Ford does nothing dramatic with the Taurus this year, shuffling a few packages and adding some colors. We were amazed to see the high-performance SHO model hang on for another year, but we would be surprised to see it squeak by into the new millennium.
In the last couple of years, we have been able to spend some extended driving time with the Taurus and have found ourselves won over by this odd-looking family sedan and wagon. If you can get past the strange curves and odd snout, the Taurus offers a lot of car for the money. The Taurus has comfortable seats, a long standard equipment list, a plethora of cupholders and ashtrays, nicely integrated armrests, and optional rear-passenger air conditioning controls. Unfortunately, the Taurus's Integrated Control Panel, which controls the stereo and climate controls, has not proved to be as user-friendly as we had initially thought. During recent tests, we've had complaints from drivers who found it to be too busy and overly complicated. One of our logbook gripes stated that the unit looked sneezed onto the dashboard.
Not many people buy mid-sized sedans for their outstanding handling characteristics, and for the most part the Taurus does not address these people's concerns. Nonetheless, the Taurus is not a bad driver, offering capable acceleration and decent handling. The standard engine on the Taurus is the Vulcan V6, an old-school overhead valve design that puts out a mere 145 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque. The next step up is the Duratec V6, a 3.0-liter overhead cam engine that makes 185 horsepower and 200 foot-pounds of torque. Acceleration is noticeably improved with the Duratec engine, and its midrange performance far surpasses the Vulcan motor. The fastest Taurus, the redesigned SHO, is a bit of a disappointment. Sure it has a V8, the first one ever squeezed into a Taurus, but its lack of a manual transmission and slower acceleration times than the original are a poor substitute for the car that basically defined the American sports sedan segment in its original iteration.
The Taurus offers buyers plenty of car and is our choice over the less-than-sophisticated Chevrolet Lumina or plain-Jane Buick Century. However, a number of choices from Europe, Japan and the United States offer better looks, better handling, and better reliability than the Taurus. People that want to buy American may want to put this car on their list. People who are turned-off by its exterior styling may find comfort in the new Honda Accord or recently redesigned Toyota Camry being sold down the road.