What's New for 2008
The 2008 Ford Taurus X is essentially a relabeled version of last year's Freestyle, but with the new name comes a new look and several improvements. The biggest of these is a new, more powerful V6 engine paired to an all-new six-speed automatic transmission. Enhanced one-touch fold-and-flip capability for the second-row seats and a new optional power liftgate ease loading. Ford is also offering a new "Sync" system for hands-free access to audio and phone functions. Finally, Ford's popular Eddie Bauer trim line makes its way into the Taurus X, and stability control has been made standard across the line.
If the sudden reappearance of the Ford Taurus name seems confusing, well, it should. In 2005, Ford introduced the seven-passenger Freestyle crossover to capitalize on consumers' growing interest in tall wagons and car-based SUVs. Though practical, it never quite caught on with the public. So as Ford readied a new and improved version for the 2008 model year, the company decided to swap names as well and -- voilą! -- the 2008 Ford Taurus X crossover wagon was born.
Regardless of name, we found much to like in this crossover even when it first came on the scene three years ago. Thanks to its practical Volvo underpinnings, this tall-bodied vehicle was nearly as maneuverable as a traditional station wagon, while boasting seating capacity and comfort nearly equal to a minivan's. Plus, its all-wheel-drive option gave it the all-weather security typically associated with an SUV. We also liked its comfortable ride, its well-designed controls and its comfortable, easy-to-fold seats. And who can forget 14 cupholders?
But there were two distinct flaws that held the Freestyle back. Its smallish 3.0-liter V6 proved lethargic when carrying multiple passengers or big cargo loads. Passing ability was pitiful, and power delivery was unrefined. We also took issue with the lack of stability control, a critical safety feature in a family vehicle.
Fortunately, Ford was listening. The 2008 Ford Taurus X debuts with a far more energetic 3.5-liter V6. The engine still sounds a bit gruff for our tastes, but its 263 horsepower brings the Taurus X's performance up to par with competing crossover wagons and SUVs. In addition, newly standard stability control neatly adds the missing piece to the safety roster. Ford's large wagon also gets some welcome technology updates, including options like a power liftgate and the Sync multimedia system. Ford's Sync allows voice control of linked cell phones and portable MP3 players. The presence of Sync makes the rest of the Taurus X's control layout seem dated, but families should find its capabilities useful just the same.
Overall, the Ford Taurus X is a fine candidate for buyers seeking six- or seven-passenger family transportation. It's still no model of refinement when it comes to engine smoothness or interior materials quality, but otherwise it stacks up well against competitors like the Chrysler Pacifica, GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook, Hyundai Veracruz, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander, particularly when it comes to interior space and seating flexibility.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Ford Taurus X is a large crossover SUV with three rows of seating. Available trim lines include SEL, Eddie Bauer and Limited. The default seating capacity is six with the second-row captain's chairs, but an optional second-row split bench seat increases capacity to seven on any trim.
The SEL comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, two-tone exterior paint, privacy glass, air-conditioning, a six-way power driver seat, an in-dash CD changer, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, full power accessories, cruise control, a trip computer and heated mirrors. Opting for the Freestyle Eddie Bauer earns you 18-inch wheels, gold body cladding, automatic headlights, two-tone leather upholstery in the first and second rows (vinyl for the third), wood-grain interior trim and dual-zone automatic climate control. Power adjustments for both front seats (with memory for the driver), power adjustable pedals, 50/50-split capability for the third-row seats, a two-tier center console and a six-CD changer with MP3 compatibility also come with the Eddie Bauer. Finally, the Freestyle Limited adds front seat heaters, a second-row center console (on six-passenger models), a premium Audiophile stereo and a rear parking sensor. The Limited reverts back to a monochrome color scheme inside and out.
Options, depending on the trim, include a navigation system, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, rear-seat climate controls, second-row automatic flip-forward seats, a moonroof and a power liftgate. Satellite radio is also available if you skip the rear-seat DVD player. Although availability is delayed until the fall of 2007, Ford will also offer its new Sync multimedia system that enables voice-command operation of the audio system, Bluetooth phones and aftermarket portable music players. Sync can even read incoming text messages aloud through the speaker system.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2008 Ford Taurus X comes with a 3.5-liter V6 making 263 hp and 249 pound-feet of torque -- jumps of 60 hp and 42 lb-ft over last year's Freestyle. That model's lousy continuously variable transmission (CVT) has also been replaced by a conventional six-speed automatic, whose operation should feel more familiar to most drivers. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional.
Fuel economy is 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for the front-wheel-drive model, and 15/22 for the all-wheel-drive version. These numbers are on par with rival crossovers like the Mazda CX-9 and Buick Enclave/GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook triplets.
Every 2008 Ford Taurus X includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control and AdvanceTrac stability control. Also standard are front side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags (with a rollover sensor), with rear parking sensors and adjustable pedals optional on all models. Providing further reassurance is the Taurus X's perfect five-star scores in all front- and side-impact crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It also scored the optimal rating of "Good" in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Taurus X's cabin is generally a nice place to sit, especially for first- and second-row passengers. Adults in the third row are actually presented with decent legroom -- children, teenagers and average-sized adults alike will find the the rearmost quarters perfectly comfortable and fully usable. Furthermore, the Taurus X's low step-in height and optional button-activated flip-and-fold second row make getting in and out of the third row easier than most other crossovers. Plenty of storage space and cupholders can be found throughout.
However, materials quality is hit-or-miss. The Limited's leather upholstery looks and feels good to the touch, but the cloth upholstery in SEL models is unimpressive, as are the interior plastics in general. A deep 16-cubic-foot cargo well provides a good deal of space for groceries even with all seats upright. For more room, both the second- and third-row seats can fold flat into the floor and expand capacity to 85 cubic feet -- a generous amount, though still about 20 cubes shy of the GM triplets.
With its enlarged and enhanced 3.5-liter V6, a lack of power becomes a problem of the past for Ford's large wagon. While the Taurus X still isn't a ferocious performer, you can expect solid acceleration from both low and high speeds, and families should be able to load up this wagon on road trips without causing it to strain on highway grades. A slight irritation is the new V6's noisy and unrefined engine note at higher rpm, along with the six-speed automatic's reluctance to quickly downshift.
But the Taurus X demonstrates refinement in other ways. Its independent suspension provides a soft and supple ride, and the cabin is fairly quiet. Though the steering ratio is slightly slower than last year, we expect the wagon's steering will still feel well-weighted and accurate. Together with the wagon's fairly lightweight body, it should make the 2008 Ford Taurus X feel especially carlike compared to the larger crossover SUVs in this price range.