IT FIGURES. The Yuppies finally get a car that's worthy of the name. But it's a name they can't pronounce. Say "Merkur." If it comes out "Merker" or "Merkher," turn in your class pin. If you say "Mercoor," you're close. But try saying it without the brie in your mouth.
That's better. Now, say "mare," as in female horse. Good. Now, say "coor," as in the name of that beer -- without the "s." Ahh, "Marecoor." By Jove, I think you've got it!
And what a wonderful thing, too! Here is a high-performance sports sedan from Ford of Germany -- a car officially called the Merkur XR4Ti -- that is more machine than status symbol.
Outstanding complaint(s): Honestly, folks, I just don't have any this time. I drove the car twice, once with 2,000 miles on the odometer and again with slightly more than 8,000 miles showing. My hope was that the interlude -- filled with many different cars, some of them quite farcical -- would dampen my infatuation. It didn't. Infatuation turned to true love the second time around.
Outstanding praise: Start with the interior arrangement. It just makes sense. Nothing fancy. Just good layout -- one designed more to impress the driver than the driven. The technoids call this "ergonomics," which, I suppose, is better than "egonomics."
The Merkur's main instrument panel and complementary controls sort of wrap around the driver, forming a cockpit where everything is visible and accessible. The five-speed manual gearbox is exactly where it's supposed to be, within easy and comfortable reach of the right hand. And once that hand is on the shift handle, there is no fumbling about, no mechanical safari in search of the correct gear gate.
The clutch is as precise as a clutch can be, which means it tends to grouch a little when klutzes like myself play the heavyfoot in first gear. But everything about this car is so keyed to the driver, you quickly get over the clumsiness and fall into a smooth, flowing rhythm.
Notable find: A turbocharged engine that doesn't kick you when the turbo kicks in at highway speeds. The Merkur has an exceedingly smooth transition from non-turbo performance to turbo boost, which occurs when an impeller driven by exhaust gases forces air into the combustion chamber to give the engine extra power.
The engine in this case is a 2.3-liter, 4-cylinder, fuel-injected turbo. The car is rear- wheel-drive. Its acceleration and handling are excellent.
Head-turning-quotient: Odd enough, particularly with those bi-plane air spoilers on the rear deck, to set any young, urban, upwardly mobile professional heart aflutter.
Sound system: Excellent the first time around. Nonexistent on the second ride. Someone, in the interim, had goofed up the tape deck and gummied-up some buttons, thereby sending the system to repairland.
Mileage: About 22 miles per gallon, combined city-highway, running lightly loaded and with air conditioner in use most of the time. Unleaded fuel required. Premium unleaded recommended.
Price-as-tested: $17,430, including metallic paint ($274), heated front seats ($183) and power windows and locks ($470) -- three of the five options available for this car at Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.