2010 Ford Taurus: First Drive

Bigger, Smarter

2010 Ford Taurus: First Drive
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While everybody else seems to be maintaining the status quo, Ford Motor Company continues to trundle out new vehicles at a torrid pace, the latest being a thoroughly reengineered Taurus sedan.

FAST FACTS

1. The 2010 Taurus shares its basic structure with the Lincoln MKS sedan.

2. Unlike previous versions, there is no Mercury equivalent.

3. The big sedan makes 263hp from a 3.5-liter V6.

4. Pricing ranges from $25,995 to $31,995.

5. Base SE models aren’t available with paddle shifters and only SEL and Limited models get optional AWD.

It’s perhaps hard to imagine today, but back in the mid 1980s, the original Taurus turned the North American car market on its ear. Suddenly every conveyance on the road looked 20 years old. Sales took off and it wasn’t long before Ford’s new ‘aero’ warrior was selling in excess of 300,000 units on an annual basis. But like any hot new talent, fame and fortune also brought with it complacency. After snatching the mantle of America’s best selling car from the Honda Accord in the 1990s, the Taurus was redesigned once again, though its tadpole looks weren’t universally well received. Add to that, growing quality issues at Ford and the third generation car quietly slid into fleet obscurity, before being dragged off to the glue factory.

The car’s replacement, although competent, was decidedly beige and it proved hard for the words ‘Five Hundred’ to roll of the tongue for most consumers. When current CEO Alan Mulally was given the reins, naturally one of the first tasks was to build and restore recognized nameplates, so the Five Hundred was given a nip and tuck to become a re-born Taurus, though as we’ll see here it was merely a warm up for the new 2010 model.

GOING UPMARKET

Whereas the original Taurus was aimed straight at middle America – the bread and butter class, Ford now has the Fusion to carry that mantle. And with the prehistoric Crown Victoria now finally returning to the earth, according to Ford’s marketing mavens, it makes sense to bump the Taurus up a peg, so now, the raging bull has become FoMoCo’s new flagship; it’s full-size tour de force.

If you perhaps recognize the 2010 model’s silhouette, it’s because this car shares much of its structure and running gear with the Lincoln MKS. Make no mistake, it’s big – with a 112.9-inch wheelbase, 202.9-inches from stem to stern and a colossal 60.7 inches tall.

Styling gels nicely with Ford’s current design language – a Chrysler 300 it’s not, but there are some nice detail touches, like the creases in the hood and along the flanks. Built at the same Chicago plant its forebears were, it’s pretty well screwed together too. Have a look at the panel gaps and it’s unlikely you’ll find anything larger than 1.5 mm between them. As perhaps befitting its new flagship status, every exterior color is now metallic and the finish on our sample vehicle had a nice, deep luster to it.

When you get behind the wheel, it’s hard not to notice the massive instrument panel and imposing center stack. When parked it gives you the impression of trying to peer over the top of a cliff, so dominating a force in the cabin it is. Upholstery materials (with simulated stitching on the door panels), plus soft touch plastics lend an up-market feel to the cabin. It might not be quite in the same league as some premium European machinery, but then the Taurus doesn’t cost anywhere near as much either. SE models come with standard cloth upholstery, though leather is offered on the SEL and standard on the swanky Limited.

Ford is placing a lot of emphasis on the technology in this car, and it comes with the latest version of SYNC (which includes active traffic reports and real time gas prices in nearby locations among other things), plus a MyKey parental control which allows you to set a number of operating parameters (including top speed), should you teenage offspring want to go for a ride. Other gizmos include an adaptive cruise control function with collision brake warning, plus a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross Traffic Alert, that sets off alarm bells when other drivers get a bit too close for comfort.

The last one is interesting, because, from behind the wheel, outside visibility isn’t particularly stellar. The relatively small greenhouse (particularly the rear side windows and back light) means that on the freeway at least, you need to pay attention when changing lanes, though the BLIS does help.

FORWARD MOTION

On the road, two things become readily apparent in the 2010 Taurus. First, that the chassis is very well composed and the suspension tuning nicely dialed in. The second is the steering. It’s nicely weighted, with good damping over bumps and linear frictionless effort when turning the wheel. We noted that the car’s turning circle was better than the somewhat oil tanker like Flex; but by European standards, still rather wide.

All mainstream Taurus variants are powered by a version of the evergreen Duratec 3.5-liter V-6, rated at 263 horsepower and 249 ft-lbs of torque. With dual overhead cams, it’s happiest in the mid-range, but even with the six-speed automatic transmission, it’s straining a bit against the car’s 4,000 lb plus curb weight, especially when negotiating twisting roads at steeper grades, during low to moderate speeds. It’s also rather thirsty. Fuel economy averages about 17 mpg in town and 25 on the highway.

SEL and Limited models are offered with steering wheel paddle mounted shifters for the gears. Plop the lever into M and press away. The DIY shifting helps alleviate the slight lack of low end torque, but the fact that both the left and right buttons can shift up or down, can make things a bit confusing for the less experienced, plus when you’re rounding a hairpin and the buttons are at the bottom of the steering wheel, it can be hard to make the right gear selection. A setup like Mitsubishi’s with the buttons on the steering column would be a huge improvement here.

Although the Taurus might struggle to accelerate at times, its on-highway demeanor can’t be faulted. Helped by the fully independent suspension (MacStruts up front and multi-links in the rear), ride quality is superb. The 2010 Taurus comes with a choice of 17, 18 and 19-inch wheel and tire combos, though the 19s (standard on the Limited) give the car stability and composure with minimal road noise. Throw it into a corner and the big sedan is surprisingly enthusiastic. You can feel the car’s girth, but it gets down to business, the steering is as pleasant during backroad bashing as it is in everyday driving - grab the wheel, stab the gas and the car goes where you point it.

Traction control is standard, though Electronic Stability Control is only an option. All Wheel Drive is offered on SEL and Limited models and comes into its own on wet, slippery roads, especially those with significant camber changes. The fact that a car of this size corners as well as it does in either front-drive or AWD form is testament to a well thought out chassis setup and considerable attention paid by the vehicle dynamics boffins in Dearborn. Large four-wheel disc brakes with standard four-channel ABS haul the big barge down very well from speed and although we didn’t have a chance to actually measure braking distance, pedal feel is among the best we’ve experienced in a mainstream car for a long, long time.

THE VERDICT

As far as pricing goes, Ford has positioned the entry level SE at $25,995, the SEL at $27,995 and the range topping Limited at $31,995. Those prices match, dollar for dollar, the sticker price on the outgoing Taurus, but given the new car’s more imposing size, superior handling and better packaging, it means that the folks in Dearborn have dished up a surprisingly amount of car for the money and one that, despite its size, has all the right credentials to match many competitors, particularly the Toyota Avalon and dare we say it, the freshened Nissan Maxima.

Call it what you will, but from our perch, the Taurus represents a modern interpretation of good old-fashioned American automotive value, that harks back to the glory days when you really did get a ton of Motown metal for your dough; a long distance cruiser of a car that made you smile all the way to the bank.

PLUS

Great ride quality
Spritely handling for its size
Lots of content for the price

MINUS

Engine struggles a bit under load
Outward visibility somewhat restricted
Confusing paddle shift arrangement

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