Ford Taurus (Redux) Vs. Chevrolet Impala (Redo)

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Back in '89, the Chevrolet Lumina arrived to take on America's sweetheart: the Ford Taurus. The swoopy-shaped FoMoCo four-door kicked the Lumina's butt seven ways to Sunday. The Taurus continued to crush The Official Car of Disney World– until Dearborn's astrological automobile hit the skids, knocked off its perch by Toyota's handiwork. The Taurus slid into fleet-only sales, replaced by the lackluster Five Hundred. Meanwhile, Chevy replaced the Lumina with the Impala and walked away from the full-sized Ford. And now Ford's back with the resuscitated Ford Taurus. Gentlemen, Ford or Chevy? Place your bets!

Introducing, in the Bow Tie corner, a genuine best seller! For real!. At the turn of the last century, Chevy took the dubya-bodied Lumina, haphazardly re-skinned it and slapped the famous Impala logo on the grille. Seven years later, after a few tweaks and a cleaner profile, the Impala has become GM's best selling passenger car (fleet sales notwithstanding). Year-to-date to June, The General's sold some 144,451 Impalas.

Though it never grabbed headlines like the so fresh, so clean Chrysler 300, the wrong-wheel drive Impala quietly raked in the greenbacks for a cash-deprived General Motors. And if you (conveniently) overlook the acres of American-made Camcords, the Lumina-cum-Impala is still the best selling domestic car on the market. It's even had a bit of a bounce of late, as Chevy-loyal SUV refugees succumb to the Impala's frugal and capacious charms.

Once you jettison the "parking lots filled with refrigerator-white fleet bodies" slam to the base unit and drop the "torque steer monster" insults to the SS variant, the Chevrolet Impala emerges as one of the most popular full-size sedans. And why not? Forget the dull styling, lousy road manners and crude materials, and you'll find a comfy ride with several trim levels sporting mad value-added skills. Like, awesome.

And now, presenting, in the blue corner, the fairly competent but totally uncool Ford Five Hundred! Bred from a meticulously cost-engineered, well-aged Volvo platform, wearing the most generic lines this side of a Levittown township, sporting a boring name and cursed with an overburdened powertrain and a silly-ass transmission, the five bills Ford designed to restore luster to The Blue Oval didn't.

The Five Hundred has rarely sold over 10k units a month. Considering the startup costs of a new platform and a thoroughly modernized Chi-town facility, that's gotta hurt. Months after launch, production was lowered to meet demand. Sales in 2006 barely crested 84k, some 70 percent below the Impala's sales for the same period.

So while Ford struggles, GM's laughing all the way to the bank; their sedan from the Tone Lōc school of thought is a money-making sleeper. Yes but– the Impala ain't no beancounted wild thang. The W-body is primed to get knocked off its high horse. Cue the Rocky training sequence, as the Five Hundred pumps iron to become… the fifth generation Taurus!

The pride of FoMoCo's Chicago plant is ready with a dollop of new sheetmetal, a Volvo-bashing marketing strategy (America's safest car!), a larger and more refined Duratec six-banger and one unforgettable name. All of the Five Hundred's shortcomings are addressed (if not entirely cured) in the mildly updated, mildly appealing 2008 Ford Taurus.

Ford's bullish about the model's brand heritage, but there are plenty who hate the Taurus. Memories of exploding head gaskets and grenaded transaxles fade slowly. Some go the other way: SHO-ing the sedan some love for the design revelation that saved Ford's bacon. Odds are most Americans recognize the name and will listen to Dearborn's elevator-pitch before making up their minds.

Truth to tell, there's not much chance that the Five Hundred redux will take the market by storm. Still, The Glass House Gang deserves some credit for finally realizing that constant evolution is the way Fordward- even if the move was motivated more by financial constraints than strategic sagacity.

Anyway, how could the Taurus not improve Ford's sales disparity with the Impala? Put another way, Ford has a two out three shot of making a bigger score with the Five Hundred's replacement just by name alone. Look out Impala: the Ford vs. Chevy battle is about to begin, again.

Unfortunately, this match is not likely to be as well-attended as the epic battles of days gone by. Years of customer indifference to half-assed redesigns and the smell of fleet sales spirit (not to mention the constant action over at Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Nissan) have emptied the stands.

Both Ford and Chevrolet will have to work a lot harder to recapture the public imagination. How about a title bout between a full-fledged rear-wheel motivated Impala and a sharp-looking, smooth-riding, Mustang-based Ford Galaxie?

For now, both combatants are losers, desperately clawing for respect among those who currently start (and finish) their sedan search at their local transplant dealer. Ford vs. Chevy. Someone will win, but does anyone really care?

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Armadamaster Armadamaster on Jul 06, 2007

    "Ford would probably have better chances if they would wrap the 427 concept sheetmetal over their Panther platform, add a slightly better tuned v8 (after all, they squeezed 300 horses out of the same engine for the Marauder, so we know it can be done)" Indeed. "Ford wins on getting the point. GM wins on keeping GM buyers buying GM. They both lose because both Ford and GM are still bringing a NERF bat to a knife fight. " LOL! "Could someone make sense of this for me. Wouldn’t Rear Wheel drive make sense for both of these guys? Some designs from down under for GM. Hummm maybe this is the vehicle to introduce Holdens new mount. And Ford, you guys know how to do the RWD IRS thing pretty well. Or maybe AWD for both. " American RWD iron is one of the last niche markets the domestics still have or could have a deathgrip of like fullsize trucks. Unfortunately, for years they've chosen to build essentially imitation Japanese FWD cars which are exactly what these are perceived as. Ford is the only one who has continued to make a fullsize traditional American sedan but has allowed it to wither on the vine and now dumped it in favor of Taurus. Chrysler woke up and realized this and has been selling LX platforms like hotcakes love it or hate it since 2005. GM cashed in the 1996 Impala nameplate slapping it on a reskinned Lumina and have milked it just about dry. I'm not saying the domestics should try and compete in this market, but do it with a Malibu, and an actual MID-sized Taurus. The Panthers already have everything that Ford is desperately trying to SELL to consumers with advertising, ecomony, safety, ride, durability, but they just don't want to sell them.

  • Happyme Happyme on Jan 21, 2008

    Hmmm....what was the point of the article- buy japanese? there was no comparison between the two badges! look around..japanese quality is below what it was. i love my impala. zero defects in 40,000 miles. had a ford once - they still make a lousy transmission.

  • Wjtinfwb "If I had asked idiot traitors what they wanted, they would have said faster horses".... What they wanted, vs. what they'll actually pay for are clearly two different things. It's not hard to want the vision of EV's the Biden admin sold everyone; inexpensive, fast charging with long-range, charging on every corner, minimal impact on the environment. The government delivered none of that. They threw automakers under the bus at the last minute after many of them made huge investment in tech, plants, R&D. Then Biden and his hapless bunch just walked away, built no charging stations, no support for natural resources and doubled down by stoking the labor fires increasing automakers costs substantially. EV's are absurdly expensive for the utility they provide and time is demonstrating their resale value to be in par with a 80's GM diesel wearing a Yugo badge. Sorry, it's not the consumers job to make a fairy tale come true. Making and selling cars is extraordinarily capital intensive, the automakers aren't throwing good money after bad betting on a senile old man who has delivered on none of his promises and is rapidly making himself irrelevant in the national conversation.
  • Fred As a British Car Fan I liked them, but then I sat in one and changed my mind. I like the unique looks of the newer ones.
  • FreedMike Not much to look at, but these were sweet to drive.
  • EBFlex Ford finally making a good decision although they should shut down their EV operations and investment all together. Why lose that money too?
  • Mike Lol. This is the king of suvs. And its made by GM.Why is everyone trashing it?Top of its its class for a quarter century.