Training Wheels

Andrew Dederer
by Andrew Dederer
training wheels

For the second time in less than two years, I’ve been relegated to rental car Hell. My normal ride is busy recovering from a second rear-end encounter initiated by a young driver in iffy conditions. Previously on “This Is Not Your Beautiful Car,” I sampled one of the last of the great V8 Interceptors– I mean, the Pontiac Bonneville. It was so large– on the outside– that I was constantly checking the rear-view mirror for Tomcats auguring-in for a landing. On the inside, it was plush and chock-full of gadgets. But it was also more cramped than an Olympic swimmer after a seven course meal. This time ‘round I got sentenced to an 05’ Taurus.

While the Ford is definitely roomier inside than the plastic Pontiac, the Taurus lacks what anyone would call “style.” In fact, to complete the generic motif, it really needs the word “CAR” in black block lettering adorning its hood, roof and doors. Driving-wise, the Ford Taurus is about as close to a Porsche Boxster as a block of cement. The Taurus’ interior is cheap-looking, if hard-wearing (which may or may not be a good thing). But hey, this baby’s got a stereo, cruise-control, power windows and map lights. So, unlike Christina Aguilera, it’s not a complete stripper. And it’s got me thinking: the Taurus would make a great “first car.”

When I was growing up, “kids’ cars” were usually pre-abused sedans from the late ‘60s’ or anytime in the ‘70s’. These battle-weary Yank tanks or plus-sized rice burners were considered a pro-active solution to teenage driving. The reasoning was simple: put as much iron as possible between junior or little missy and whatever solid objects they might strike in some late-braking encounter. While these sofas-on-wheels were less nimble than k-fed after his tenth Long Slow Comfortable Screw Against the Wall, they’d shake off a lot of minor scrapes– especially if they were from the duck-billed 5mph bumper era. They were also dirt cheap to fix.

Of course, there were a few kids whose parents bought them something sexy and brand-new– and a replacement after they’d bent it. And others were forced by financial circumstances to share the family car. The practice was understandable but deeply unnatural; it implied that your money was going toward other things, like college.

Kids who received ratty wheels did what they could to be cool. They tinted the windows and blared the soundtrack from “Shaft” or other proto-hip-hop tunes. Thankfully, there wasn’t much anyone could do about these beaters’ underwhelming performance, save slapping on some serious rubber, and no one thought about tires until they were as bald as Kojak. Any performance-oriented body mod got the derision it deserved.

While it’s an ancient bit of iron (practically unchanged for 10 years), the Taurus is a decent car for post-permit progeny. ASs it's only slightly faster than a power walker, Ye Olde Understeer would never get a rookie driver in trouble. While the Taurus' handling isn’t particularly sharp (as in a butter knife), the car pretty much goes where you aim it. There’s just about enough acceleration to merge into traffic. It’s wide and low enough that rollovers are less likely than a rigged lottery draw. And if something did happen, the Taurus four-star crash protection would see you right.

On the economy front, Taurus mileage is a precocious twenty-something. The jelly mold Ford has never been known for reliability, but parts are cheap. Your kids should be able to keep one in gas, brakes, etc. on burger-flipping money. Forget about depreciation; chances are the Taurus will die in service. You can get a decent 50-60k unit with a few useful toys for less than five figures. Perfectly drivable examples of this rental mainstay cost as little as $3k to $4k. Prozac excepted, peace of mind doesn’t come any cheaper.

The main demerit: the Taurus’ commodious back seat. While I’m not concerned about prurient issues (lust will find a way), the Taurus can haul up to six people. It’s been scientifically proven that a teenager’s stupidity increases in direct proportion to the number of peers in close physical proximity. The sheer inattention and bravado of six teens with one brain between them is too staggering to contemplate. (Some states ban new drivers from carrying cohorts.) At least they won’t be drag-racing; the engine has nowhere near the power to haul 900 pounds of hormones at a non-humiliating speed.

Ending on a positive note, the Taurus is dull and ugly. Ford’s sedan teaches your child that if they don’t study hard and get into a good school, they can look forward to driving this sort of car for the rest of their life. Nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of a life full of rental hacks.

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  • Kjc117 Kjc117 on Dec 14, 2006

    All our company cars are Tauruses. I say the worst part of these cars is the overboosted American style power steering. I can actually steer with one finger. Plus, painful seats, worped rotors (all our cars have them), shakes above 80 mph, sloppy handling. However, they are quite roomy for their size. Plus athough the plastics are low quality the dash does not "snap and crackle" when going over bumps. Can someone from Ford explain the two foot deep dashboard? What is the purpose of this design? After driving these for sometime I don't understand why anyone would actually buy a Taurus. You should hear some of the comments our Japanese clients have for these cars.

  • Showbizkid Showbizkid on Dec 17, 2006

    I have had many experiences with Taurii over the years, but nothing beats the time in Colorado when Hertz gave me one equipped with an LNG-fired engine. Talk about gutless... Zero to 60 was measured with a calendar. When my son (now 11) begins driving in 6 years, he will have a 1963 Studebaker Lark. I kid you not. Small enough to maneuver in traffic, cheap to keep, fast enough to get out of the way of a semi but slow off the line thanks to an automatic with 2nd-gear start. Enough encapsulating metal to shield him from harm, but operational requirements that demand complete attention at all times. Sometime the old ways are still the best.