The full-size sedan is back - and better than ever
The traditional big American family sedan is alive and well at Ford - with more style, comfort and performance that any time since the early 1970.
Back before the first gas crisis, Detroit ruled the roads with large cars that could easily carry families from coast to coast. But when OPEC temporarily shut off the tap in the mid-1970s, the Big Three auto makers sacrificed their full-sized sedans on the altar of fuel economy. The results were decades of mediocre products and mass defections to European and Japanese manufactures.
Ford briefly rallied with the original Taurus, first introduced in 1986. Although boxy and underpowered, it steadily improved over the years and became the best-selling car in the country between 1992 and 1996. But when Ford radically restyled the Taurus to be more aerodynamic, buyers again went elsewhere and sales plummeted.
Ford replaced the Taurus with a new car designated the Five Hundred in 2008. Although well-designed with ample interior room, good fit-and-finish, and available all-wheel-drive, it did not sell well, prompting Ford to bring back the Taurus name through the 2009 production year.
Now Ford has kept the name for its all-new sedan. Compared to previous versions of the Taurus, the 2010 model is the biggest and most varied one yet. It is available in the four trim levels - the base SE, the upgraded SEL, the even fancier Limited, and the high-performance SHO.
All models are aggressively styled, with a large air dam, swept-back headlights and large wheel wells. The slippery body slopes up to the blocky rear end, giving the Taurus a raring-to-go look, even when it's sitting still.
The interior is equally impressive. A large and high center console divides the front seats, creating a cockpit feel. The front door panels are works of art, with sweeping closing handles that flow into fully-integrated window and lock controls. The large gauges are easy to read, which the temperature and stereo volume knobs fall easily to hand, even at night.
Out test model was an SEL version, which features wood grain trim on the dash that harken back to the LTD and other Ford road cars of the 1960s and 1970s. It also came with a cream-colored leather interior, including well-bolstered heat front bucket seats. And trunk space was enormous, another reminder of the company's former glory days.
On the road, the 2010 Taurus felt solid and stable. The suspension easily absorbed road imperfections, while the steering was responsive if a little numb. The 3-5-liter V6 moved the car easily through downtown traffic and provided good freeway passing power. The six-speed automatic transmission was smooth, but paused for second before downshifting under heavy acceleration. Using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters in the manual mode eliminated the hesitation, however, even though our test model never felt particularly sporty.
Those interested in better performance will naturally gravitate the SHO version. It features one of the first applications of Ford's new EcoBoost engine, which adds two turbochargers and other upgrades to the 3.5-liter V6. The engine is Ford's answer to higher gas prices, achieving better gas mileage than less powerful V8 engines. The SHO package also includes a stiffer suspension and more responsive brakes.
On the downside, rearward visibility is restricted by the elevated rear end and wide pillar between the front and rear doors. And the optional sunroof in our test model ate into the headroom for taller passengers.
The Taurus the second noteworthy car Ford released in 2010, the first being the revised Fusion, which includes an award-winning hybrid version. With gas prices remaining below $3 a gallon, there's some unintended competition between the two models. The no-frills version of the Fusion Hybrid costs around $28,000, just a few thousand dollars less than a fully-loaded Taurus SEL. A top-of-the line Fusion Hybrid costs about the same as a Taurus SHO. Although the Fusion Hybrid gets much better mileage than either version of the Taurus, unless gas prices climb considerably, buyers might have a hard time choosing the mid-size Fusion over the full-size Taurus.
In truth, the 2010 Taurus should not be looked as the direct descendant of the earlier Taurus models. The Taurus was never Ford's biggest car. For the past decade, that was the Crown Victory, the company's last full-size rear-wheel-drive car. Although popular with police departments, the Crown Vic was a dinosaur by the time it went out of production in 2007. Compared to that car, the new Taurus is a game-changing quantum leap forward for American family sedans.
Facts and figures
• Model: 2010 Taurus
• Manufacturer: Ford.
• Class: Full-size sedan.
• Layout: Front engine, front or all-wheel-drive.
• Style: Four-door, five passenger car.
• Engines: 3.5-liter V6 (263 hp, 249 lbs-ft); twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 (365 hp, 350 lbs-ft)>
• Transmissions: 6-speed automatic with manual mode.
• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 18/22 (as tested).
• Price: Beginning at approximately $26,000 ($31,875 as tested).