The car side of Mercury's business was faltering in the 2000s along with the rest of the company, especially after 2002, when only the Sable and Grand Marquis were left to carry the load. Significantly, Sable ceded its spot as Mercury's best-selling car just one year after its 1996 redesign.
All the underskin particulars were naturally the same as for that year's new lozenge-shaped, oval-bedecked Ford Taurus, including a more powerful base V-6 and a more refined optional V-6, the new 200-bhp twincam Duratec. Sable was again more conservatively styled than its Ford counterpart, but evidently not enough for Mercury buyers. Accordingly, the Y2K editions got an unscheduled early facelift to look more conventional, plus a more orthodox dashboard.
But after that, Sable followed Taurus in making only detail changes each year, thus falling further and further behind import-brand competitors that were freshened more often. Sales, which reliably topped 100,000 in the late 1990s, waned quickly after 2001, thudding to below 43,000 in calendar 2004. By that point, Mercury had a replacement ready, so Sable was unceremoniously dumped after an abbreviated 2005 run.
The Grand Marquis fell on hard times too, but entered the new century as the best selling Mercury, car or truck. It had become as indispensible to the make as sister Town Car had become to Lincoln. And that was the trouble. Like Ford's Crown Victoria, which shared the vintage-1979 "Panther" platform, the big L-M sedans were relics of a bygone era.
And though considered updating helped them keep pace with changing technology, they still appealed mainly to older folks whose numbers were dwindling. The only reasons the Panthers were able to become so gray were that they remained profitable -- basic tooling had been paid for ages ago -- and as full-size V-8 cars with rear-wheel drive they had no domestic competition between 1996 and 2005.
Nevertheless, Grand Marquis stymied Mercury in the same way Town Car befuddled Lincoln. Both were too vital to lose, yet the longer they stayed around, the more their "geezer" image inhibited each make from forging a more youthful identity as a way back to prosperity. Neither brand had resolved this dilemma by 2005, and there seemed little time left to do so.
The crisis was particularly dire at Mercury, where Grand Marquis accounted for an increasing percentage of car sales between 2001 and '05 even as its own calendar-year sales volume plunged from over 198,000 to less than 65,000 in that period.
The car itself evolved nicely. The '98 Grand Marquis received a few styling tweaks and 10 extra horses for each V-8, taking the base engine to 200 bhp, the optional dual-exhaust version to 215. A second tuneup added 20 horses apiece for 2001.
The 2003s got a surprisingly extensive underskin update involving a stiffer new-design frame, revised suspension geometry, and more-precise rack-and-pinion steering to replace the outmoded recirculating-ball setup.
Optional front side airbags arrived, joining the antilock brakes and traction control that had been standard for several years. And power went up again, with the base V-8 now at 224 bhp, the dual-exhaust version at 239. Otherwise, the Grand Marquis story through 2006 was one of yearly shuffles in trim, equipment, model names and pricing.
For more information on Mercury models, see:
- Mercury New Car Reviews and Prices
- Mercury Used Car Reviews and Prices