Ford Taurus – a return to prominence

 By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It’s been a quarter century since Ford rolled out its first Taurus at a super party on the back lot of 20th Century Fox in Los Angeles that was also a swansong for departing Ford chairman Phil Caldwell. Twelve-hundred people celebrated and lauded a jellybean-shaped mid-sized sedan designed to do combat with the growing ranks of Japanese and European competition.

Taurus was a hit, praised by critics and embraced by the car-buying public, eventually becoming the bestselling car in America.

Since those heady days that officially ended with the introduction of the completely redesigned third-generation Taurus in 1996, the sedan has floundered. The 1996 styling direction didn’t resonate, beginning a slide that left the Taurus a rental car fleet staple. The Taurus was discontinued in 2007 and the name was retired. But the retirement was fleeting.

When current Ford CEO Alan Mulally entered the picture, he figured a nameplate that sold nearly 7.4 million copies in less than 25 years was too valuable to go unused. The name was placed on a slightly revised version of the full-sized, conventional Ford Five Hundred for the 2008 and 2009 model years.

And now, finally, the Taurus, an excellent example of a true family sedan gets another life as an all-new full-sized flagship sedan, perhaps the best full-sized sedan in Ford’s long and storied history. Refined and attractive inside and out with the latest in safety and media technology, and a solid V-6 engine. It’s comfortable for five adults, and boosts a cavernous family-sized trunk.

Ford has pinned high hopes on the new Taurus, but it will never sell in the gargantuan numbers the original garnered in the early ’90s. That’s because the new car has grown bigger and more luxurious with a heftier price tag. But that doesn’t mean the Taurus won’t at some point become the best selling full-sized sedan in America. It has the goods to achieve that lofty status.

We must qualify our hefty price tag statement. If you like what the new Ford offers, you can get into a base SE for a full retail price of $26,000 and you will get all the best parts of the Taurus.

Included on all models are a large passenger compartment that really will hold five people; one of the biggest trunks in the industry with 20 cubic feet of cargo space; a responsive 3.5-liter V-6 generating 263 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic with decent gas mileage measured at 18 city and 28 highway; a full range of safety equipment including antilock brakes, traction and stability control and side-curtain airbags; full power accessories including keyless entry; a six-speaker audio system with CD/MP3 player and auxiliary audio jack; cruise control; and tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls.

There is no denying the value built into the Taurus. The base model may be all most people need — and desire. But there are considerably more features available for a price. Probably the best selling trim level will be the SEL starting at $27,995 including destination. It adds 18-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, paddle shifters on the steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, upgraded upholstery and satellite radio. The Limited with even more features including leather upholstery, power seats, upgraded audio, and the Sync electronics interface system, begins at $31,995.
Exterior styling is conservative featuring a rather blocky look with smaller side windows than Ford’s of the past. But we wouldn’t classify them as gun-slit windows as made popular by the Chrysler 300.  We found the sight-lines to be acceptable. All-in-all the new sedan is handsome, but not head turning.
Interior styling is contemporary with Mustang-like twin cowls flanking a flowing center stack. It’s a very neat appearance, but like other recent Ford products there are too many look-alike buttons. The interior trim has terrific fit and finish and is very pleasing to the eye. Comfort in any seat is top notch.

Behind the wheel the Taurus feels solid and well-built. Our initial impression was everything we would expect in a modern full-sized family sedan including a quiet, smooth ride very unlike the large cars of the past.

The standard Taurus is not a performance sedan, but it is an engaging family vehicle. If performance is high on your list, check out the Taurus SHO. It comes with Ford’s new EcoBoost V-6 generating 365 horsepower with 0-to-60 times well under six seconds. It also comes with a big price tag that can easily climb over 40 grand.

The standard Taurus, although weighing in at two tons, performs quite well with the standard 263-horsepower engine. It provides solid off-the-line performance measured in the mid-seven-second range from 0-to-60 and has plenty of reserve power for passing and merging. We think performance will never be an issue for the average driver.

The Taurus drives big and its bigness will become evident in the mall parking lot where its nearly 40-foot turning circle may require two approaches into a tight space.

Much of the new technology found on luxury sedans is available on the Taurus for a price. The least expensive and most practical of these items is the Sync voice-activated communication system introduced on Ford products more than two years ago. It allows the driver to issue commands for cell-phone, the audio system including iPods and flash drives, and even allows for verbal text messaging.

Also available is adaptive cruise control that includes collision warning and preloads the braking system for quicker response, a blind spot warning system, a Cross Traffic Alert system that alerts the driver to slow moving cars and pedestrians when the car is backing up, and a programmable driving system that can limit the top speed of the car and keep audio levels down among other things — a nice feature if there is a teen driver in the home.

We think that Ford, which for years has been a full-sized family sedan leader, has hit the segment sweet spot. Taurus, indeed, has a bright future once again as the brand’s flagship sedan.

Base price: $25,995; as driven, $31,995
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 263 @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 249 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 112.9 inches
Length: 202.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,015 pounds
Turning circle: 39.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 20.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 19 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 28 mpg highway, 18 mpg city
0-60: 7.8 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: Chevrolet Impala, Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon

The Good:
• Quiet interior, smooth ride
• Back seat will REALLY accommodate three across
• Considerable features for the base price

The Bad:
• Too many look-alike dashboard buttons

The Ugly:
• Drives big, especially in parking lots