image was further reinforced by our GPS unit, which when mounted on the windshield, looked suspiciously like a radar device ready to catch the next unsuspecting hoon. I was seriously concerned for our safety when we pulled over to the side of the road, having missed a turn, and played with the GPS unit. Other motorists, apparently buying the image we were selling, slowed down and peered into the Mercury only to see two white Canadian boys grinning sheepishly at the misunderstanding. I really, really, didn’t want to get shot. Mainly because I hadn’t purchased travel insurance and my friend had and I didn’t want to prove him right for playing it safe.
The Grand Marquis was a study in stealthy styling. It was so bland it was invisible. It could blend into your grandmother’s 40 year old wallpaper. I have no doubt in my mind that the US army currently owns a fleet of these vehicles in an attempt to test if the Marquis’ invisible styling “technology” can be transferred to military application. DARPA is involved no doubt.
Yes the exterior is bland, but what about inside? Would you be surprised/angry/confused if I told you it was top-notch? Well that’s exactly what I’m telling you: the interior was top notch. For it’s generation. I’m sure that the interior accommodations were luxurious when George Bush Sr was enjoying his single term in the White House. Unfortunately that was 20 years ago and such level of quality of fit and finish are no longer acceptable in Kia’s entry-level models, much less a “premium” car (if only in the eyes of Avis). Maybe it’s time for a redesign or update?
I mentioned earlier that the Marquis handled like a boat in the corners, and while my startlingly similar experience on a lake in Saskatchewan this summer gives me confidence in my analogy, it doesn’t matter. Why? Because Keira Knightly has more curves than Florida’s road network. What the Marquis excelled at was soaking up long distances in comfort at 70+ mph despite the 1.5 speaker sound system and bipolar radio antenna that couldn’t decide on a station to play. The seats were infinitely adjustable and wide enough for enough even the most passionate McDonald’s connoisseur. Judging by the other people driving the Marquis in Florida, it is aimed at octogenarians looking for a comfortable vehicle to drive through the Gates of Heaven (or the Golden Arches). Considering Florida’s demographic and geography, this explains the popularity of the Grand Marquis there as I spotted no less than 7 in 3 days.
I can understand the appeal to these individuals, mainly because the Marquis was comfortable and easy to get into and out of. What more to track-suit wearing retirees want? The primary concerns of a 20-something europhile (and general car-lover) don’t really apply to people who can’t see well enough to move out of Florida entirely. As a way of getting around on Florida’s hurricane devastated interstate system, the Grand Marquis was fine. For those of us in Canada, it’s easy to see better alternatives.
Price as tested: US$30,000
Summary: Comfy but rubbish.
Exterior Design: 1/10. Laugh out loud bad.
Interior Design: 4/10. Comfy but archaic design.
Engine: 3/10. American V8 muscle. Yet somehow only 224 hp.
Transmission: 2/10. Didn’t kick down. Kept revs low so no power was available.
Audio/Video: 0.5/10. Marks were garnered only because noise was made.
Value: 1/10. Please don’t.
Overall (not an average):2/10.