America, meet the new (old) Taurus
Much earlier this year, when I attended a press preview at the Denver International Auto Show, I was pretty surprised by the vehicle that ended up getting the most unbelievable flashy-lights-and-pretty-girls PR explosion.It wasn’t the $1.5 million Bugatti Veyron, which was quietly hidden in the corner next to the Lambos and the Maseratis, but rather … hold your breath … the new Taurus.The collected Denver-area auto media members I was cocktailing with all kind of looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. THAT is the new Taurus, we asked each other, as the hyperbole rained down – isn’t that just the Ford Five Hundred, with a different nameplate?The short answer is … well, yes. A Ford Five Hundred, but one with, according to the press release, more than 500 improvements from the old vehicle.For the record, the biggest really seems to be the recycling of the name that did very well for FoMoCo back in the ’80s and ’90s. After selling more than 7 million Tauruses, the taller, boxier and more European-styled Five Hundred (and its sister, the Mercury Montego) was introduced as the full-size sedan replacement in 2004 when the company arbitrarily decided customers had tired of the Taurus name.The long-successful moniker (and, simultaneously, the success of the car itself) suddenly went the way of the dodo; the new Five Hundred, while basically a very decent vehicle, rather completely failed to find a home with the car-buying public.
Ford’s new CEO, Alan Mulally, was among the many who felt that “Taurus” did actually carry plenty cachet, and, as a result, the 2008 model year Ford Five Hundreds have suddenly morphed back into Tauruses, and the Montegos into Sables, Taurus’ old Mercury variant. Don’t try to get me to explain the leap of logic that also has produced the new Taurus X, the minivan/SUV crossover which used to be called the Ford Freestyle.Anyhow … the upshot to all of this is a new old name on a gradually improved three-year-old car design that’s an adequately designed, amply powered and optionally all-wheel drive-equipped four-door sedan. And not such a bad vehicle, all things considered.You’ll get pretty good mileage, reasonable passenger comfort and looks that incorporate the new slightly excessive chrome highlights design ethos of the Ford Edge and apply them to a very laid-back, low-key suburban cruiser. Temporarily forgetting the existing three years of Five Hundred history, those unfamiliar with the “new” Taurus will find a much more upright and almost stocky build than those long and squatty end-of-the-era Tauruses, with lots more character and substance.If the shape and size seems more than just a bit Euro-inspired to you, a big part of the reason is that the Taurus/Five Hundred owes its platform with one which was initially shared with a litany of Volvo products, including the S80 and the XC90.Subsequently, inside you’ll find seating that seems like it’s raised up on platforms, with deep, boxy footwells for front and rear passengers, plus a 21 square foot trunk space that’s as big as the trunk in a Crown Victoria.
The new Taurus possesses a smooth, fluid feel that’s neither aggressive or super-sedate somewhere comfortably mid-stream, which I guess is the point. Easy handling, assured, confident braking and rather adequate acceleration (a 263-horsepower 3.5 liter Duratec six-cylinder, a 30-percent power increase from the old Five Hundred) are complemented by the available all-wheel-drive system that’s imperceptible on dry pavement but will go a long way to make the car a better high country fit, especially on a snowy weekend like this. There’s not much of a gas penalty for the AWD assistance, as I was able to get around 25 miles per gallon driving in an equally sedate fashion.Exterior looks are nice, provided you indeed are a fan of Ford’s mid-decade chrome obsession. That’s typified by the three-bar chrome grille (which still reminds me of the Cylons from the original “Battlestar Galactica” back in the 1970s, minus the metronome-styled red light), fog lamp surrounds and caps on the side mirrors and a couple of Buick-styled vents on the front quarter panel. The aluminum wheels are attractive; the rear brake lamps integrate that multicolored aftermarket look and … well, the 2008 Taurus will be instantly recognizable as a 2008 model in about six years, let us say.The ’08 cabin gets a little extra gloss from the old Five Hundred, with shiny faux wood highlights, more chrome highlights and an old-fashioned analog clock on the dash. Ford’s pre-Sync model touchscreen navigation system is integrated with Sirius satellite radio and a nice-sounding stereo (the Microsoft-sourced Sync is another available option); convenience features include dual-zone heating, an audible rear park sensor, power-adjustable pedals, motorized memory seating and more.After a half-decade of trying to figure out where the hell to place their trip computer buttons, Ford has finally made them easy to use by placing them just inside the spokes of the steering wheel, a move I loudly applaud.One peculiarity: the leather seating (also heated, up front) was comfortable, but in my test vehicle, seemed to have a peculiar odor that I hoped was attributable to the personal hygiene, pets or cargo carried a previous test driver.I knew it would be a weird thing to ask but I decided to stop by the Burt Ford dealership down here in the dark suburban hell of Centennial (where I toil away at a day job) and see if I could experience what a new Taurus was actually supposed to smell like. An amiable salesman named Hooshie Barzideh unlocked a fresh model for me and, after explaining that the previous Five Hundred never exactly flew off the lot (“People buy trucks, lots of trucks, but none of these,” he said), I discovered that an unused Taurus really should smell like the inside of a Wilsons Leather Store, not like a boiled yak hide. This was good to know. Perhaps someone else had been using my test car as a portable hide tannery. I do not know.
So … whatever you call it (and who knows, in a few years they might re-rename it the Super Mustang Sedan F-500), a decent, shiny machine. God bless. 2008 Ford Taurus Limited AWDBase price: $25,845Mechanics: 263 horsepower Duratec 3.5 liter six-cylinder, six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel driveStated mileage: 17 city, 24 highwayIncludes: AdvanceTrac stability program, 18-inch aluminum wheels, fog lamps, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather trimmed seats, navigation system, Sirius satellite radio, Audiophile stereo system, woodgrain accents, heated front seats, dual-zone A/C system, power-adjustable pedals, reverse-sensing system, power moonroof
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