2003 Ford Crown Victoria
This 2003 review is representative of model years 1998 to 2007.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The American full-size sedan, coupe and station wagon once were a familiar sight. But the large domestic coupes and wagons are gone—and the Ford Crown Victoria is one of few large U.S. sedans left.
The "Crown Vic" has been continually upgraded, although it has old-style body-on-frame construction. This is basically a rugged car, which is why police departments and taxicab fleets use it.
Where did the old wagons and coupes go? Light trucks such as minivans and sport-utility vehicles replaced station wagons. And big two-door coupes aren't considered practical anymore; most people want four doors with large vehicles.
Virtually all American family cars were downsized and switched from rear- to front-drive in the 1980s to lighten them so they could deliver higher fuel economy without losing much—if any—interior space.
But guess what? New large domestic cars with rear-drive will be introduced in the not-distant future. Engines and transmissions have become far more efficient, and American automakers know that a rear-drive layout—common with upscale European cars such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz—gives better weight distribution and balance. The result is sharper, more stable handling.
The Crown Victoria has a $175 all-speed traction control system, which uses throttle intervention and its anti-lock brake system (also not offered for the old sedans) to increase road grip. It really should be standard because it can help a lot—especially in snow-belt areas of the country.
And a new brake booster with emergency assist automatically supplies full braking power even if a driver doesn't initially apply enough pedal pressure to engage the anti-lock system—a common driver fault that defeats the purpose of that system.
The Crown Victoria is similar to Ford Motor's Mercury Grand Marquis. The Ford-badged version comes as the $23,575 Standard trim and also as the mid-range $27,610 LX and sporty top-line $29,475 LX Sport.
There also is a stiffer new frame, with hydroformed front rails. It improves ride and handling because it allows the suspension do a better job. It also cuts down on transmission of noise, vibration and harshness into the body structure, making this quiet sedan even quieter.
A redesigned front suspension and revised suspension geometery provide better "tracking" at highway speeds to let a driver be more relaxed—and also more control during cornering and on rough roads.
Rear shock absorbers are mounted outboard of frame rails, which lets them better manage the solid rear axle that the Crown Victoria uses instead of an independent rear suspension. Load-leveling air springs are available.
Comfortable for Four
Also, sound system controls are set too far away for an easy reach by even drivers with long arms—although higher-line trims have redundant steering-wheel audio and climate system controls.
On the plus side, there are plenty of cupholders and storage areas, along with attractive new wheel designs for all trims. But the "fasten-seat-belt" chimes have a high nag factor because they won't shut up until belts are fastened.
New safety items include $255 front side airbags for the LX and LX Sport. Headlights now automatically go on when the windshield wipers are activated. For years, the Crown Victoria has had the government's highest safety rating—double 5-stars—for front crash protection.
The LX Sport has an attractive monochromatic exterior, but its beauty is more than skin-deep. For example, it has a firmer suspension with 17-inch wheels and 55-series tires for sharper handling. The other two trims have 16-inch wheels and thinner 60-series tires.
The LX Sport's firmer suspension doesn't affect ride comfort much. But no Crown Victoria is designed to be pushed as hard as a sport sedan can be.
Two Power Ratings
Both versions of the V8 work with a 4-speed automatic transmission and deliver an estimated 18 mpg in the city and 26 on highways.
The LX is offered with virtually all the equipment of the LX Sport if the $615 Handling and Performance package is ordered.
Lots of Equipment
Ford probably could get away with calling at least the LX and LX Sport "near-luxury" cars. But it's content to just call the Crown Victoria a full-size sedan, no matter what version. Perhaps that's because there are only about half a dozen such models, but dozens of autos called near-luxury models.
The latest Crown Victoria nicely combines some old-style American big car attributes with modern auto technology.