Merriam-Webster defines the word “ultimate” as:
- the last in a progression or series, or;
- the best or most extreme in its kind.
I’d say the Mercury Grand Marquis Ultimate Edition more accurately reflects the first definition rather than the second.
The last of the venerable Grand Marquis line wore the Ultimate trim tag but the moniker first appeared in 2003 on the featured car. That year saw the last major revision of the Panther platform with an all-new frame, redesigned suspension, and the belated arrival of rack-and-pinion steering. What a pity Ford didn’t give these cars a fresh look to complement their revised underpinnings—I initially thought this was a much later model but it appears to be a 2003-05 example, which is pretty much just a different grille away from being a 1998-2002 or 2006-11 model.
Ford really let these cars stagnate. The SOHC 4.6 V8 had a single exhaust and a weak 224 horsepower rating; a dual-exhaust model with 15 extra horses was available but rarely ordered. By the mid-2000s, almost every V6 mid-sizer produced more power and bested the Grand Marquis’s mediocre gas mileage (15/23 mpg). Torque was healthier at 272 ft-lbs but the car was still shaded by four-cylinder intermediates at the stoplight.
The Grand Marquis bested those intermediates in cabin space and had one of the industry’s last remaining bench seats, but many of those smaller cars were more maneuverable and better packaged. Then there was the Grand Marquis’ interior, hardly befitting a car with vaguely premium aspirations, although it at least had a clean and simple design.
I remember the 2011 Crown Victoria LX I rented in 2012. The rental agency clerk offered a free upgrade to a Ford Escape which I didn’t take, to her surprise. No way, I wanted to try a good old-fashioned American full-size. It made for a comfortable highway cruiser although I was startled by how much I could feel the car shimmy over bumps. Although I enjoyed the experience, I remember thinking there were plenty of other cars made in 2011 that would be comfortable on the highway while offering superior packing or greater power or greater fuel economy or more features or, well, all of the above.
The final facelift. This is a 2006. Or maybe it’s a 2008. Or a 2011.
You can make excuses for the final Panther cars. That livery drivers loved them, or that older buyers appreciated the simplicity and didn’t care about AUX inputs or Bluetooth or 0-60 times. You’d have a point, but then again Chrysler showed with the LX cars of 2005 (300, Charger, Magnum) that private buyers under the age of 70 could be enticed into a full-size, V8, rear-wheel-drive domestic and that there was still life in that format. And many older buyers were jumping ship to cars like the Toyota Camry and Avalon; Grand Marquis sales gradually whittled away during the 2000s and eventually fleet sales accounted for over half of Grand Marquis volume. It remains puzzling to me that Ford would invest a significant amount in revamping the Panther’s chassis and then leave it with the same underpowered, thirsty V8, low-rent interior, and mid-1990s styling. Is this the ultimate Panther? No, I’d say the Marauder is more worthy of that appellation.