Given the flood of new technology and innovation on display at recent auto shows, perhaps it is fitting to consider the problem Ford Motor faces with its 2003 Ford Crown Victoria.
"In the '60s, big sedans were prestigious. People aspired to buy them just like they aspire to buy [sport utility vehicles] today. But people don't aspire to big sedans today because the industry builds boring ones," J Mays, vice president of design for Ford, said at the unveiling of the Ford 427 concept at a preview in Las Vegas before it hit the auto show circuit to test consumer reaction.
Mays calls the 427 "the reinvention of the big Ford sedan," noting that, "40 years ago there was nothing more popular than the sedan. Up to 1.4 million were sold each year. There were no SUVs back then. It's not that people walked away from big sedans; it's that the industry walked away. If we go back, customers will go back. Detroit needs to be Detroit, to stop trying to be Japanese or German. Nothing is more American than the big sedan -- it isn't Japanese or German."
Ford has set out to solve the problem, as shown by the concept 427 sedan built off the same platform used for the Thunderbird, Lincoln LS and next-generation Mustang. Though rear-wheel-drive, it could be adapted to all-wheel-drive as well.
The sedan concept owes its name to its 427-cubic-inch, 7-liter, 590-horsepower V-10 derived from the 5.4-liter V-8 in the Mustang Cobra R.
If built, perhaps for '06, the 427 would be a companion to the mid-size Ford Five Hundred sedan coming out for '05.
With the 427, Ford would take one giant leap toward rebuilding the full-size sedan segment. And with a V-10 sedan promising a little kick, Ford also would take aim at younger buyers.
Youth, which in the case of the Crown Vic means those younger than 65, isn't served by this sedan.
The current full-size 2003 Crown Vic is dressed conservatively; the 427 is more fashionable. The 427's thick, bent-bar grille is bold; the Crown Vic grille is body-colored. The 427 stands out in the crowd; Crown Vic blends into it. Crown Vic's advance technology is minimal -- traction control and wiper-activated headlamps.
What's new for the '03 Crown Vic we tested?
Wheels and wheel covers.
What new technology?
Traction control -- a $175 option.
You no longer can get a candy bar for a nickel, but you can still get a Crown Vic.
OK, so what if Crown Vic attracts an older buyer? There are lots of older buyers with lots of money who have kept this nameplate going for decades. Seniors don't necessarily covet the same cars younger ones do.
Even so, Crown Vic could better serve older buyers. For example, outside mirrors are a tad small. And radio control buttons are small and not easy to see or use by those who don't have a cutesy, Gen-alpha designation for their age.
And it sure would be nice if there were a push button for the heater to direct warm air to the face and feet at the same time.
As a nice gesture, Ford adds leather seats, but leather seats tend to be slippery instead of holding older occupants in place.
On the positive side, the fuel-filler door and trunk-release buttons are large and in the driver's door; the fuel gauge has an arrow indicating which side the filler door is on so you always pull up to the correct side at the pump; and the trunk is large and the floor is flat to make carrying luggage or groceries less of a chore.
The test car also came with an optional $190 trunk organizer, a massive plastic chest that sits deep and flat in the trunk well with individual compartments to hold items you don't want rattling around.
Opening the right side compartments is a bit tricky, because the full-size spare on the rear ledge sticks out. But if there is a group that demands a full-size spare, it's seniors who feel cheated by mini spares.
The LX Sport model we tested comes with a suspension tuned to minimize road harshness while keeping the weight under control for better handling than the base model. The 17-inch radial tires, a sporty upgrade from the standard 16-inch treads, also contribute to improved handling.
The LX is powered by a 4.6-liter, 224-horsepower V-8 with ample muscle to move with the traffic or merge and pass when needed. Considering this is a full-size, five-passenger sedan powered by a V-8 with a 4-speed automatic, the fuel economy rating is very good at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
The '03 Crown Victoria LX Sport starts at $29,475.