Forget roller-coaster rides. If you want twists, turns, spectacular highs and plunging depths, try the saga of the Taurus, which will finally bring us to the 2010 Ford Taurus SEL.
The Taurus started as a futuristic-looking midsize car with aerodynamically integrated headlights and no apparent grille — novelties at the time. In fact, the 1986 Taurus was far enough out there that it starred (against Ford's will) in the science-fiction flick Robocop, complete with bar-code license plates. Sales were strong, and the Taurus rose to become the No. 1-selling car in America from 1992-'96; almost 2 million were sold during that period.
But then the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry drew steadily even and finally pulled ahead as Ford shifted focus to high-profit SUVs, and Taurus sales increasingly depended on bulk purchases from car-rental companies and other fleet customers. Eventually, the Taurus nameplate was killed in 2006, replaced by the all-new Five Hundred (a nameplate in accordance with Ford's too-cute policy of starting car names with "F"). Sales tanked, and the Five Hundred became the Taurus at the first opportunity, the midcycle 2008 face-lift. This, however, meant the Taurus was now a dowdy, full-size boat.
And that's where the 2010 Ford Taurus enters the picture, as this major interior and exterior redesign gives Ford the chance to purge the Five Hundred from memory and make the Taurus a Taurus again.
Longer, Lower, Wider Yet the trouble with the Five Hundred (and the resurrected 2008-'09 Taurus) went beyond its status as a full-size American sedan, because it attempted to be a "crossover sedan" of sorts by employing a high seating position, a tall arched roof and lots of glass to maximize visibility and interior space, just like a crossover SUV.
It didn't work. The Euro-style (like a VW Passat, only twice life-size) Five Hundred/Taurus was so homely that it drove off anyone who actually liked cars, as well as many who didn't.
The new 2010 Ford Taurus still rides on the same chassis with a 112.9-inch wheelbase, but it now wears vastly sportier sheet metal. Most obvious is the raised beltline and a lower, flatter roof that suggests a mildly chopped top. The all-new nose is tidy and wears an aggressive face, and the whole car is about 2 inches wider.
It's almost enough to hide the fact that the new Taurus remains a massive machine. Sure, it sits 1.1 inches lower, but it's still 60.7 inches tall — 2 inches or more higher than most anything else. And while width can convey coolness, 76.2 inches is 2 inches wider than a Chrysler 300C and 3.5 inches wider than a BMW 5 Series. This is a very big car.
Department of the Interior Inside the cabin, the front seats sit 1.6 inches lower, retaining a healthy 39 inches of headroom while finally trading pseudo-SUV uprightness for an honest-to-God cockpit. The backseat couldn't be dropped so much, so there's a 1-inch loss of rear headroom. The remaining 37.8 inches is still enough for our 6-foot-2 tester, but the exaggerated stadium-style seating (raised significantly above the level of the front seats) leaves you looking right at the windshield header.
The notion of a driver's cockpit is further reinforced by an attractive center stack that reclines from the dashboard and sweeps between the comfortable and supportive bucket seats, carrying myriad logically arrayed controls with it. This new Taurus is refreshingly unrecognizable from inside.
Tech-Geek Chic An extensive indoor equipment list only fortifies that impression. Our volume-selling SEL model (forget the SE, which sells to fleets) comes with dual-zone climate control, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel that's leather-wrapped, and steering-mounted shift paddles for the obligatory six-speed automatic transmission.
Push-button start and vibrating massage-capable front seats are first-time Taurus options, and you can get the Microsoft Sync Bluetooth and iPod integration and a 390-watt Sony surround stereo with 12 speakers.
Sync comes standard when you step up to the Limited model, along with a six-disc CD changer plus 10-way-adjustable perforated leather seats. From here you can buy voice-activated navigation with a 10GB hard drive for music storage for $1,995. Several first-time Taurus options such as heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a power rear sunshade, automatic high-beams and rain-sensing wipers are available as package options.
One package includes a radar-based blind spot information system (BLIS) that warns of cars bearing down or hidden in your blind spots and alerts you of cross traffic as you back out of 90-degree parking spots.
Another first for the 2010 Ford Taurus is adaptive cruise control, a $1,195 option that maintains a driver-selectable following distance to the car ahead. If someone swerves into the gap or if traffic ahead slows unexpectedly, it flashes a bright LED collision warning in a head-up windshield display and pre-charges the brakes in anticipation of a quick stop.
Same Power, More Weight Ford's 3.5-liter Duratec V6 is the only available prime mover for all of this (unless you step over to the Taurus SHO), and it carries over with an unchanged output of 263 horsepower and 249 pound-feet of torque. Like last year, you have a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.
Acceleration feels a little weaker than last year, presumably because the 2010 Taurus weighs some 280 pounds more than the 2009 edition. And there's no denying the mass; the front-wheel-drive version weighs 4,015 pounds and the AWD example weighs 4,224 pounds.
Part of the weight gain comes from the wider coachwork and the increased level of equipment, but Ford engineers also added more acoustic insulation to reduce noise and vibration. Indeed the 2010 Ford Taurus rolls down the road with a serenity we've not experienced previously in a big Ford sedan.
Despite the mass increase, fuel economy is expected to hold station at 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for the front-driver. The AWD version should earn a 1-mpg bump in highway efficiency over last year, posting 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
Suspended Sentences The front MacPherson strut suspension features a tad more anti-dive geometry, which is good because the brake calipers and rotors have been upsized, so there's more braking power. Our brief drive revealed admirably firm brake pedal action under moderately aggressive street use, but we'll have to wait for a future track test to see if the changes translate to shorter stops or merely keep pace with the weight gain.
Out back, the platform's multilink rear suspension incorporates refinements first introduced on the Lincoln MKS, such as a new direct-acting rear shock mount for improved damping efficiency. Taurus AWD models have slightly firmer rear springs and unique shock and strut tuning all around.
The Taurus SEL comes with 18-inch all-season tires, with 19-inch rubber optionally available; the Limited comes standard with the 19-inch shoes. An extended rain-soaked test loop in an SEL with the standard 18-inch tires reveals a well-damped and comfortable ride over broken pavement, without any unseemly bob or float. The feeling is not unlike that of the 2009 Ford Flex, and that's no bad thing.
The comparison to the Flex extends to cornering, however, because the mass of the Taurus makes itself known if you push too hard. And its light-effort, hydraulic-assisted power steering doesn't adequately convey how well the all-season tires are getting along, either. It could stand to produce a little more heft as cornering forces build.
These dynamic quibbles might be a deal-breaker if the 2010 Taurus was an enthusiast-oriented machine, but the Taurus has not received that kind of extreme makeover. Like the Flex, the 2010 Ford Taurus comes across as a composed and predictable sedan in the American style, able to gobble up hundreds of miles at a time. It's a big country, so sometimes you need a big car.
Pay a Little, Pay a Lot Excluding the SE fleet special, year-over-year Taurus prices are up $500, but the increased level of equipment, style and refinement makes this seem reasonable. New 2010 Taurus base prices range from $27,995 for a front-wheel-drive SEL to $33,845 for the AWD Limited.
Of course the far more extensive options list means the ultimate price you pay can range far higher than last year. You'd spend no more than about $3,000 if you selected everything on a 2009 Taurus Limited's limited options sheet. But this year's extensive library of tech and higher-end luxury goodies means a 2010 Taurus Limited's bottom line could be boosted by $8,000 if the car on the dealer's lot has all of it.
Even if you don't load yours up, the very presence of these items on the options sheet is a clear sign that Ford wants the 2010 Ford Taurus to be a more aspirational sort of full-size sedan, a flagship with a recognizable name.
We're not entirely convinced that an extensive makeover of a largely carry-over chassis and powertrain can pull that off, especially when the chassis in question is as large as this one. But the 2010 Ford Taurus certainly contains enough significant changes to the styling and equipment plus an upgraded level of execution that we think it will purge all memories of the short-lived Five Hundred and make a go of it. And Ford has another ace up its sleeve to help hammer that point home, the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO.
Buckle up. No one knows which direction this roller-coaster is going to go from here.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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