Those of us who occasionally drive hot new review cars are accustomed to getting admiring looksfrom people who appreciate our wheels. But I wasn't prepared for what happened with the 2003 MercuryMarauder. The black-gloss-finished sedan seemed to get the most attention from cops!

That'sprobably because the Marauder, based on the Grand Marquis, takes a few design cues from its cousin theCrown Vic, a popular police cruiser. Mercury engineers also blacked-out nonfunctional areas of theheadlamp units and dark-tinted the taillamp bezels to give the Marauder a don't-mess-with-meappearance. Three-inch chrome exhaust tips, 18-in. chromed spoke wheels, and fog lamps integrated intothe fascia further promote this image.

Under the hood is a 302-hp DOHC V8. The 4.6-literall-aluminum engine is basically the same one that powers the 2002 Mustang Cobra. Interestinglyenough, the car is available only with an automatic transmission, though it targets drivingenthusiasts. The transmission is a four-speed with overdrive, and Mercury engineers also added ahigh-stall torque converter, limited-slip differential, and 3.55:1 rear-axle ratio to improveacceleration.

Nevertheless, the Marauder won't give you a push-back-into-the-seat blast off. Thebig V8 makes a lot of noise but doesn't really start to fly until it hits mid to high-end power. It isspeed limited to 120 mph and the red line is 6,250 rpm. Its 0-to-60 time is listed at 6.5 sec. The19-gallon fuel tank takes premium fuel. With all this power, expect to get 17/25 mpg in city/highwaydriving.

Tall drivers will appreciate the ample headroom, 39.4 in., and the interior is generallyroomy with lots of leg room. The dual eight-way-power reclining bucket seats are comfortable, withextra padding for thigh, lumbar, and shoulder support. Seat controls are conveniently located withineasy reach on the door. White-faced gages give the instrument panel a street-racer feel; oil-pressureand voltmeter gages sit just in front of the shifter to reinforce this idea. Dot-matrix-gray trimaccents and a black leather interior with French seam-stitching derived from vintage Marauders finishout the interior. (For readers too young to remember, the last Mercury Marauder came out in 1970.)

The Marauder rides on a Grand Marquis base that received a number of updates this year. Torsionalrigidity and ride qualities are said to be much improved. The independent front suspension is a shortand long-arm design with steel upper and aluminum lower-control arms. Coil-over-shock springs andmonotube dampers along with a solid stabilizer bar round out the front components. The live axle inback rides on upper and lower-control arms and a lateral Watt's linkage along with load-leveling airsprings and monotube dampers. The air springs are designed to keep the car level even with the20.6-ft3 of trunk space fully loaded. There's a stabilizer bar in back as well to reduce body roll.

Mercury engineers tuned the Marauder suspension for a sportier ride than the Marquis. Nevertheless,it still has the feel of a big car that smooths out bumps, rather than the connectedness of somethingdesigned to telegraph curves. Suffice it to say that the Marauder handling qualities will not bemistaken for those of a sports car.

Steering and braking are both strong points, however. Powerrack and pinion makes steering response relatively crisp. Dual-piston calipers and 12.4-in. rotors inthe front, single-piston calipers, and 11.1-in. rotors in back provide a comfortable amount ofstopping power. There is also a booster that applies full braking power in a panic stop even if thedriver doesn't tromp on the pedal hard enough to engage ABS.

The base price for the Marauder is$33,790, which includes a $705 destination charge. The only options are a trunk organizer and a six-CDchanger, which bring the total to $34,340. Despite its appeal to law-enforcement officials, Mercuryhas not announced any plans to include a mount for shotguns in future models. - Lee Teschler