The 2010 Ford Taurus wants to become to full-size sedans what the F-150 is to trucks: the standard by which all others are judged. That's an incredibly ambitious goal for an utterly conventional car.
Full Disclosure: Ford wanted me to drive the new Taurus so badly they flew me all the way to Knoxville and put me up in a fancy hotel, but only after all the buff books had all chosen to go ahead and break the Taurus SHO embargo, which must mean they didn't want me to drive the Taurus all that badly after all.
Sharing the same basic platform as the Lincoln MKS and Ford Flex, the
Mandel Bread new Taurus is running much stiffer suspension tuning and the thickest anti-roll bars the platform will take — 28mm up front. It also uses Ford's ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6, but connects it to the road with an all-new 6-speed automatic transmission.
That last thing is probably the most important new feature on the car, finally giving drivers the ability to fully exploit the pretty decent 263 HP, 249 Lb-Ft naturally aspirated V6, the only engine on offer in non-SHO trim. Where previous 6-speeds in cars like the 2009 Ford Flex, 2008 Ford Taurus X and 2008 Ford Edge endlessly hunted for gears, were slow to kick down and were just extremely annoying to use, this new version always seems to be in the right gear, kicks down immediately and is virtually undetectable in its smoothness.
Add to that the honest-to-god manual override and its steering wheel-mounted paddles that are standard on SEL and Limited trims and Ford suddenly offers one of the best slushboxes in the business. Run through two cheap plastic paddle-cum-buttons, you push away to shift down and pull towards you to shift up. Changes are fast and you can even downshift with real engine braking, running RPMs very nearly to the redline. Gears are held even while bouncing off the limiter and only downshift when the engine begins to labor. Work the engine hard and you can expect a 0-60 MPH time in the 7-second range and the standard Ford 118 MPH top speed. That's actually pretty impressive given the prodigious 4,015 curb weight for the FWD model. The optional and untested-by-us AWD takes that up to 4,224 Lbs.
That weight doesn't rear its bloated head in day-to-day cornering. Thanks to those incredibly thick roll bars there's virtually no body roll, while steering is direct and reasonably weighted, if completely absent of feel. As you'd expect from a big, heavy front driver, it'll understeer when pushed hard, although the undefeatable stability control superhumanly manages to keep it on the black stuff.
Unfortunately you can't have good performance from a heavy car without sacrificing fuel economy. Ford estimates that at 18 MPG city / 28 MPG highway. Over a 120-mile drive on country roads yesterday we averaged 17 MPG, which is pretty disappointing considering we spent the majority of the time fretting about what the Tennessee Sheriff following us would think of our long hair and tight jeans.
On the upside, the weight helps smooth the ride, which is exceptionally compliant yet very controlled. Combined with an extremely quiet cabin — there's virtually no road nor wind noise even at non Sheriff-sanctioned high speeds — and you have the makings of a luxury car. That feeling is reinforced by the classy dual-cockpit cabin and its nice leather seats and soft-touch plastics. The Taurus sits somewhere between the mid-size 2010 Ford Fusion and the fleet sales-only Crown Victoria in terms of size, with a total length of 202.9" compared to the Fusion's 190.6" and the Vic's 212.0". The new Taurus actually has more room for rear seat passengers than the Vic, with 38.1 compared to 38.0" of legroom; its curb weight is around 100 Lbs less than that car.
Adding to the quietness and space, the technology available on the Taurus honestly boosts it into luxury territory. Notice the lack of "near" in that statement. We drove the $27,995 SEL model — expected to make up the majority of the Taurus's volume — equipped with the third and latest version of Sync and felt positively spoiled.
Available on the Taurus are: radar cruise control with heads-up collision warning, radar sensors that detect cars in your blind spots and to your left and right when reversing out of a parking space, keyless entry keypad, SIRIUS radio with traffic info, SYNC 3.0 with navigation and 911-assist, massaging leather seats, a 12-speaker, 390-watt Sony stereo, rear view camera, push button start, rain-sensing wipers and something called MyKey that can limit performance, radio volume and other parameters for your teenage kids or senile parents. If that list sounds exhaustive, it should. And, yes, you should expect to pay for the privilege of all that stuff. While the base Taurus starts at $25,995, the bells-and-whistles "Limited" model is $31,995. Check every box, including AWD and you'll pay about $35,000.
That's actually a bargain as long as you're not looking for a sports car. Domestic competitors like the Chrysler 300C and Chevy Impala have nothing on the fit-and-finish, driving experience nor design of the Taurus, while a base six-cylinder Audi A6 is smaller, maybe has a slight edge on the driving dynamics, yet costs ten grand more.
Damn, we're already measuring much more expensive cars by the new Taurus's standard. It's actually other Fords that most need to fear the Taurus yardstick. The $40,870 platform-sharing Lincoln MKS offers little more than the Taurus except for brand tax, while the $39,600 Volvo S80 uses a more conservatively-tuned version of the platform and less performance-oriented engines. Even the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO, offering little more than boosted straight-line performance and starting at $37,995, struggles to measure up. Cars like the Infiniti M35 and the Lexus GS also need to worry; the Taurus offers more substance for less price than either brand has traditionally managed. Ultimately, the success of Ford's new flagship will be measured not by which full-size sedans it subjectively outclasses, but rather by its ability to convince brand snob buyers to choose something made in Chicago.