Ford Taurus X — a crossover that shouldn’t be overlooked

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Ford may be the owner of one of the best kept secrets in the automotive marketplace.

That’s not a good thing because it shows that Ford may be spending its advertising money in the wrong places, or perhaps just not spending enough on one of its really good products. If you’ve got something in showrooms that stands out, push it. Ballyhoo it. Shout it to the rafters, “…this is a great product! Please drive it! Take it home and live with it for 24 hours.”

For example, when was the last time you saw a television ad or glanced at a magazine or newspaper ad for the Ford Taurus X crossover vehicle?†

Some probably don’t even know what the Taurus X is.

Unfortunately Ford has let the dust settle on some worthy sheetmetal.†And with the way things are it makes us think that with the coming changes in Taurus and the pending introduction of the unibody Explorer for 2010, the crossover X may not make it to the next round. So the good news is that the 2008 X could end up a fantastic buy – now.

So let’s wipe the dust off this nearly full-sized crossover and take a closer look and see what makes it so worthy of attention.

The Taurus X was born as the Freestyle crossover entering the market for the 2005 model year. Based on the nearly full-sized Ford Five Hundred sedan, the Freestyle offered consumers a practical and well-conceived crossover sport utility with the ability to haul six or seven passengers with adequate cargo space.

Ford gave its departing minivan customers a place to go. Unfortunately, many of those same customers without a visit to a dealer showroom may have confused the Freestyle with the sinking Freestar minivan, which has thankfully been terminated.†

There were just too many Free--- words in the Ford lexicon.

Sales of the Freestyle reached nearly 60,000 in 2006, but slumped to 42,000 in 2007.

Then Ford decided to wave its magic naming wand and — Presto — the Ford Five Hundred became the new Taurus and the Freestyle turned into the Taurus X.†

To Ford’s credit, it not only changed the name, but some other things that really count in the day-to-day driving experience. Most importantly, it replaced the too-small-for-the-car 3.0-liter V-6 with a lustier 3.5-liter six-cylinder raising horsepower from 203 to 263.
The new engine is mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic.

The Taurus X is now a confident performer even under heavy loads. And the bigger engine does not represent much of a fall off in gas mileage.

Based on the new 2008 standards, last year’s Freestyle was rated at 17 city, 22 highway for all-wheel drive and 18/25 front-wheel drive. The new, bigger V-6 is rated at 15/22 for all-wheel and 16/24 for front-wheel drive.

The Taurus X is based on the Volvo S80 sedan and XC90 sport utility platform. This means incredible safety features are built into the vehicle, which has earned it perfect five-star scores in front and side-impact crashes conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It also means the foundation is solid and rigid creating the feel of a well-made vehicle.

The exterior styling may be a drawback in this age of swoopy lines and sloping roofs. We put the Taurus X in the handsome-but-conservative category.

A new three-bar Ford signature grille gives the vehicle a more aggressive look up front.

Its interior volume doesn’t quite match the Saturn Outlook or GMC Acadia. And it doesn’t have the name recognition or the towing capacity of the new Toyota Highlander. But then again it doesn’t cost as much.

The Taurus X is the embodiment of the modern station wagon with high and comfortable seating positions and stretch-out legroom for second-row passengers.  The third-row seat can actually hold two adults in a modicum of comfort plus scads of useable storage space.

Cupholders for every rider and the availability of a vast array of options make the driving and riding experience first class.

Like the aforementioned competition, it can be purchased with all-wheel drive across the lineup.

There are three trim levels including the base SEL starting at $27,830; the mid-level Eddie Bauer beginning at $30,750; and top-level Limited starting at $31,550. Figure around $1,800 for all-wheel drive.

Standard equipment on all models is generous and includes three rows of seats, power driver’s seat, air conditioning, power windows and locks, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and cruise control.

Safety features on all models include side impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and stability control.

Our Limited all-wheel drive model started at $33,400 and carried a bottom line of $37,280 with several options including navigation, a rear-entertainment system and a very useable power liftgate.

One thing you might want to look at if considering a Taurus X purchase is Ford’s new Sync system, which allows for voice activated hands-free access to all audio and telephone functions. It’s worth the small price.

What we found in seven days was a people hauler that we think most people in the market for such a vehicle could happily live with.

We found that the new engine still does not have the sweet sound of many Japanese V-6 powerplants, a little rough around the edges, but certainly livable. And we were pleased with the crossover’s ability to surge off the line — it’s been tested at 7.7 seconds 0-to-60 — and pass and merge with no drama.

Handling is also positive. The Taurus X displayed good on-center feel and it can be herded through the twists and turns in acceptable fashion with little body roll.

The driving position is good especially with the adjustable brake and gas pedals, and the seat proved comfortable during a longer stint of driving.

Gauges are clear and the switchgear is intuitive. But who at Ford thinks the funky-looking numbers on the speedometer and tachometer are cool? We would like to see that cleaned up.

What really sold us on our Limited edition was the way it pampered second-row passengers with overhead heat and air vents and heated captain’s chairs that also recline. Add in the convenient reading lights and storage pockets in the front seatbacks it makes the Taurus X an excellent choice for long-distance cruising by four adults headed out on a journey.
If the third row is needed for passengers, access through the second row is painless. When the third row is not needed, it folds flat into the floor creating a large storage area.

Much has been written over the past 12 months about the GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander. They are all stylish renditions of the modern large crossover vehicle.

We think the Ford Taurus X deserves equal time and we think prospective buyers should take a look.


Base price, $27,830; as driven, $37,280
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 263 @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 424 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 112.9 inches
Length: 200.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,216 pounds
Turning circle: 40 feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 17.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 85 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 19 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 22 highway, 15 city
0-60: 7.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Mazda CX-9, GMC Acadia, Toyota Highlander

The Good
• Upgraded engine yields solid performance
• Comfortable cruiser for up to seven people
• Top safety ratings

The Bad
• Engine noisier than many other V-6s

The Ugly
• Gas mileage in all-wheel drive version won't bring smiles