Impala SS vs. Marauder: Recalling Detroit’s muscle sedans

Greg Migliore


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Impala SS vs. Marauder — it was comparo that only really happened in theory. Chevy’s muscle sedan ran from 1994-96, while Mercury’s answer arrived in 2003 and only lasted until 2004. They’re linked inextricably, as there were few options for powerful American sedans during that milquetoast period for enthusiasts.

The debate was reignited recently among Autoblog editors when a pristine 1996 Chevy Impala SS with just 2,173 miles on the odometer hit the market on Bring a Trailer. Most of the staff favored the Impala for its sinister looks and said that it lived up to its billing as a legit muscle car. Nearly two-thirds of you agree. We ran an unscientific Twitter poll that generated 851 votes, 63.9 percent of which backed the Impala.

Then and now enthusiasts felt the Impala was a more complete execution with guts. The Marauder, despite coming along later, felt more hacked together, according to prevailing sentiments. Why? On purpose and on paper they’re similar.

The Impala’s 5.7-liter LT1 V8 making 260 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque was impressive for a two-ton sedan in the mid-’90s. The Marauder was actually more powerful — its 4.6-liter V8 was rated at 302 hp and 318 lb-ft. The Impala’s engine was also used in the C4 Corvette. The Marauder’s mill was shared with the Mustang Mach 1. You can see why they resonated so deeply with Boomers longing for a bygone era and also captured the attention of coming-of-age Gen Xers.

Car and Driver’s staff gave the Marauder a lukewarm review back in ‘03, citing its solid handling and features, yet knocking the sedan for being slow off the line. In a Hemmings article appropriately called “Autopsy” from 2004, the Impala’s stronger low-end torque and smooth shifting transmission earned praise, separating it from the more sluggish Mercury. All of this was captured in the cars’ acceleration times, highlighting metrically the differences in their character. The Impala hit 60 miles per hour in 6.5 seconds, while the Marauder was a half-second slower, according to C/D testing. Other sites have them closer together, which reinforces the premise it really was the little things that separated these muscle cars.

Both made the most of their genetics, riding on ancient platforms (Ford’s Panther and General Motors’ B-body) that preceded these cars by decades. Both had iconic names. The Impala started as the top trim level on the 1958 Bel Air, grew into its own model in ‘59 and became one of Chevrolet’s enduring nameplates for the next half century. The Marauder was a Mercury muscle car from 1963-65 and again from 1969-70. For its mid-90s reincarnation, the Impala was the sport trim of the Caprice (here's the order guide if you're interested) while the Marauder similarly augmented the more buttoned-down Grand Marquis line. 

Design was also a differentiator, as the Impala's wheels, grille and paint enlivened the barge-like Caprice. Similar styling techniques fell short on the Marauder, though it does look cool, especially with the chrome exhaust pipes. While the Impala turned heads, the Marauder required a double-take to identify.  

Hagerty, which insures collector cars, estimates Impala values range from $9,500 for a car in fair condition to to $31,200 for a concours (more like Radwood) specimen. The Bring a Trailer listing sold for $26,500. The Marauder’s valuations are similar, estimated from $11,600 to $29,400, with an average of $17,400. Marauders have also generated interest on BaT, with the one-owner model pictured above selling for $21,000 in January.  

After the end of the Marauder, Chrysler quickly grabbed the torch for rear-wheel Detroit muscle sedans with the Dodge Magnum (technically a wagon) and Chrysler 300 in 2005, followed soon after by the Dodge Charger in '06. Ford and GM conceded the field, except for the short-lived Holden-derived Chevy SS. They haven't returned.

Impala SS vs. Marauder. So close in many respects, yet a generation after the Chevy’s launch and 16 years after the Marauder’s demise, they’re remembered quite differently. The Chevy remains an icon, while the Marauder is a historical footnote, or perhaps a mirage.

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