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Mercury Marquis: a rear-drive car with smooth American-type ride

While it's not as big as the full-size Grand Marquis, the new downsized Mercury Marquis still has a surprising amount of ''people space'' inside - enough space, in fact, for five adults without a squeeze.

Its main domestic rival is the Chrysler E-class sedan.

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With gas-filled shock absorbers, a 3.8-liter V-6 under the hood, and an automatic overdrive transmission, the rear-drive car still gives an American-type ride - smooth, but somewhat remote from the ''road feel'' of many of today's cars with stiffer, more sporty suspension systems.

The base engine, however, is a 2.3-liter ''4'' with 4-speed manual transmission. A propane-burning option also can be had - a conversion first offered last year on the Ford Granada.

The wheelbase of the '83 Marquis has shrunk considerably, to 105.5 inches, compared with 114.3 inches for the Grand Marquis. The downsized Marquis is 171/2 inches shorter overall.

With a drag coefficient of 0.38, the Marquis and its Ford twin, the small LTD , are two of the most aerodynamic 4-door sedans produced in the United States.

Ford Motor Company doesn't like to talk about it, but the junior-size LTD and Marquis are actually an ''extension'' of last year's Ford Granada, and include some of the same components. Still, there have been enough revisions and additions to the car to give it at least a partial identity of its own.

All of this shows the impact of the ''resizing revolution,'' even extending to the LTD and Marquis, which have always been labeled as big cars.

The new-size Marquis, which still has rear drive in a mass-production, front-drive auto world, did a good job in snow, despite all the trumpeting for front drive.

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The Marquis for '83 is hardly cheap - the base price is $8,628, although the test car I drove was priced at $12,474. It is a car to consider, but one that doesn't stir the emotions the way some other new cars are wont to do.

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