In his own ew-inducing sort of way, Oedipus defined the Tragic Hero. His story teaches us that character is fate; the arrogant King can no more escape his destiny than a bad guy on a cop show. And so it is with the Ford Taurus, a vehicle named for either the constellation of the same name (minus the Ford) or the Zodiac sign ascribed to it. According to pseudo- science, Taureans are practical, reliable, patient, affectionate, competent, ambitious, determined, lazy, jealous, inflexible, greedy and stubborn. And some people wonder why the model took twenty years to die an ignominious death…
Judging by the sheetmetal, its death couldn't come soon enough. Wearing a decade-old silhouette, the Taurus blends into the scenery like tomatoes in salsa. Its once unique coke-bottle profile now proclaims mundane, offering proto-flame surfacing that couldn’t light a stack of dry kindling. The Taurus’ generic lighting pods, low beltline and lack of chrome accents hearken back to the days before platinum was the new gold. A modest front-end redesign tries to spizzarkle-up the package, but it’s no use: the Taurus is nothing but rental-car vanilla. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
The Taurus’ interior pleases like an Oscar speech on animal rights. The cabin features more plastic flash casting than you'll find in a truckload of milk cartons. In a sad attempt at budget-minded dress up, the dash's Northern Hemisphere gets darker paint with a healthy dose of overspray. Worst of all, the once-proud Taurus sports more inconsistent panel gaps and textures than a found-object exhibit.
But within these egregious aesthetic failings lies a silver lining: the switches, buttons and levers move with all the oil-dampened grace and precision normally associated with Japanese offerings. The power window switches' unique tactile surfacing, the handy trip computer and trick flip-up center console continue to impress. Seat comfort is excellent with plenty of long-distance thigh support. Luxurious and understated cloth trimmings eagerly await a family of six, albeit a trim, close-knit genetic grouping. The trunk is suitably voluminous, and the greenhouse provides excellent visibility and plenty of natural light.
Set the time machine for 2006, drop the Taurus' column shift into drive and leave the rental car lot behind. Forget local radio stations, pop in a Flock of Seagulls CD and experience the standard audio system's competent bass and treble reproduction, with better-than-expected sound imaging.
Looking to SHO-off in a Q-ship? Well, look elsewhere. That said, Ford's venerable powerplant offers plenty of grunt—a class-leading 186lb-ft of torque at 3250rpm– from idle to redline. Variable cams be damned; the Vulcan's overhead-valve'd, 60-degree'd engine architecture puts the power down with a swagger that no buzzy bargain basement four-banger can match– the Vulcan provides the best of old and new, though peak performance suffers with the ancient four-speed automatic's grandma gearing and “catch you later” shift behavior.
Run the Bull down an airport exit-ramp at speed and only a distant glimmer of its original greatness remains. Somewhat wonderful steering feel, predictably progressive understeer and moderate body roll won't set your soul afire, but safety is the name of the game here. When it comes to the mission critical part of that program– braking– it’s best to plan early and often. The standard stoppers combine uninspiring 16” rubber with rear drum brakes and no ABS intervention.
Cushy suspension tuning nets a velvety smooth ride. But the real surprise is a rigid chassis that feels better than its carbon-dated design implies. With better tires and more roll control, the Taurus could offer the best of both worlds: spirited handling and magic carpet plushness. But, of course, it doesn’t. Somehow, lying on its deathbed, the Taurus performed yet another magic act: the standard 3.0-liter Vulcan V6 (from the original Taurus) offers a choice of either low-octane gasoline or trendy E85 ethanol for thermodynamic propulsion.
Love it or hate it, the dearly departed Ford Taurus still has the heart and soul of an American hero. Ford's perennial four-portal breadwinner still provides the timeless American blend of immensity, comfort and torque. But what was once a sight for sore eyes now makes you want to tear them out. So what has Ford done for America lately? They designed a front wheel-drive Taurus replacement from a Japanese template and screwed it together down in old Mexico. Sure the Fusion is a competent machine, but a homegrown champion it ain’t.
In the end, the Taurus was engineered, assembled and neglected in America. Like Henry Ford lamenting the loss of his beloved Model T, the departure of the hopelessly out-of-date Taurus signals another FoMoCo turning point. Payback’s a bitch. Ford's failure to breed from the Bull forced karmic retribution, embodied in near-bankruptcy Bold Moves. Could this tragedy have been avoided? Can any?