ASHEVILLE, North Carolina - When Ford ousted the long-lived Taurus nameplate along with the final version of that midsize sedan, it tossed away a chunk of the company's heritage. Even Ford executives now admit that was a mistake.
Ford corrected that error to a point, by renaming the full-size Five Hundred sedan - calling it Taurus - at the time it was modified, for the 2008 model year. Now, for 2010, a different sort of Taurus is about to go on sale, bringing new attention to the model name that first saw the light of day back in 1986.
At that time, the Taurus was a bold move. Other makes continued their basically boxy profiles, but Ford turned to what came to be called "jellybean" styling. As a result, the first-generation Taurus became a top-selling model.
Could similar success happen to the latest sedan to wear the Taurus badge? Considering the number of improvements, and the clean, fresh look of the 2010 model, that's a definite possibility.
Ford actually intended to implement this Taurus a year later, said Frank Davis, executive director of product development. It was to be a 2011 model. Instead, the first production units were underway by mid-June of 2009.
"Precision execution" was the goal, Davis added. Developers concentrated on details, such as the feel of the switchgear, and the sounds of doors being closed. Door margins were targeted at 3.5 millimeters, which would be Ford's best ever.
Chief engineer Pete Reyes explained how developers studied 60 different points, to consider how things fit together inside the car. There's "soft-touch everywhere," he said. Bin doors hide all cupholders. All switches are backlit with ice blue lighting. Ambient lighting is used in both footwells and doors, with selectable colors and intensities. A tall, wide, and long center console accents the "cockpit feel" of the interior.
Externally, the new Taurus has plenty of angles to offset its curves. Big wraparound headlamps lead the way. A lower chin spoiler is installed, to reduce wind buffeting at high speeds.
Ford claims the Taurus offers many more technologies than even luxury sedans, either as standard or optional. The list of "class-exclusive" technologies includes:
1. Adaptive cruise control and collision warning, with brake support.
2. Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert.
3. SecuriCode keyless entry keypad.
4. Easy Fuel capless fuel filler (standard on all Ford models).
5. MyKey (standard on all Taurus models).
6. Multi-contour seats with Active Motion, which "keeps you alert while you're driving," according to group marketing manager Mike Crowley. "We know Taurus customers take long drives."
7. Voice-activated navigation with Sirius Travel Link.
8. Ford Sync (version 3) with 911 Assist, Vehicle Health Report, and Traffic, Directions and Information.
Under the hood sits a 3.5-liter Duratec V-6 engine, rated at 263 horsepower and delivering 249 pound-feet of torque. When installed in SEL and Limited models, the new six-speed automatic transmission includes SelectShift with paddles. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives the 2010 Taurus a fuel-economy estimate of 18 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway - an impressive highway figure for a large sedan. All-wheel drive is available, dropping the EPA estimate slightly.
Taurus excels in ride comfort, and handles like a smaller sedan
Engineer Reyes advised that the Taurus "drives smaller than the car actually is." His appraisal is correct. Despite the roomy interior, the 2010 Taurus behaves more like a midsize model than a full-size sedan. With front-wheel drive, the Taurus deals effectively with twisty two-lane roads, providing satisfying control and even more than a touch of enjoyment. Road behavior is similar with all-wheel drive, but that version feels somewhat heavy and not quite as immediately responsive - doubtless due in part to the added weight of the AWD system. Still, all-wheel drive is unquestionably a benefit on wintry-slick roads. Body lean is minimal, with is a clear point in Taurus's favor.
Ride comfort is the foremost bonus, as the Taurus seldom encounters a troublesome road imperfection. Now and then, however, an exception to that rule may occur. Driving a front-drive Taurus through one small town that contained more painful pavement, the ride turned surprisingly stiff and almost jolting. As the highway improved at the town limit, the ride smoothed out nicely again.
Ford's V-6 delivers plenty of energy to pass/merge from lower speeds. From 55 mph or more, response is refined and steady but somewhat tame. Some downshifts are a bit hesitant and uncertain, at least for a moment. Gear changes can even be somewhat abrupt, and almost curt - though not an annoyance. Overall automatic-transmission performance isn't quite as smooth and immediately responsive as some six-speed units.
Seats are firm and highly supportive, but amply cushioned for long-term comfort as well. There's a definite cockpit feel to the interior, with a console that firmly separates front occupants. Blue-lit gauges are exceptionally easy to read, despite sitting in deep nacelles. Ford has developed some of the most pleasantly cushioned headrest for front occupants. Out back is a huge (20 cubic foot) trunk. Although Taurus is mostly quiet running, passengers can hear engine when it's pushing hard.
Prices start at $25,995 for the "entry-level" SE model, with 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, SecuriCode, and MyKey. A midlevel SEL stickers for $27,995, with its 18-inch wheels, and paddle-shifted six-speed automatic transmission. Topping the line, the $31,995 Limited sedan features heated memory mirrors, 19-inch chromed wheels, Ford's Sync system, reverse sensing, and more.
"We want to win big in the car business," said Frank Davis. "Our incentives are down," he added, "and our transaction prices are up." After all, "this is a flagship. This is the all-new face of Ford."
Ford also is launching a revived SHO (Super High Output) edition of its 2010 Taurus. The Taurus SHO is reviewed separately.
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