By on October 12, 2009

The impressive 2010 Taurus made quite a few fans at the Don’t Call It The Detroit Auto Show, myself included. Ford’s new bull represents a solid vote of confidence in the concept of premium domestic-maker sedans, and it just might be the right car to make that idea work. Still, I can’t help but think back to the day Ford made the same gamble and lost heavily, just over thirteen years ago.

In 1995 I was the youngest salesman at an old-school, two-car-showroom Ford dealership that sat comfortably in a hundred-year-old neighborhood full of college professors, aging hipsters, and stubborn old blue-collar types. I earned a modest living selling between eight and fifteen units a month, mostly Explorers, Escorts, and the market-leading ’95 Taurus. We sold a ton of GL models for about $15,500 out the door and the occasional LX at slightly under twenty grand. Our primary enemy was the 1995 Camry, a solid, handsome, sprightly sedan that was nonetheless a little short on space compared to “our” product. We had a small price advantage and a larger dealer body; as a consequence the 1995 Taurus managed to become the best-selling car in America.

One August day I arrived for the afternoon shift and was excitedly told that our first 1996 Taurus had been delivered earlier that day. It was being held in the service department for prep. I ran through the double doors separating Sales from Service and saw it: a Duratec-powered, two-hundred-horsepower “LX” in Rose Mist Metallic.

My first thought: it looked like a cross between an XJ6 and an Infiniti J30. Second thought: this was a seriously upmarket car. It had expensive-looking headlights, small panel gaps, polished fifteen-spoke alloy wheels, and a fairly outrageous oval rear window. Inside the story was even better. We’d finally beaten Toyota on interior quality. The unique oval HVAC/radio panel looked like a million bucks. The seats were solid, supportive, and well-stitched. A brief drive around the neighborhood revealed the new Duratec V-6 to be smooth and strong, even if it didn’t have the SHO-style punch I’d expected from the two-hundred-horsepower rating. In fact, it was a little light on off-the-line punch compared to the old 3.8-liter V6 we’d had in the 1995 Taurus LX. Still, it was a hell of a car and clearly worth the money… holy crap. The sticker said twenty-four thousand dollars! More than a Crown Vic! How the hell were we going to sell this thing?

When our first “GL” arrived, I didn’t feel any more confident. The three-liter “Vulcan” wasn’t up to the task of moving the heavier ’96, and the $19,800 price for an alloy-wheeled example was still too much. Ford rushed a cheaper $17,995 “Taurus G” into the showrooms by the beginning of 1996, but Toyota had introduced a new, cheaper Camry that sold all day for that magic $15,500 price point. It didn’t match our Taurus on features, luxury, or space, but it was cheaper and it was very conventional-looking. Ford put money on the GL’s hood but we couldn’t move ‘em.

The writing was on the wall for Ford’s mid-sized market dominance by the time I quit the dealership in March of ’96. The last car I sold was a metallic-black “205A”-package Taurus GL, and in this case I was also the buyer. I loved the car; it had everything but power and was a joy on long drives. Ford began chopping content out of the Taurus in 1997 to help it compete on price, stretching out the platform’s life all the way to the ignominious fleet-market-only 2006 model. Those final models were sad, bland old sedans, but I’d prefer to remember that ambitious 1996 car as an example of Ford’s belief that consumers could recognize and appreciate a premium experience in a family sedan. It was a mistaken belief at the time, and only time will tell if the 2010 Taurus will succeed where its predecessor failed. I’m crossing my fingers.

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62 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1996 Ford Taurus...”


  • avatar
    MasterOfTheJawan

    The 96 Taurus was so ugly. It was the definition of “ink blob” styling which began in the 95 Eclipse. It’s like they splattered a solution of ink, oil and water on a table and said “woah this here could be the taillight,,, i see a headlight here,,” Ford’s big blunder in the late 90s was letting the Taurus wither and die while pushing maximum SUVige and pumping billions into buying Land Rover and Volvo. Short term spending with no long term goals in an industry where product cycles equal 4 years is a receipie for disaster… I said at the time they were repeating the mistakes of the 70s with the suv craze…..

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    “Short term spending with no long term goals…”

    I beg to differ. The acquisition of Volvo paid up nicely in the Taurus successor, née 500. The Volvo platforms underpins almost half of Fords fleet of cars. And they got it for a song. They didn’t even have to pay cash up front, but with dividends earned by owning Volvo for some three years or so.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I hated the oval radio HVAC unit the most. I drove one of these in 1996 as a rental and was seriously underwhelmed by the styling.

    At least they got away from the horrible 3.8L V6 and the self destructing transmissions. For the most popular car sold in America you sure don’t see many on the road today.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    The situation is a little different now, as the Fusion is Ford’s sedan volume seller, rather than the Taurus. I don’t think the expectation for the new Taurus is for it to sell 200,000 units/year.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    The interior of this generation was particularly nice- excellent materials, flush panel fits, an integrated HVAC/Radio unit (honestly, you wouldn’t find assembly this nice in a Ford until the current-gen Taurus), soft-touch materials everywhere, and a handsome, modern dash that STILL looks good.

    The real kiss of death came from:

    1) The transmission was junk. You’re lucky to get 60k out of them. We had 3 replacements in ours before it hit 100k. Unacceptable.

    2) The bench-seat models had a poor interior design- the cup holders/storage spaces were useless.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    The new Taurus is scheduled to produce only 100,000 a year. Therefore it will be an insignificant niche vehicle in a market segment that sells 400,000 Accords and 450,000 Camrys every year.

    The 93 Taurus was not only butt-ugly (the grille was a cross between a frog and a catfish), it was also a highly inefficient (ie, idiotic) design, bigger outside and heavier than the excellent first taurus, but much smaller inside and esp. in the TRUNK due to the stupid oval shape.

  • avatar
    kericf

    My wife had a 2001 SEL with the 3.0L V6 that I inherited when I married her and it was underwhelming in every way. Engine was slow, tranny shifted hard and slow, handling was numb in every sense of the word, fuel econ was attrocious, and the seats were the most uncomfortable I have ever sat in. And I am a believer in Ford. I have had a T-bird, F-150 and Ranger that were all great cars for me, but that Taurus was a dog. It didn’t make it to 100,000 miles before tranny started to go, it was leaking coolant like mad, fuel pump was going out, and it was burning oil. Not to mention it went through brakes like Amy Winehouse goes through crack, and warped rotors left and right. Stereo sounded good, that’s about the only positive I can pull from it. I can see where owning one would put anyone off Fords. Guess it’s a good thing my GM experiences are so much worse. My dad told me to never buy a Dodge and so far I have just taken his word for it.

  • avatar
    relton

    In order to change the front turn signal bulb on one of these Tauruses, you have to remove the entire front fascia. It was held up as a classic example of what not to do inside Ford in later years.

    Bob

  • avatar
    mikedt

    I remember reading a Business Week article on this car back in 96. When the reporter asked the Ford exec about the negative potential of such a huge price increase in the car from 95 to 96 he replied something to the effect that former customers could just buy used cars. Instead they bought Japanese cars. He should have been fired at that exact moment.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    I guess I’m one of the very few that thought the Taurus was a fine looking car…the slightly revised front-end in 98 (I believe) was better as the grill incorporated the blue oval.

    My in-laws have a 98 Sable wagon (loaded to the gills-pun intended), and it’s a good looking car and drives quite nicely (still) with the 200hp V6. At 146k miles, the ATX has been rebuilt, waterpump and alternator have been replaced, new shocks and bushings make it drive like new. Main reason they haven’t replaced it, can’t find a replacement that is the same size and sits low (although the Flex is being considered). Heck, I might buy the 98 for a few grand and then push back a new-car purchase even longer.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    I’ve driven several of those mid-late 90s Taurus as rentals, one was a handmedown a friend owned. That car was garbage, pure garbage. If you think that even came close to the same year Camry’s you’re insane. I’ve never driven a fwd car that handled worse in the snow. The interior was crap, the seats uncomfortable, the engine felt like mud, the shifter banged into gear (on every one), no steering feel whatsoever, etc., etc. Not to mention the styling which looks like a wad of used chewing gum. Compared to the outgoing Taurus it was a crying shame.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I always thought the designers of this car lost their rulers and T-squares leaving them with nothing but a circle template to design with. A friend had one as company vehicle, he referred to it as the “Ovary” because it was so egg-shaped. The back window in particular was a “WTF” piece if I ever saw one.

    The integrated HVAC and stereo system in the Taurus was beginning of trend that rendered the standard DIN head unit no longer “standard”. If you wanted to put an aftermarket stereo in one of these cars you had to remove 1/2 the dash, what a pain. Of course today EVER car is like this with iDrive, iPods displays, dual climate control, Bluetooth, GPS navi touch screens, MP3s inputs and so on… turns out Ford was ahead of the curve.

  • avatar
    grobby22

    My wife and I were in the market for a new car in 1997. We test drove a used 1996 Ford Taurus. It was fantastic and it surprised us both. It was comfortable, quiet, and had a terrific suspension. It was the first Ford that we both had ever ridden in. The only thing that kept us from buying the car with the horrible, I mean horrible interior color that happened to match the outside color of the car. After our test drive we both felt vertigo from the color( dark green). The next week we drove to the local Mazda dealership and purchased a new 1997 Protege.

    Lets hope the 2010 does better with folkes like me.

  • avatar

    Nice review, Jack. What amazes me is how people never noticed the craftsmanship in the 1996 Taurus: it’s as if the styling was so repellant they couldn’t look or touch it. And it did spank the Camry in the touchy-feely department.

    Ingvar : The acquisition of Volvo paid up nicely in the Taurus successor, née 500. The Volvo platforms underpins almost half of Fords fleet of cars. And they got it for a song. They didn’t even have to pay cash up front, but with dividends earned by owning Volvo for some three years or so.

    And how has Volvo been doing money wise? Sure, they are stronger than the rest of the former PAG coalition, but its been a profit black hole for a while now. And that money could have been used to make a REAL successor to the Taurus, using the Taurus underpinnings. Don’t get me started on the hundreds of millions (billions?) spent on the D3 only to have it sell worse (since inception in 2005) than the already paid off Panther chassis that it was supposed to kill.

    Both failures of the Volvo Taurus and the 1996 Ovoid are cases for running with what you know, and not screwing with it. And, FWIW, the 2000+ Taurus was a decent platform with a tight chassis and plenty of space…put a real transaxle, interior, suspension in it and there’d be no discussion of Fusions, Volvos or Five Hundreds. And there’d be little money wasted on extraneous junk. Too bad about that.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    The acquisition of Volvo paid up nicely in the Taurus successor, née 500. The Volvo platforms underpins almost half of Fords fleet of cars.

    It hasn’t paid anything. The D3 platform has been a huge failure for Ford…and continues to fail.

    I believe TTAC penned the term “D3 curse”.

    All of the development costs associated with the Five Hundred, Montego, and Freestyle were never paid back with sales…the development costs with the 2008 Taurus, 2008 Sable, and 2008 Taurus X were never paid back with sales…and the HUGE development costs with the 2010 Taurus will not be paid back by sales. And that does not take into account the development costs associated with the Flex, Lincoln’s version of the Taurus, and Lincoln’s version of the Flex.

    The D3 platform has, and continues to be, a huge money pit for Ford.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I never figured out why Ford got greedy and went long and deep on the ’95 replacement.

    Anyway, here’s a great look at the inside story of the development and marketing of the ’96….pretty amazing read:

    http://www.amazon.com/Car-American-Workplace-Mary-Walton/dp/0393318613/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1255370636&sr=1-5

  • avatar
    Loser

    Ford went way overboard with the oval theme on these (rear window, HVAC/radio, etc). I thought these were the ugliest Tauruses made. I associate these with Ford’s slide into shit, along with Nasser. I don’t care much more for the 2010 either.

  • avatar
    rmwill

    Great analysis Jack. If you read the book CAR by Mary Walton she describes how Ford was fixated on beating the Camry in quality, and pushing the design langauge to an extreme. Ford thought that doing what they did for the 1986 original was good, more MUST be better. What killed them was the “more”. The design, which I still like, was too out there for the times, and the craftsmanship went too far into pricey territory. Result: As you called it. Then, Ford overreacted and decontented the vehicle to reduce cost, and then created the super bland 1999 redesign that doomed the Taurus to being a fleet queen. The book is here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Car-American-Workplace-Mary-Walton/dp/0393318613/ref=pd_sim_b_1

  • avatar
    Loser

    P71_CrownVic
    The D3 platform has, and continues to be, a huge money pit for Ford.

    How do you know this, do you have access to Fords books?

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Gee Jack, what a pleasant surprise that you’re still writing for TTAC.

    I remember the ’96 Taurus with fondness. On a vacation in Puerto Rico, we got it as a rental and it was superior to most everyman European cars I had driven up to that point, meaning Peugeots, Opels, Eurofords, VWs. What came unexpected: the textiles and plastics didn’t look good, but the cheapness was only skin deep. Obviously, Ford got it the wrong way around.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    So, the D3 platformed Fords had a botched execution? Was that down to the Volvo underpinnings, or poor marketing, poor styling, lackluster performance and CVT tranny? I haven’t heard any bad words about the Volvo parts of the origins on that platform. My only point was that they got the platforms dirt cheap, they couldn’t have done it any better or cheaper by themselves.

  • avatar
    Beta Blocker

    We had a 1988 Mercury Sable station wagon that between 1988 and 1995 met all our needs for an ever-growing family.

    Sure, it needed a transmission rebuild at 90,000 miles, and its repair record wasn’t anything stellar. But it was just what we needed, while we needed it.

    In 1995, much to my later regret, I put off buying a similar new Ford station wagon because I figured the next generation Taurus-Sable line would be an evolutionary improvement over what we had.

    It was not to be.

    While the 1988 model had a well-integrated artistic and functional design, the 1996 model was a hodge-podge of competing design elements that sent the following visual message: “We at Ford have forgotten everything we learned over the last ten years about how to design and build modern automobiles.”

    At the dealer’s lot, I took one look at the 96 model and at how truly bizarre it appeared on the surface and decided not to look any closer at it. The salesman saw the look on my face and realized I was yet another Taurus/Sable owner who wasn’t coming back for the second generation version.

    Anyway, we drove the 1988 another 80k miles beyond the 90k it had on it in 1996, until 2002 when a head gasket blew. I sold it to a mechanic, he put a new engine in it, and I still see it around town occasionally.

    In 2000, we bought a Honda Accord sedan which in the year 2009 after 170000 miles is still driving as reliably today as it was when we bought it new. We gave it to The Kid this year for his college transportation.

    In 2002, the PT Cruiser had been out two years and was doing well in reviews, and so we got one of those as well — while still not giving even the slightest thought to another Ford wagon.

    A general question: Is there any real mystery as to what the car-buying public’s true desires are for any given class of vehicle, and what reasons drive their preferences?

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    How do you know this, do you have access to Fords books?

    Nope…just common sense. Anyone with more than three brain cells working can see that all of the money Ford dumped into the platform in the last 4 years is FAR more than the sales the platform has produced.

    D3 total sales of September 2009…Includes the Five Hundred, Montego, Freestyle, Taurus, Sable, Taurus X, MKTaurus, Flex, and MKFlex:

    739,888 units…in roughly 5 years of sales. That breaks down to 12,331 units per month. Not too shabby if the platform wasn’t redesigned 7 times in those 5 years.

    Ford ain’t making squat on the D3…and I’m not even factoring in the redundant Explorer costs .

    And just to put that 739,888 number into perspective…Ford sold 515,000+ F-series in 2008.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    I too have read Mary Walton’s book Car, and I’ll add my endorsement.

    The Ford exec (I think he was “Level 15″ in their Civil Service-like structure) was named, I think, Bill Landgraff. He pushed through his personal vision of beating Camry, based on his conviction that all the mass-class sedans were at functional parity and that success could therefore be found by beating them with a style statement.

    In a way, I hated to see the story end so badly, simply because it put the lie to one of my own cherished myths that various cars would turn out better if their creators only had the courage of their convictions. But much like the Reagan and Bush II administrations, a consistent vision is a good thing only if it isn’t completely wrongheaded from the get-go.

    I’ve always been curious what the epilogue of this epic failure was for Landgraff personally. If he remained in a leadership post, it’s a damning indictment of the people above him at Ford.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    The 96 Taurus was just plain ugly. Wierd-ugly. I knew scads of people with 86-95 Tauri/Sables. The only person I knew with a 96 (at least up until it got cheapened into a rental car) was a secretry whose husband’s family owned a Ford dealer. Of all the people I knew with the old version, not one went back for the new. Never having shopped for one, I was not aware at the time of the substantial price jump.

    To me, the car was just another example of Ford losing its way after a solid run in the 80s-early 90s, and it did not recover until the Mulally era.

  • avatar
    DearS

    I was driving one of those 2-3 years ago. I hated the seating position and steering wheel. I did not like the handling or transmission. The engine was fine, but the way the power kicked in cause of the throttle sucks. The way the car moves and chances direction and how I felt inside, sucked. It was not a fun car to drive. I think the Camry was a much better car overall, even if it is also numb. The Taurus entire was not so bad, but the atmosphere in the car made me sick. It was not a car I like to drive. Again I did like the 145hp engine though.

    Never drove an SHO, but I did not like being a passenger.

    I’m glad to see I have a different opinion relative to the most people. Reminds me to come to my own conclusion and take what others say as none of my business. My business is what I feel and think when others express themselves.

  • avatar
    James2

    About the Vulcan V-6… in the right application, however –a light, empty, 1990 Aerostar cargo van which I used to drive for a firm that’s thankfully no longer in business– it can motor.

    In a Taurus wagon, however, like the one my dad had, it is a crude, moaning, gutless wonder. As for the interior quality, if the ’96 Taurus beat the Camry… I just can’t imagine how lousy the Toyota must have been.

  • avatar
    LookingAtTrees

    My friend just sold her 1996 Sable wagon for $200. It suffered an electrical failure and wasn’t worth her trying to fix it.

    The car was mediocre in every way except for the world-class Air Conditioning. That sucker would freeze you out on even the hottest days. I’ve never seen a Japanese car that even comes close.

  • avatar
    BDB

    For the person who said he never sees any of these on the road anymore, really? I see tons, still, and no I’m not living in metro Detroit or the rustbelt, either.

    They made a mistake going upmarket, and a mistake with the weird styling. They were trying to copy Chrysler’s LHS cars, IIRC, but they really failed badly.

    A member of my family had a ’97, and it was quite nice inside and a competent car despite the weird-ass styling. These, along with the 1999-2004 generation, are a steal on the used car market. You can find really clean examples for a song.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    What I took from the book “Car” was that Ford didn’t know WTF it’s customers wanted nor why the original Taurus was such a hit. They seemed to think it was weird that people would like such a “radical” design, so that’s what they went for: weird instead of functional.

    Because the Contour was coming out and not a lot smaller than the original Taurus, they were compelled to offer “more car” in the Taurus.

    Same scenario as GM replacing the S Series with the ION: total disconnect on what their customer base wanted. Since they bought Saturns, to GM , they were strange. And once again:weird over function-strange origami like styling, center mount IP,disastrous CVT trans in the Quad coupe, and a weird shifting 5 speed auto in the sedans, funky electronic steering…

    Sad tale. Ford should have spent the money on improving that blasted 3.8 and junk transmission, rather than going all mystic fish mouth with the styling and making the thing less roomy, heavier and more gas hungry. Dumb dumb dumb.

    Standard domestic routine and the people working on it were delusional thinking they were creating something “special” when it was more of Detroit’s entrenched and mindless “bigger is better” follow up to all of their big hits. I guess they just can’t help themselves.

  • avatar
    50merc

    DweezilSFV: “Dumb, dumb, dumb.”

    Sums it all up. Total screwup. And to show you how arrogant Ford styling was, they actually bragged that the car had no straight lines. This obsession with style at the expense of function created a nightmare for the people who had to bend the metal and put it together.

    My copy of “Car” is on loan, but IIRC there’s an afterword in which Mary Walton mentions what happened to the principals after the ’96 Taurus and Sable came out and flopped. I also understand Ford never again gave a journalist such access to their operations.

    I was happy with the Sable I bought in ’92 and still think it a beautiful design. It is just amazing how Ford could get so many things wrong in the next generation. There was a 2001 (I think) Taurus in my employer’s stable, and it was a bad day when I had to take it somewhere. I tried pillows to make the seat tolerable but it still always left me stiff and sore after a long drive. I heard Ford decided to make Lear Siegler a sole supplier for seats. If so, someone should go to hell for that idea.

  • avatar

    Ingvar : My only point was that they got the platforms dirt cheap, they couldn’t have done it any better or cheaper by themselves.

    Sure they got them cheap, but Ford making large FWD cars for a premium market was a complete failure of branding and market understanding. Even with lowered production by 2008, it sold to fleet customers in large numbers, percentages that might make the Panther chassis blush. And loyal retail buyers tired of stale Panther cars simply bought other designs. (I’m making a fairly logical story out of the sales numbers for both the Panther and the D3 since their inception).

    Ingvar, this rant has a point: Ford’s decision to split the Taurus market into a cheap Mazda variant and an expensive Volvo one was a stupid idea that cost them big money. And their insistence to jump out of the RWD market just shows their brand ignorance.

    Upgrading the Taurus platform and Panther platform (or perhaps making a new RWD platform a la Chrysler 300) would have lowered costs, not raised them. And it would have keep their brand strong, which is something they are continually struggling with. A $45,000 Ford Taurus SHO is one thing, but a normal 2010 model can reach up to $35,000?

  • avatar
    Loser

    P71_CrownVic :
    October 12th, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    How do you know this, do you have access to Fords books?

    Nope…just common sense. Anyone with more than three brain cells working can see that all of the money Ford dumped into the platform in the last 4 years is FAR more than the sales the platform has produced.

    So how much did Ford dump into this platform?
    Common sense is having actual data before passing something off as fact.
    I agree with you that Ford does stupid shit but you seem to have an abnormally obsessive preoccupation with Ford.

  • avatar

    50merc : My copy of “Car” is on loan, but IIRC there’s an afterword in which Mary Walton mentions what happened to the principals after the ‘96 Taurus and Sable came out and flopped. I also understand Ford never again gave a journalist such access to their operations.

    David Magee was granted access to FoMoCo to make a toothless biography-ish type of book on Bill Ford in 2004.

    And if you guys think CAR is good, get Eric Taub’s book on the GEN I Taurus. The ending was fantastic, mostly because he was dead right about Ford.

  • avatar

    Loser : So how much did Ford dump into this platform?

    If I remember all the tidbits of information Ford occasionally told us about the D3 during its lifespan, it would be close to half a billion on upgrading the Chicago assembly plant specifically for this platform alone. Who knows how much it took to get the blueprints from Volvo, turn aluminum suspension bits into stamped metal, make a completely different body and interior for it, and make it all legal to sell in the US. That’s not including the money sunk on the CUVs like the Flex and its highly updated Oakville, Canada plant.

    A billion dollars could be conservative, I suspect 2 billion isn’t that hard to imagine.

  • avatar
    Demetri

    What? I’ve driven this generation of Taurus, and it’s crap compared to a Camcord of the same period. There was nothing upscale about it.

  • avatar
    spyspeed

    For years, I rented a different car every week. Mostly GM, but occasionally I’d be stuck with one of these…and spend the whole week longing for a Corsica. I can’t remember a less pleasant driving experience than this goose egg.

  • avatar
    Towncar

    On another tack–was anyone else struck by the resemblance between this car and the Oldsmobile Aurora? I saw both parked side-by-side not long after they came out and thought they could easily have been versions of the same car.

    Yet the Aurora was widely praised and the Taurus just as widely damned. Maybe it was just a class war thing–journalists and gearheads like expensive V-8′s a lot more than they do mass-market V6′s.

    I didn’t much like either one, myself.

  • avatar

    My family had a ’97 in Willow Green that I drove extensively. I thought the steering has good feel and it took the corners better than our ’88. The interior was indeed very nice. The “pod” with the audio and climate controls has a great feel to the buttons and knobs. The glove box door even had a soft touch finish.

    However, there were stupid decisions made, but the car was sent into production anyway. I’ve also read CAR, and enjoyed the book, and I remember the mention of the mesh map pockets and the flip and fold console. The designers knew the mesh map pockets were useless. Small items would fall through, and papers would get caught in the mesh. For the flip and fold center console they knew that when it was deployed it blocked the ashtray. Instead of finding better solutions to these two problems they just settled and sent the car into production. Foolish not to get all the details right from the start.

    We has the car for 6 years. In that time the transmission blew a plug, and it needed about 4 power door lock motors, but the engine always ran strong. Ours was a GL with the Vulcan V6 and they are know to be bulletproof.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    @Sajeev: I don’t really see what you are getting at.

    Before, Ford had the Euro-specced Ford Contour and the bigger Taurus. Then they bought Volvo and developed the 500-line and derivates from the D3 platform, plus a Japanese-specced Ford Fusion from the Mazda 6.

    Hadn’t Ford bought Volvo, they would’ve had to develop a new Taurus platform on their own, to the cost equivalent of the purchase price of Volvo, or even substantially higher. There was no way they could have continued on on the -96 Taurus beyond the mid 2000´s.

    They can pick and choose in their mid-lines between cars developed in Europe or Japan, as they are run on different cycles with overlap. If the timing is right, they choose the one, if it isn’t, they choose the other. On their big car lines, they didn’t have anything to choose from.

    So, I really don’t see the problem. With the Volvo, they got a flexible platform, several cars to the price of one, as is evident as the platform underpins everything from sedans to SUV:s. It would have cost tens of billions of dollars to do that on their own. Even with factory conversions and whatnots. If Volkswagen can make different models of different cars of different brands on the same factory line without interruption, so can Ford.

    And, my point is, that Ford fucked it up, didn’t so much depend on the Volvo parts, as because of poor marketing, poor styling and poor execution. That means, if wouldn’t have been any different if Ford had made all of it on their own to begin with, the outcome would have been the same. The problem isn’t engineering, but managerial and execution.

  • avatar
    FireballForever

    I owned a 1996 SHO. It looked almost exactly like the pictured model above, black with a metallic red flake. It also had 16″ wheels and the spoiler. Its 245hp Yamaha was a high revving engine. A lot of the problem with the SHO, was the lack of a manual. I can agree, and I don’t even drive a stick. I would’ve learned for that car, though. I would argue that this is what doomed it from the start, because of that, it lost its performance cachet with enthusiasts.

    It was extremely comfortable and fairly well handled with a two-stage computer controlled suspension and speed-variable power steering. It was an interstate champ, especially with its bolstered leather seats. The premium sound system rocked with JBL high mounted tweeters, and a separate amplified center-mounted subwoofer. The controls were familiar with the rest of the Taurus line, completely oval, with an automatic climate control.

    Its engine began developing serious problems, with a reported manufacturing defect that caused the camshaft sprocket to break loose and spin, which would ruin the engine at speed. This caused a lot of ill will between SHO owners and Ford, and even law suits. Yamaha engines that weren’t ruined required an aftermarket weld job on the Camshaft sprocket to help it stay in place. Unmodified, after 100k miles (and sometimes even earlier) it was usually a crapshoot as to how long the engine would last. Combined with Ford’s famous ATX issues, and you wondered how much borrowed time you were actually riding on.

    Ford must’ve seen the writing on the wall, because for 1997, the decontenting began. The passenger seat lost its automatic controls, and the JBL sound system lost its amplified sub. The rear turn-signals changed from amber to red. It was all downhill until 1999, when it was canceled.

  • avatar
    partsisparts

    I had a black 96 LX with a Duratec V6. I ran it to 247k and sold it for $800. The car gave me almost no trouble at all. I had to put CV joints in it at 210k and that’s about it.other than normal maintenence. Got a solid low 20s mpg all the time i had it. great car.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    P71_CrownVic :
    October 12th, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    How do you know this, do you have access to Fords books?

    Nope…just common sense. Anyone with more than three brain cells working can see that all of the money Ford dumped into the platform in the last 4 years is FAR more than the sales the platform has produced.

    And anyone with two brain cells working knows that if you don’t have access to the books, there’s no way of proving your statement.

    So, show me the books or chill.

    And stop flaming people.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Imagine how much better shape Ford would have been in if they’d rebooted the design in 2001 or 2002.

    They really squandered a great brand name with this car.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    Ah, the catfish as my Dad used to call it. A bold experiment no doubt, but they were fraught with issues. It didn’t take long for the suspension to get amazingly loose and noisy on these cars and the transmission used to bang horribly into gear if you slowed down (i.e. to make a turn) then got back into the throttle just to name a few. And those “pretty” headlamps were all but useless at night…the only cure was a proper set of driving lamps.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    If I remember all the tidbits of information Ford occasionally told us about the D3 during its lifespan, it would be close to half a billion on upgrading the Chicago assembly plant specifically for this platform alone. Who knows how much it took to get the blueprints from Volvo, turn aluminum suspension bits into stamped metal, make a completely different body and interior for it, and make it all legal to sell in the US. That’s not including the money sunk on the CUVs like the Flex and its highly updated Oakville, Canada plant.

    A billion dollars could be conservative, I suspect 2 billion isn’t that hard to imagine.

    See…common sense.

    And stop flaming people.

    I didn’t flame a single person…

  • avatar
    rockit

    I agree with FreedMike.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I was happy with the Sable I bought in ‘92 and still think it a beautiful design.…

    I still own one of these as a third car. Handed down from my parents in 2002, it has been a good, but not great car. Logging only 120K miles in 17 years, it is “low” miles, but very high on the stop/start cycles…the kind of use that is the hardest on a car. Trans (surprise) is still original, and despite the Northeast environment, there are no holes. Vulcans are not even remotely sporting, but are legends in reliability, even if neglected. Don’t know about other parts of the country, but I see these cars all the time. Maybe that’s just due to the volumes sold, but there are still out there and they are cheap to operate.

    The Gen III cars were well made and had very good fit/finish; a significant step up from Gen II. However, that ovoid obsession was just too much. The Sable resisted a bit with the rear window being square, but inside that horrid oval radio would stick out like a sore thumb. No doubt that many people never got a chance to see the quality improvements that the car offered having been repulsed by the styling…

  • avatar
    Accords

    I have the book mentioned numerous times above…

    And its a classic case of meetings upon meetings.. manages to screw up a solid car..

    Then again…
    Taking the Ranger.. lifting it up HIGHER, adding a set of seats and selling that POS without ANY REGARD for safety of the drivers..

    Is just stupid…

    But I wont get into THAT discussion.

    As far as the current Taurus..

    Ford is doing a few things.. with it.. that I just cant stand.

    Marketing is pushing the SHOW… not the S. H. O.
    They give a shit more about competing against higher luxury cars Audis Acuras and others.. when paired with the Ecoboost..

    Then again.. who buys a Taurus S.H.O when looking at the entry level luxo segment.

    I like Taurus.. but its not enough.
    Ass is too big
    CAR is 4-600 TOO DAMN BIG!

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    “Ford’s big blunder in the late 90s was letting the Taurus wither and die while pushing maximum SUVige and pumping billions into buying Land Rover and Volvo. Short term spending with no long term goals”

    That’s some great hindsight you’ve got there. While we’re at it how on earth is buying other companies not a long term plan?

    “Car” is a great book.

  • avatar

    I totally agree that for’d mistake was “Ford’s big blunder in the late 90s was letting the Taurus wither and die while pushing maximum SUVige and pumping billions into buying Land Rover and Volvo. Short term spending with no long term goals”

    Its so funny that nowadays, big SUV’s are almost extinct. They are huge and undesireable. I used to drool for an Escalade EXT but now its the LAST thing I’d ever want. I think SUV’s jumped the Shark either with the Excursion or the Hummer.
    Now everything is a goddamnend crossover.

    As for this Taurus, it looks horrible now and it looked horrible then. I have no idea who was responsible for this at Ford but I hope they were fired and forced into retirement.

    The newest Taurus is SURE to turn heads and to get drivers buying it – easily reviving the name but, its got a lot of shortcomings.

    As large as the Taurus is, just a few inches shorter than the S-class, interior space is horrible compared to shorter cars like the 300 and the Genesis. Its tight in there and the foot well is narrow.

    The CAMRY has more interior space. The Taurus’ interior space is swallowed up by the trunk.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I had a friend in college who went through these things (the Taurus, not the ’96 in particular) the entire time I knew him. 3 bright white jellybeans in a row, none of them what I’d ever refer to as a good car. They handled like crap, the transmissions didn’t feel good at all, nevermind the reliability issues, and the front end would wash out aggresively on back roads. He even admitted that he only bought them repeatedly b/c he didn’t know what else to do, and didn’t particularly care.

    I was uneasy anytime we took an offramp at speed as a passenger, and as a driver the best I could say for it was they pulled nicely at passing speeds. I think it was a dangerously underengineered car, like most mainstream FWD sedans of the era. Nothing to celebrate here…from my perspective at least.

  • avatar
    jacksonbart

    95 was so much better than the 96

  • avatar
    s mike

    I was interviewed by Mary Walton because I has so many in-laws at Ford as I was as well. The book was accurate in the depiction of Ford Fing up the new car. The money should have bee spent on the transmission and replacing the 3.8. This would have made the car more dependable but still way behind Accord and Camry in durability. The Taurus is a prime example of people owning these things and experiencing transmission failure and head gaskets out the ass. These thing are gone from the road now because they were junk at 75k. THIS IS WHY MANY OF US WILL NEVER BUY AN AMERICAN CAR AGAIN. A 1996 Accord with 180k is worth $3k because IT STILL RUNS STRONG.

    Ford paid 7 billion for Volvo and has lost money every year on the brand. The D3 power-trains are uncompetitive and plow like an old mule. Volvo was a big mistake for Ford and they are now trying to dump it.A GIANT WASTE OF MONEY AND ANOTHER BAD INVESTMENT BY FORD.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    Ford paid 7 billion for Volvo and has lost money every year on the brand. The D3 power-trains are uncompetitive and plow like an old mule. Volvo was a big mistake for Ford and they are now trying to dump it.A GIANT WASTE OF MONEY AND ANOTHER BAD INVESTMENT BY FORD.

    More common sense…

    No matter what way you cut it…Ford lost a ton of money on the “failed many times over” D3 platform.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    When the ’96 Taurus launched I was a freshman in high school, so it wasn’t exactly on my radar. I do remember thinking they were fairly ugly cars back then, and a friend of mine’s parents had one, which they were disappointed with. When I finally got my license my first car was a used Wrangler, and in my circle of friends the other cars were a used ’89 Maxima, a late 80s Tercel, an early 90s Celica, and a Nissan Stanza. Without question the car of choice for any kind of group travel was the Maxima, it absolutely blew the others away in terms of interior space, comfort, and general coolness (the black on black with leather color scheme helped, plus the Bose stereo could really pump out the tunes from Stabbing Westward, NIN, and Judas Priest).

    Domestics for the most part didn’t register on my radar, although I did think F150s looked fairly cool when they went with the first curvy redesign, and I wondered why OJ couldn’t afford a better car than a Bronco. If I had been looking to join the car sales trade back then, working for a Ford dealership would have never crossed my mind. In fact, when started at the dealership for which I work now, I was a bit hesitant.

    Since spending some time with the products however, I can say the Fusion is 10x the car that the old Taurus was, both in terms of overall quality and competitiveness in the marketplace. The new Taurus pushes the boundaries when it comes to price a bit, but Ford got it right with the design by making it classy without being polarizing, and by building it on a stable high quality platform with a great engine and transmission. In retrospect I don’t think it was the looks that killed the original Taurus, but the horrible reliability record that turned a lot of people off. The new Taurus lives up to its price in terms of build quality and features, and if it can live up to it in reliability as well it will have a very good chance of polishing the tarnished nameplate.

    As for Fords investment in Volvo, it has paid great dividends in almost all of Ford’s products. Right now Ford has what is most likely the safest lineup of cars, trucks, SUVs and CUVs from top to bottom, and a lot of that is due to Volvo tech that has migrated in. The D3 platform isn’t a failure in quality – it is durable, lends itself to cars that are a pleasure to ride in or drive, and safe. The only real drawbacks are price and weight, but given that most people don’t care about sporty dynamics these days (and the D3 is by no means wallowing or boatlike), and that the fuel economy of D3 based cars is in line with lighter competitors for the most part, the weight issue isn’t a big one. As far as price goes, quality costs money. The cheapening and decontenting of the original Taurus hurt a lot more than it helped, so holding the line on higher prices for higher quality seems like it could be a safe bet.

  • avatar

    Ingvar : Before, Ford had the Euro-specced Ford Contour and the bigger Taurus. Then they bought Volvo and developed the 500-line and derivates from the D3 platform, plus a Japanese-specced Ford Fusion from the Mazda 6.

    While the Contour failed for good reason, that’s not an excuse to spend seven billion (if what s. mike said is true) dollars on Volvo. From what I’ve read, Ford bought the Swedish automaker to get another luxury portfolio, not to make an unprofitable replacement for a fully loaded Taurus LX and any Crown Victoria. (even if that’s one of the few pluses of the deal)

    Hadn’t Ford bought Volvo, they would’ve had to develop a new Taurus platform on their own, to the cost equivalent of the purchase price of Volvo, or even substantially higher. There was no way they could have continued on on the -96 Taurus beyond the mid 2000´s.

    The last two Taurus platforms (combined) probably cost less than half of the 7 billion required to buy Volvo. Not to mention those platforms (wrongly) founded the Lincoln Continental, so there was that added bonus too. Ford spent around a billion for the first Taurus, and the profits paid the entire bill off in about a years time.

    Ingvar, while I am pretty sure the Volvo acquisition was a money loser in any aspect, the real shitter is that Ford could do just as well if they made a platform in America, made by Americans. Yes, its a matter of national pride too…

    So, I really don’t see the problem. With the Volvo, they got a flexible platform, several cars to the price of one, as is evident as the platform underpins everything from sedans to SUV:s.

    That can be done with any platform, look at the Cadillac CTS and the last-gen SRX. That’s not unique to a Volvo platform.

    And, my point is, that Ford fucked it up, didn’t so much depend on the Volvo parts, as because of poor marketing, poor styling and poor execution.

    Agreed. But my point is, Ford could have fucked everything up far less if they didn’t piss their money away on Volvo to make it happen. Us Americans are good at screwing things up by ourselves, just look at Windows Vista. (joking)

  • avatar
    newcarscostalot

    This editorial makes we wonder if Jack Baruth has a personal stake in Ford. I would think this editorial is from Ford’s marketing Dept. except I know Mr. Baruth has written other articles on TTAC.

  • avatar
    newcarscostalot

    I just noticed this article:

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/review-2010-ford-fusion-se-6mt/

    It sounds just like the one above. Makes me wonder…

    Okay, now I understand after reading this article: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/tuesday-bloody-hyundai/

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    Ford’s D3 platform is the Chrysler K platform of the new millenium.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Nullomodo: I don’t see how “decontenting” to offer a lower price would affect “quality”. Can you explain [and not trying to be a jerk here]?

    There was still no excuse for the POS 3.8 and Junk-o Matic transmission to go on for nearly as long as they did, regardless of price.

    To me quality is a result of construction and of reliability, not features and “content”. More stuff just means more junk to go wrong down the road.Get the basics right and the rep will follow.
    Or is it still sell the flash in Detroit? [Or not sell it in the case of the fish eye Taurus]

  • avatar
    Jacob

    I honestly don’t understand why so many people despise this car so much. Esp, those who complain about the oval shaped rear view window. There are many things that stand out about this car, but I finally paid attention to the oval rear view window shape only after I heard others complain about it. I personally always liked the design of this car. It’s fairly smooth and unoffensive. I think it aged well too. A 1999 Taurus with well kept paint stands out even today.

    Comfort and driving experience are hardly anything special, but not bad either. I personally prefer driving a 99 Taurus to say a Ford Five Hundred, any SUV/CUV, or a

    Also, people who complain about the Taurs V6 engine not being good enough, probably do not realize that they’re reviewing the old Vulcan engine. The 3rd gen Taurus was offered with one of two V6 engines. One was a 150HP 3.0L pushrod V6 called Vulcan. The other was 200HP 3.0 V6 with DOHC and 4 valves per cylinder (the tranny was slightly better too). To this day, when I ask the 3rd gen Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable owners and even sales people at dealerships “so which engine your car has”, many have no clue. “What? It’s a 3.0 V6″ Certainly, the 200HP engine is not the fastest thing out there, but it certainly performs much better than a 2009 Ford/Honda/Toyota with a 4-cylinder, no matter how modern.

    I occasionally drive my 1999 Taurus from the college years. My only complaints about it are the following.

    (1) The shift from 1st to 2nd gear is kinda rough (which is a feature of all Tauruses, not a defect).

    (2) The car is a gas guzzler if you drive it strictly in a city (by that I mean, only on roads with 25-40mph speed limit and lots of stop signs). The official EPA rating is 18/25mpg. It actually gets close to 28MPG strictly on highways, but only 15-16mpg in the city.

    (3) Brakes could be better. Stopping distance is not impressive. The front rotors overheat if you try to have some fun with the car on a hilly road and the rear breaks even on my “upscale” 99 Duratec model are drums.

    (4) Engine noise. The sound isolation in the cabin could be better.

    Some nice points:

    1) Internal space is nice. I am 6 foot tall and I feel comfortable sitting on the front and rear seats.

    2) Nothing major broke until this year. Last week I found out that steering gear needs to be replaced ($800)

    3) The engine is more than adequate.

    4) Design (yes, I like it)..


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