When Ford says their iconic Taurus is all new for 2010, they aren't kidding: It's got new exterior styling, a new cabin, a new suspension setup -- and, Ford hopes, a new type of buyer. Has Ford taken the 2010 Taurus in the right direction? Read on. Price range $25,995 - $41,680, EPA fuel economy estimates TBA.
First Glance: Familiar name, unfamiliar look
The last time I drove a Taurus was 2008, the year that Ford dusted off the nameplate and affixed it to an improved version of the Five Hundred sedan. I liked the way it drove and I loved the cabin and trunk space, but I was indifferent to the rest of the car -- it wasn't great, it wasn't bad, it was just, well, sort of there.
One of Ford's goals for the 2010 Taurus is to chase out the blandness. "The old Taurus was a 'we' car, the new Taurus is a 'me' car," said Mike Crawley, a Ford marketing manager, during our press preview. (If we had played that game where everyone had to take a sip of beer whenever a Ford staffer repeated the "me not we" mantra, we'd all have been dead of liver failure by the time the two-day event was over.) Improvements, according to Ford, include radical new styling inside and out, better driving dynamics, and the most comprehensive electronics suite of any full-size sedan.
Ford says the 2010 Taurus' styling is the new look of Ford cars. I thought the 2010 Fusion was supposed to be the new look of Ford cars, so I asked a Ford exec, who explained that the Fusion's styling was the new look for trucks and SUVs. I was going to point out that the Fusion is not a truck or an SUV, but then my head exploded, so I didn't ask any more questions.
Still, I like the new look -- the Taurus is big and muscular, as if it's been going to the gym twice a day and wants everyone to know it. The new styling may be a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but at least it's not dull -- and that's more than I could say about the old Taurus.
In the Driver's Seat: Bat cave
The old Taurus' interior was cavernous; the new one just feels like a cavern. The cabin is dominated by a huge, deeply-sloped center console (link goes to photo). With short windows and a tall dash, the new Taurus lacks the greenhouse-like visibility of the old car. Materials are a mixed bag; the dash top is squeezably soft, but some of the plastics are a bit chintzy. Climate and stereo controls look much better than the common-parts-bin bits on the old car, though I wish there weren't quite so many look-alike buttons. But the T-handle shifter -- shared with the 2010 Mustang -- is very cool.
Accommodations are so-so: The bottom cushions of the front seats are too short and lack thigh support. The back seat is roomy, but not as big as the old Taurus: Headroom is down an inch, legroom shrinks by 3.1 inches, and the squat side windows make it feel more claustrophobic. Even the trunk is slightly smaller, though it's still massive at 20.1 cubic feet.
Ford did keep their promise about the electronics suite. Options include a fantastic navigation system with real-time traffic, weather and gas prices and the brilliant SYNC system. Along with voice control of your Bluetooth phone and iPod, SYNC now provides on-demand services like news, weather and (for cars without nav) turn-by-turn directions downloaded via your cell phone. Other options include active cruise control, which slows down to match the speed of the car in front; a blind-spot warning system, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high-beams, and multi-contour seats that massage your back and butt.
On the Road: Good gets better
The 2010 Taurus uses the same 3.5 liter V6 from last year's Taurus, but its 263 horsepower and 249 lb-ft now has to haul an extra 300 lbs worth of car, and that takes its toll on acceleration. All Taurii come with a 6-speed automatic, and SEL and Limited models allow manual shifting via steering-wheel-mounted paddles -- but they don't work unless you first move the transmission shifter to "M" (a silly design decision that I'm sure was initiated by Ford's legal department). If you need a lower gear, it's easier to just floor the pedal, a safe move since the Taurus doesn't exactly take off like a jet plane.
Ford originally planned to use the previous Taurus' underpinnings for the 2010 car, which would have been fine; you'd never guess from looking at it, but the old Taurus was surprisingly agile in the curves, especially the all-wheel-drive version. Nevertheless, Ford decided to unleash a barrage of improvements to the suspension and steering, and they do make a difference. Wet roads and a strong sense of self-preservation kept me from pushing my front-wheel-drive test car too hard, but from what little pressing I did, I found that the new Taurus is even more agile than the old one, and the steering finally gives a wee bit of much-needed feedback. Overall, the Taurus still isn't much of pulse-quickener. (That's the job of the Taurus SHO.) That said, the ride is supremely comfortable and extraordinarily quiet. The old Taurus was a great car for long trips, and that holds doubly true for the new one.
Journey's End: But is it better?
Ford promised an improved Taurus, and that's what they delivered. But let's take a closer look at what they actually improved. Exterior styling: Yes, it definitely needed that. Interior styling: Hmm, not sure that went as well as it could have. Electronics: Much needed, big improvement, thank you Ford. Ride and handling: Improved, but I'm not sure they needed to be. And let's not forget those areas where the Taurus took a few steps backwards: Smaller back seat, heavier curb weight, and reduced visibility.
So where do we go from here? Well, we could go to our local Chevrolet dealership for an Impala. It's nowhere near as good as the Taurus, but we could probably negotiate a much cheaper price. We could go to Dodge for a Charger or Chrysler for a 300, although I can't think of a good reason why. With a little more money to spend, we could go for a Nissan Maxima, with its sportier handling, or a Toyota Avalon, which has a roomier back seat and a significantly nicer interior. If we decided we could do with a smaller car, we could check out another Ford product, the 2010 Lincoln MKZ, which offers the same nifty electronics as the Taurus packed into one of the best interiors Ford has ever made.
Bottom line: The new Taurus definitely isn't as bland as the old Taurus. It's got more personality, which is wonderful, but that comes at the expense of practicality, which isn't so wonderful. Is it better than the old Taurus? I guess that depends on what your definition of "better" is. -- Aaron Gold