Ford Taurus: Oedipus Wrecks

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
ford taurus oedipus wrecks

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?

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  • Mechaman Mechaman on Feb 08, 2007

    Considering the drubbing Ford got for the 'ovoid' series of Tauri, perhaps someone said, 'back off the wild stuff'. Well, at least this new Taurus/500 has a better grille. And I still contend that if the 500 had come out of Germany, a lot of auto press would have called it's styling 'clean, uncluttered'. Yeah, you can accuse Ford of being too conservative with the 500, but I've yet to meet an owner who hated the car. At least it doesn't look like the Cthulu, er, I mean, Camry. Maybe that ex-Boeing guy is really gonna shake Ford up ...

  • Turboman Turboman on Jun 21, 2007

    I’ve had several Taurus cars, and have had generally good experiences. The first one was a 1986 Taurus MT5, that’s right, the one with the 4cyl/5peed. Nice buckets and console, no power but great mileage. Bought used in 1999 for $800, I drove it for a year and it wound up with well over 100k on it. I sold it and got my money back. Not bad. Then I bought a 1991 Wagon w60k miles with the 3.8 from the original owner. The head gaskets had already been done at 50k, and the trans seemd ok. Put 30k on it in a little over a year, the trans sometimes acted ‘funny’, but I wrecked it before it failed and it wound up in the boneyard. Then I bought a 1993 Wagon from the original owner with the 3.0 Vulcan and 120K. Cost $1800. Drove it for 2 years until 180k miles. Repair bills over that period not that bad considering how little I paid for the car. Sold it to a friend and he’s still driving it 3 years later. Then I bought a 2000 Wagon with the Duratec and leather. Nice car. Paid $5750 for that one in 2004 with 78k on it, drove it up to 190k in 3 years, sold it for about half what I paid. Repair bills not too bad on that one either. See a pattern here? Last month I bought a 2003 Wagon with the Duratec, no leather, with 84k on it for $6100. I love these late model cars for so little money. I’m gonna push this one to 200k, hopefully. I need a wagon becaus e I’m a drummer in addition to my day job in I.T. I love these cars, the 2003 seems to be the best yet - rides very nice and still tight at 86k. By the way, my wife drives a Lexus GS300, I've had several Mercedes (I now HATE those cars since they cost me so much to fix), I used to build race cars in the 60's and 70's, went thru an italian car phase with Alfas and Fiats and Lancias etc. American cars are safe and reliable for the most part, cheap to fix and can be worked on anywhere in the country. Buy'em used boys, when they're cheap...

  • ToolGuy Here is an interesting graphic, if you're into that sort of thing.
  • ToolGuy Nice website you got there (even the glitches have glitches)
  • Namesakeone Actually, per the IIHS ratings, "Acceptable" is second best, not second worst. The ratings are "Good," "Acceptable," "Marginal" and "Poor."
  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.