Ford Taurus – under the badge all is good

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The truth be known some us think the car should have been named the Taurus 500 from the get-go. For those who remember the Fairlane/Fairlane 500 or the Galaxy/Galaxy 500 we knew that the 500 designation meant a step-up; real good stuff and better all-around. We didn’t quite know what Five Hundred stood for. Others think that Taurus is just old baggage. Then again some of us don’t think the name is going to make much difference. Really.

Aside from saving Ford a fortune in marketing costs relating to a new name and name recognition (sometimes the key to success), there remains debate on Ford’s thinking regarding the name. There are those that consider Taurus, the once-sought-after mid-sized sedan which had considerable value in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it became a hit with the public (it was the best selling car in America for a handful of years surpassing the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry) had lost its luster in the 21st Century by populating corporate, government and most egregiously rental car fleets. 

So is the new Taurus moniker a good thing or a bad thing? Will prospective buyers remember the sedan’s glory days or its near inglorious ending? The debate will go on. But forget the name. Five Hundred. Taurus. It doesn’t matter. The real news is that Ford now has a solid full-sized family car that can compete head-to-head with vehicles in its size category such as Toyota’s Avalon as well as slightly smaller but similarly priced sedans such as the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima. 

But it is not the name we drive, it’s the car, so call it what you will, it’s the new styling upgrades and more to the point, the engine upgrade that will sell the new Taurus.

Here’s the real Ford mistake, and hopefully this kind of thinking is something of the past; if the Five Hundred, a full-sized sedan introduced for the 2005 model year, had been done right (including some edgier styling) from the get-go it probably would have been at least a moderate success. But Ford decided that an existing 3.0-liter V-6 making a rather paltry 203 horsepower was going to wow the car-buying public. It was the only engine available and it was matched up against such heavyweights as the Toyota Avalon, the Nissan Maxima, the Chrysler 300 and the Chevrolet Impala, all with more potent V-6 (and some with V-8) engines available. What the heck were they smoking?

The Five Hundred had a lot of good things going for it including a roomy and quiet interior, a huge trunk and an impeccable safety rating.

The good news, as the new 2008 Taurus it retains all the exemplary things and dumped the junk.

The best news is that Taurus gains a 3.5-liter V-6 making 263 horsepower, a whopping 60 more than the 2007 Five Hundred. The new power comes with no loss in mileage. In fact our all-wheel drive test car was rated at 17 city and 24 highway, slightly better than the 2008-adjusted mileage of the '07 Five Hundred at 17/23.

It also gains some exterior styling cues including the new three-bar Ford grille. All to the better!

First, there’s the matter of the engine and transmission.

The 3.6-liter V-6 breaks no new ground, but it offers very adequate power for a sedan that stretches out more than 200 inches. We found the engine a bit course sounding under moderate to hard acceleration, but certainly not annoying.

More importantly, we found the new performance rewarding, especially when quick starts, passing or merging are desired. The Taurus willingly jumps to attention when the throttle is depressed. The new six-speed transmission smoothly handles the horsepower and torque (245 foot-pounds) as speed increases. Thankfully the continuously variable transmission (CVT) offered in the Five Hundred has been terminated.

We like to gauge performance by 0-to-60 runs for comparison purposes and the Taurus accomplishes the feat in 6.8 seconds as measured by a major automobile publication. That's very acceptable time for a family hauler.

The Taurus handles well with — by 2008 standards — a rather soft ride but not barge like floatiness. Let’s not forget this is a family sedan, not a sports sedan so road comfort is important. And it offers a confident driving experience.

Perhaps the biggest advantage the Taurus has over nearly all its competitors is passenger room and cargo space. Even though the Ford measures only 201 inches in length, small by traditional American large-car standards, it has a huge 21.2 cubic-foot trunk and a very generous 41.2 inches of leg room for rear-seat passengers.

The Taurus advantage is big in most cases. For instance, the Ford has nearly six cubic feet more trunk space than the Maxima, seven more cubic feet than the Avalon, six more than the Chrysler 300 and a foot more than the Impala.

As to leg room, only the Avalon and the 300 can come close to the Ford’s 41.2 inches at 40.9 and 40.2 respectively.

Even the old Crown Victoria, for decades Ford’s biggest sedan and a much longer vehicle (212 inches) than the Taurus, has three inches less leg room in back.

The sedan’s enormous trunk capacity was demonstrated at Ford headquarters a few years back at the introduction of the Five Hundred when officials started pulling out sets of golf clubs. When they were finished, there were eight bags standing by the car. One pundit asked where the eight golfers were going to sit.

But you get the picture. The Taurus will swallow up four or five riders and their golf clubs, perhaps the only sedan sold in the world that can accomplish this task.

The second biggest advantage — perhaps better defined as a selling point — is the Taurus’ safety rating. The Taurus received perfect five-star ratings in all areas of National Traffic Safety Administration's crash testing.

The Taurus comes in two trim levels, SEL and Limited. All-wheel drive is available in both trims. The SEL begins at $23,245 and the Limited at $26,845. All-wheel drive adds $1,850 to the bottom line and we figure it well worth the investment especially if you live in a cold-weather state that sees horrible winter conditions.

The standard Taurus comes with all the necessary standard equipment including full power, air conditioning, stereo with CD player and MP3 capability and cruise control.

On the safety front, antilock brakes, traction control and a full compliment of airbags are standard.

Move up to the Limited and additional standard equipment includes leather seating, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, a neat-looking oval analog clock, upgraded audio system and 18-inch wheels.

Some of the desirable options available include moonroof, navigation, rear DVD entertainment system, satellite radio and upcoming soon Ford's Sync system that allows voice activation of cell phones and entertainment systems that is actually easy to use.

Our test car was a Limited version with all-wheel drive and a handful of options including navigation that brought the bottom line to $32,750.

By whatever name, the new large Ford sedan is now a job well done.


Base price, $23,245; as driven, $32,750

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6

Horsepower: 263 @ 6,250 rpm

Torque: 249 @ 4,500 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Seating: 2/3

Wheelbase: 112.9 inches

Length: 201.8 inches

Curb weight: 3,814

Turning circle: 40 feet

Luggage capacity: 21.2 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 20 gallons (regular)

EPA mileage: 24 highway, 17 city

0-60: 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver)

Also consider: Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300, Chevrolet Impala

The Good

Rear passenger space and trunk room lead segment

• One of the safest sedans on the road

• All-wheel drive available across the lineup

The Bad

• V-6 engine a bit unrefined compared to Japanese counterparts

The Ugly

• Will the Taurus name be a negative rather than a positive?