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The big American car lives!

(page 2)

Road tests of the Mercury Grand Marquis, the Buick Electra, and the Chrysler Fifth Avenue

Climate control

Heating. (excellent) The heater warmed up quickly, distributed warm air evenly, and responded promptly when we changed it's temperature setting. A mix setting divides airflow between the defroster and floor vents, but it can't provide cool air above and warm below. Heating. (excellent) The heater warmed up slowly, but it responded quickly to changes in temperature setting. Warm air distribution was concentrated along the center of the floor. A bi-level setting provides cooler air from the dashboard vents, warmer air from the floor vents. Heating. (excellent) When you set the temperature, the thermostatically controlled system automatically maintains it. The fan was noisy on its highest speed.
Ventilation. (excellent) Generous and draft free. Fan-forced fresh air can be warmed. Ventilation. (excellent) Four dashboard vents provide ample fresh air, and vents under the dash can be opened to direct additional air to the occupants' laps. Heat can be added on cool days. Exhausting of stale air left something to be desired; we had to open a window slightly to do the job properly. Ventilation. (excellent) Fan-forced fresh air was ample and free of drafts. Heat can be added if desired. We had to open a window slightly to exhaust stale air.
Air-conditioning. (excellent) The optional air conditioner responded quickly to changes in its temperature setting. When outside temperatures are 40F or higher, the air conditioner works in  "defrost" to keep windows free of fog. Air-conditioning. (excellent) It's standard in the Electra, and it worked flawlessly. When outside temperatures are above 50F and the defroster is on, the air conditioner automatically switches on to keep windows free of fog. Air-conditioning. (excellent) Standard in the Fifth Avenue; it worked flawlessly.


Controls. (average) The lever for the wipers and washers is tucked behind the turn signal lever, where it's awkward to reach. Pulling the turn-signal lever flashes the headlights to signal other drivers. THe power-window switches are logically laid out and conviently located on top of the door armrest. The inside door handles, under the armrests, are awkward to use. The remote releases for the fuel-filler door and the trunk lid are inconveniently placed inside the glove compartment. Controls. (better than average) We particularly like the design of the power-window controls. Their action is obvious by feel: Convex shapes indicate up; concave shapes, down. The split rocker switch that operates the headlights is a lot less convenient than an old-fasshioned knob. GM has taken the same inconvenient approach as Ford to the fuel-filler door: The release is in the glove compartment. What's worse, it works only when the ignition is on. The climate-control panel is conveniently close to the driver, but it's partially hidden by the steering wheel. Controls. (average) THe climate and radio controls were easy to reach but a bit too crowded. THe turn-signal lever includes the automatic speed control and wiper and washer functions: It's not always easy to tell what you're doing just by feel. The power door-lock and window controls are identical and lined up single file on the driver's armrest; unless you look carefully, you can't be sure what you'll open or close, lock or unlock.
Displays. (worse than average) The silver-toned gauges with black lettering lacked contrast both day and night. THe mirror-like plastic cover picked up reflections. The gauges in the Ford LTD Crown Victoria are far more readable. Displays. (better than average) Clear and readable. Unfortunately, the panel lights boldly reflect in the windshield at night. The engine oil pressure, engine-temperature, and fuel guages are partially hidden behind the steering wheel. Displays. (better than average) Gauges are clearly marked, but daytime reflections can make them hard to read. The engine-temperature and amp guages are hidden by the steering wheel or the driver's hand on the wheel.
Trunk. (excellent) You may have to buy extra luggage to fill the Grand Marquis' huge trunk. It swallowed six two-suiters and four weekend cases with room to spare. A high sill and deep well made unloading heavy objects a bit difficult, but that's a minor drawback compared with the advantages of capacity. Fifteen-inch-wide shelves flank the well. The entire trunk is carpeted, and there are no sharp edges to scar luggage.
    The compact, limited-service spare clamps atop the shelf over the rear axle. To remove the spare, you have to unload the trunk and climb in. A full-service spare is a $63 option.
    Without extra equipment, the Mercury can tow a trailer up to 2000 pounds. An optional trailer-towing package and an appropriate load-equalizing hitch enables the car to haul a 5000-pound trailer.
Trunk. (better than average) Fancy cars need fancy doodads. One of the Buick's is a medallion that gets in the way of the trunk lock. A remote trunk release, a $40 option, will save a lot of fumbling. The open trunk lid is well out of the way, but a high sill interferes with loading and unloading of heavy items. The trunk is fully carpeted, and a shallow well under the spare tire cover could hold small items.
    The compact, limited-service spare is stored upright against the rear seatback; you have to unload the trunk and climb in to get the spare.
   A large car should be able to tow a full-sized trailer, but the Buick can't. It can haul only 1000 pounds-the same as a small car. (Our owner's manual implies  the car has a much greater towing capability. Current owner's manuals advise contacting the dealer or phoning a toll-free number for towing advice.)
Trunk. (average) The decorative medallion covering the trunk is a nuisance. A remote release, which operates only when the ignition is switched on, is a $40 option. Anyone over 5 feet 6 inches tall has to dodge the sharp protrusions of the trunk lid when it's open. The high sill is more than a foot forward of the rear bumper, so that loading and unloading require awkward reaching.
   The trunk itself is disappointingly small. Ten-inch-wide shelves, one on either side of the well, decrease the useful capacity of the trunk. But worse, in our car, was the space taken up by the $93 full-service spare tire we bought. It overhangs the trunk well by nearly a foot, further reducing space for luggage.
    Towing with the Chrysler is limited to a 2000-pound load, and trailers over 1000 pounds must have their own braking system.

Safety and reliability

Safety. The front shoulder belts can develop too much slack as you move about in the seat. You must periodically tighten the straps manually for proper protection. All the passenger belts can secure a child safety seat, but the outboard rear belts are too short to hold the largest model unless you obtain a belt extension (free) from Ford. In their lowest position, the front-seat head restraints are too low for protection.
    Our bumper basher dented and damaged the Grand Marquis' bumpers. The damage wasn't major, but it didn't look very nice. Our estimator quoted a price of $272 to replace the front bumper and $438 to replace the rear (including it's reinforcements).
    A 1984 Mercury Grand Marquis provided only borderline protection for the driver and passenger dummies in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 35-mph head-on crash test. In real life, crashes often aren't precisely head-on or that severe. Insurance company data complied by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) for 1981-83 models of the Grand Marquis and Crown Victoria indicate that occupants had about one-third fewer injury claims than average in real-life accidents.
Safety. The right front passenger's safety belt can't secure a child safety seat properly. And none of the rear belts are long enough for the largest child safety seat. Fully lowered, the front head restraints are too low for protection.
    The results of our low-speed bumper basher tests were disastrous. In front, two 5-mph straight-on bashes severely damaged the bumper and cracked the grille. A single corner impact at 3-mph cracked the turn signal molding. In the rear, a straight-on bash left a depp dent in the bumper. A blow to the corner folded the end of the bumper inward. Our estimator quoted $388 to replace the front bumper, $561 for the rear.
    In the NHTSA crash tests, the driver dummy in an Electra incurred what would have been fatal injuries. The passenger dummy fared somewhat better. Since the Electra is new, there are no insurance-industry data for actual, on-the-road crash performance.
Safety. The front safety belts are convenient to use and comfortable to wear. Any passenger belt can secure a child safety seat. But in the center front, a safety seat is likely to interfere with use of outboard belts. Very wide rear roof pillars and a skimpy "limousine" rear window severely limit the driver's view to the rear. Indeed, you often cannot safely make an oblique left turn onto a road with traffic moving from right to left unless there's a passenger aboard to give you the go-ahead.
    The bumpers are sturdy. The one dent made by our basher occurred in the rear. It was so slight that most owners probably wouldn't bother to replace the bumper. But if they did, the cost would be $240.
    The NHTSA has not crash-tested the Fifth Avenue. Insurance-industry (HLDI) data show that injury claims have been about 30 percent fewer than average for the 1981-83 models.
Reliability. (average) The Grand Marquis and the LTD Crown Victoria have been average to better than average in recent years. That's a good record for a domestic car.
    Our Mercury had nine sample defects; none were serious. Wind whistled around the right front door. The hazard flasher was disconnected at the fuse panel. Water leaked in at the left windshield pillar. The engine-oil dipstick sheath wasn't fastened in place. The front cigarette lighter wouldn't snap in.
Reliability. We have no data yet. If the new-for-1985 Electra follows the tire tracks of it's GM predecessors, it will be troublesome in its first year.
    Our Electra accumulated 10 sample defects. The most noteworthy one involved a sticky linkage in the speed control; when the driver released the accelerator, the car maintained a 30-mph to 40-mph speed, even when the speed control wasn't set. The problem wasn't hazardous; we were always able to stop the car. Other sample defects were minor.
Reliability. (average) Our records for the past several years show that the reliability of the Fifth Avenue has been average. That makes the Fifth Avenue the most reliable Chrysler-model made.
    There were only six sample defects in our car. The speedometer lagged as we accelerated. At about 45mph, the pointer surged to catch up. THe lock on one of the wire-wheel covers was broken. There were many exterior finish flaws.


Car buyers looking for the combination of comfort, quiet, and capacity that only a large car can offer will appreciate the Mercury Grand Marquis or the Ford LTD Crown Victoria. They have all those attributes. And they've had an average reliability record for several years. That, for an American car, is a good record. Of the two, we'd choose the Ford. It's slightly cheaper and its instrument panel is much easier to read.
    Our second choice among large American cars would be neither of the other models reported on this month. It would be one of General Motors' older rear-wheel-drive cars: the Buick LeSabre, the Chevrolet Impala or Caprice, the Oldsmobile Delta Eighty Eight, or the Pontiac Parisienne. All are offered with a V6 or a V8 engine. We tested a Chevrolet Caprice Classic V8 for our March 1983 report. Comparing the results of those tests with the results of the Mercury Grand Marquis tests, we found that performance was about the same in most important areas. The Chevrolet fell short in its ride on rough roads and when carrying a full load of six passengers and luggage. And its reliability isn't as encouraging as that of the Mercury, either.
    The new Buick Electra is not a bad car, but it was a disappointment. We've heard GM tout the Electra and the
Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency as world-class cars. But the features they boast about most-handling and ride-were those that disappointed us most. The handling, though satisfactory for a car of this size, was nonetheless below the level we've come to expect of modern front-wheel-drive cars. And the Buick's boulevard ride fell apart over bumps. Still, the Buick is roomy and comfortable inside and it offers good mileage for a big car. Reliability is a question that only time can answer. Experience suggests that it's wise to stay away until the verdict is in. Perhaps a General Motors Protection Plan would be a good investment.
    Ride, rear seating, and noise mark the Chrysler Fifth Avenue as a medium-sized car. Yet, with its V8 engine, it uses as much gasoline as a large car. The car has had an average reliability record for several years. While the car did well enough in our tests, the many design faults-the wide rear roof pillars, the inaccessible seat adjustments, the small trunk-left us with a general sense of irritation. This is a very big-selling car. Are all those buyers attracted by Chrysler's five-year, 50,000-mile warranty on the power train?
    Chrysler's other offering in this field is the Chrysler New Yorker. It's a stretched version of the front-wheel-drive Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant and, as such, is not truly a large car. Its lighter weight and more modern design would provide better fuel economy than that of the Fifth Avenue. Unfortunately, the New Yorker's reliability record has ranged from worse-than-average to much-worse-than-average. Similar cars are sold as the Plymouth Caravelle and the Dodge 600.

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