Ford is hawking their “new” Taurus (née Five Hundred) as America's safest full-size sedan. This tells us two things. First, the Ford division famous for producing the world’s safest cars (Volvo) is as good as gone. Second, The Blue Oval Boyz replaced their alleged allegiance to Bold Moves with a profound proclamation of Risk Aversion. Whether or not either decision is correct is a moot point; FoMoCo doesn't have the time nor the money to not to sell Volvo or develop edgy new automobiles. So is Ford’s safe car a safe bet? As the Afrikaners say, Ja nee.
Even a cursory glance reveals that the new Taurus is the same size, shape and stance as the "old" Five Hundred– if only because it's the same car. Luckily, the moniker change necessitated a face lift. Proportionally correct lighting pods remove much of the old model’s goofiness, while the tri-bar grille adds maximum Forditude. Even with fender vents and an Altezza lighting festival out back, the Taurus can’t quite shake off Mister Mays’ retro-futurist homage to Volkswagen’s bland sedans.
I repeat: there’s no getting around the Taurus’ quasi-VW creases. While the Limited-grade’s chrome side mirror skullcaps add extra presence (in the proud Detroit tradition of pay-as-you-go invidious distinctions), the Taurus is only somewhat less forgettable than the Five Hundred lurking underneath.
The Taurus’ interior also remains largely unchanged from its predecessor– if only because it's the same car. And let’s just say there’s a reason why the “old” Five Hundred was known for its spaciousness, rather than anything else. Spatially speaking, the Taurus' class-leading volume works against it; the wood veneer and oval dashboard clock fail to warm a cold, cavernous cabin. The Taurus Limited [re-]attempts to redress this sterility with perforated leather covers. Nice as they are, they fail to lighten the interior's Calvinist demeanor.
One tug at the Taurus’ vent registers reveals a distinct lack of plastic integrity. And while the door panels have the right soft bits and timber trimmings, the Accord’s tight-fitting elbow padding still drops a bomb on Ford’s (wide) gap band. The tiller’s rock hard airbag cover is the biggest let down: a constant reminder that bean-counted consumer touch points work for Rangers, but its no [fuzzy] dice on a flagship Ford. The only condolence: the gauge cluster’s richly detailed faces, a smattering of chromed knobs and the leather/chrome clad gearshift’s vault-like detents.
The Five Hundred’s 3.0-liter Duratec V6 was safe (i.e. slow) at any speed. Combined with a well trained six-speed autobox, the reborn Taurus’ 3.5-liter replacement morphs the sedan from zero to hero. Rest to 60mph now requires just 7.6 seconds of your time. Equally impressive, the 263hp Taurus hustles from the git-go and delivers linear power from the basement all the way to the penthouse.
Torque steer is out there, somewhere, but only the really determined gas masher will find it. Anyway, fear not, for the Taurus sits upon a cost-engineered variant on Volvo’s robust P3 platform, complete with the usual safety cage and crash force management and additional rollover and crash sensor (the computer determines how much to inflate the air bags and how long to keep them inflated). Considering the Taurus’ new level of handling prowess, this is not a purely psychological selling point.
Tragically, the Blue Oval suspension tunerz took the path of least roll resistance. This chassis is no longer a poor man’s Volvo S80; it’s a reincarnated Ford LTD. True to land yacht lore, the new Taurus pitches in corners, bobs in bends and dives in panic stops. Luckily, braking is still solid with 18” rims and discs at all corners– once you get over the long travel pedal and spongy effort.
One fast turn in the Taurus and its clear that Ford took one step forward and one step back. The extra power is much appreciated, but the Taurus is dying for last year’s springy bits. Understeer arrives quickly and stays until the party’s over and everyone– including the tow truck driver– have gone home. Meanwhile, the Taurus’ numb steering has more on-center play than Yao Ming on a fourth-quarter fast break.
Even with hundreds of internal modifications (e.g. cramming sound-deadening stuff into every unseen orifice), a disconcerting amount of tire growl still invades the cabin. On the positive side, the numerous tuning-tweaks have had a negligible effect on this chassis’ already impressive ride quality.
If wallow and float were the missing ingredients stymieing the Five Hundred’s commercial prospects, the “new” Taurus will be a guaranteed home run. Hey, it's not inconceivable. The return of the Bull heralds the death of the Crown Vic. Most Fordies loyal to Ye Olde Panther platform will likely find the Taurus a suitable replacement. While lacking the Vic's brick-house construction, RWD poise and old school seating, the “new” Ford Taurus is the Toyota Avalon of American sedans. How great is that?