Automotive journalists are notorious backsliders. We are as addicted to speed and horsepower as some people are to alcohol and drugs. This causes inconsistency in our lives and views.

We sometimes get religion, and we agree that, yeah, it makes little sense to produce big cars with big engines when the global climate is heating up and when tempers are flaring over access to the world's oil reserves.

But we never become the kind of environmentalists who seem more interested in controlling lives and consumer choice than they are in controlling pollution. Still, some of us reform our lives enough to at least consider alternatives to the internal combustion engine. We even feel a bit pious about that modest conversion.

Then something like the 2003 Mercury Marauder comes along. It's a big car, painted gloss black. It's menacing in stance and demeanor. It looks serious in the way that an unmarked police cruiser looks serious and intimidating.

Everything about the Marauder speaks to power. It has big, 18-inch-diameter wheels, wider in the back than in the front, so that more rubber is planted on the pavement when power flows to its rear wheels. That's a whole lot of power, too! The Marauder comes with a 4.6-liter V-8 that puts out 302 horsepower at 5,750 revolutions per minute and 318 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm. What's a recovering speed freak to do?

I tried to ignore the Marauder. There were other vehicles in the driveway when it showed up at my place. There were more responsible models, such as the oh-so-practical 2003 Subaru Forester wagon and the 2003 Toyota Corolla. But in the presence of the Marauder, those goody-goodmobiles were too weak to woo a wavering penitent away from the road to perdition. I got into the Marauder, touched its racing-style gauges, and fell in lust.

The peculiar thing about sin is that you don't feel the least bit ashamed when you're enjoying it. This is especially true when power is a part of the pleasure. Other motorists repeatedly mistook the Marauder for a police car. Speeders slowed down and tailgaters pulled back when they saw it coming. It's no wonder. The Marauder shares the same frame used for the Ford Crown Victoria and the Mercury Grand Marquis -- the favorite cars of police departments nationwide.

That frame has been updated for 2003. It's 24 percent more rigid than the frame previously used in Ford's full-size, five-passenger sedans. Ford also employed a front sub-frame on which are mounted various suspension components in the Marauder. The upshot is a heavy sedan (4,165 pounds) that moves with the confidence and stability of a smaller sports car.

Ford accomplished something of the same magic back in the 1960s (1963, 1964, 1965 and 1969), when it turned the Mercury Monterey, Montclair and Park Lane sedans into full-size hot rods. Those cars still have a passionate following among graying believers in "buy America."

But whether that trick will work again in an America concerned about its energy future, and where younger buyers are turning to smaller cars, is another question. And for the moment, it's one I prefer not to answer. I like this car. I want to drive it a little longer.