Conventional wisdom says if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But that's exactly what Ford did with the all-new Taurus and Mercury Sable last year, a family of sedans and wagons that are even more daringly styled than the 1986 original. Some said the new car was too radical to maintain Ford's mid-size leadership. Wrong. Though it started slowly, the Taurus emerged as the '96 sales champ, once again beating Honda's Accord.
Ford design chief Jack Telnack says he was looking for tension and tautness in the styling to express the energy beneath the surface. He also wanted a one-piece overall silhouette--a seamless quality with everything integrated. We're not quite sure about the design expressing the sub-dural energy, but we do know we like the look. The overall shape is ovoid, a theme that's repeated inside. The hood flows into the windshield and the rear window flows into the deck, lending the seamless look Telnack wanted. The nose is low, and the small grille opening is a striking feature. The wheels have been pushed out to the corners, giving the car a stable and cohesive appearance.
Rounded corners and softened shapes make the Taurus look smaller than the original, but in fact the new car is 5.4 inches longer and two inches wider. Ford originally offered the new Taurus in two versions--GL and LX--but quickly added a more price competitive G version. (The wagon is offered in GL and LX versions only.) And in late '96, a high-performance SHO version rejoined the lineup.
There are two engines available--three, if you count the SHO's V8. The base engine is a 3.0-liter overhead valve V6 rated at 145 horsepower. It goes into the G and GL. The LX gets a double-overhead-cam, 32-valve, 3.0-liter V6 that makes 200 hp. All engines are teamed with a four-speed automatic. The V8 in the SHO is rated at 235 hp, and as the acronym suggests--Super High Output--it transforms this family sedan into a fast tourer with long legs. Ford calls it an "executive express," a name that seems appropriate for its excellent midrange response, performance-tuned suspension and $26,460 base price.
It has taken Detroit a while to come to parity with the Europeans and Japanese in the suspension department, and the Taurus is a good example of getting it right. The front suspension is a MacPherson strut design with a lower control arm and stabilizer bar. Simple but effective.
The rear suspension is a bit more complicated with what Ford calls its Quadralink (four links) design. Links are basically metal rods that locate the suspension. The advantage is a more precisely positioned suspension to maximize handling and response. Along with the links are coil springs, shocks and antiroll bar.
Power steering is standard, of course, but Taurus adds speed-sensitive variable assist, which means at low speeds there is more power assist for easier turning while at higher speeds there is less assist for more road feel.
There are disc brakes in front with drum brakes at the rear. Wagons and the SHO get rear discs. We can understand ABS as an optional feature on the price-leading G, but we were surprised that it's also optional on all models but SHO. To get ABS, you have to buy one of the Popular Equipment Packages. The one we priced was $720 after discount.
Since it was all-new last year, there's little in the way of updates for 1997, with one important exception. Ford has recalibrated the computer controls for its Taurus/Sable automatic transmission to provide smoother shifting. Shift quality was a persistent criticism of first-year editions.
Another welcome change: an AM/FM radio is standard in all models.
The oval theme is picked up on the inside on the instrument panel, vents, door handle recesses and elsewhere. At first glance you may not like the large oval in the center of the dash which contains the climate and sound system controls. Give it some time. In an era when instrument panels all seem to look alike, the one in the Taurus is a refreshingly distinctive change.
It is also well organized. The buttons and switches run from lower left to upper right within the oval, but the arrangement is quite logical and it doesn't take long for a driver to make adjustments by touch alone, without taking attention away from the road. We also liked the high-quality, high-tech feel of the pushbuttons and switches.
The basic G model comes with a bench front seat for six-passenger capacity. The GL and LX are available with a front bench or front buckets.
If you go with seating for six, you will get a patented three-way flip-fold 40/20/40 console seat. Yes, seat. The center portion can be used as a seating position, with its own safety belt, or it can be flipped forward to become an armrest, or it can be folded open once more to reveal storage compartments for cups, tapes, coins and other small stuff. For organizing the small items that get scattered around in a family car, this is an exceptionally inventive piece of design work.
Manual air conditioning is standard across the board, electronic optional. Electronically-controlled sound systems are also standard, with the LX getting a cassette player and six speakers.
Typical of American manufacturers, the mix of standard and optional features on three sedans and two wagons requires the assistance of a Cray supercomputer (or a 12-year-old with a laptop) to determine what goes with what. The base Taurus is adequately equipped, the LX very well equipped. The price-leading G starts at $18,545, the GL at $19,535, the LX at $21,610.
Our LX sedan tester was fully loaded, lacking only leather and a moon roof, and topped out at $24,085. At the end of 1996, 80% of Taurus sales were GL models, which means most owners began to balk at spending more than $22,000.
Reactions to the original Taurus were that Ford had made a giant gain in ride, handling, steering feel and overall mechanical quality. Megadittos for the new Taurus. As good as the old Taurus had become, the new Taurus is a leap ahead, a leap that starts with one of the best chassis in the midsize class.
The basic Vulcan V6 provides adequate performance, but we prefer the Duratec V6, which makes for easier merging and passing. It is smooth, quiet and responsive, with good stoplight getaway.
The automatic is a very good match. Thanks to improved control programming, the shifts are clean and precise.
Thanks to the new car's improved chassis, the suspension performs as advertised, keeping the car flat in corners and sopping up bumps and bangs.
Visibility is excellent all around, with the sloping hood lending an Imax vista up front. Seat comfort is good, but we found the bench seat limited in lateral support. It doesn't take much sideloading to scoot your bottom left or right. The bucket seats are definitely more comfortable and securing.
Good has gotten better. The look is definitely controversial, and responses polar--folks either like it or they don't. But 1996 sales suggest there are a lot of "like-its" out there. The Taurus faces some strong rivals in 1997, in particular the Honda Accord and the new Toyota Camry. Both of which are very conservative--and very good--cars. Pricing and performance of the three are basically on a par. So when it gets to crunch time, the choice in many families is very likely going to hinge on that controversial shape. And you can bet that doesn't come as a surprise to Ford.
Build and price your dream Ford Taurus in just a few easy steps.
|Build & Price|
2014 Ford Taurus$23,998 | 31,025 mi
2014 Ford Taurus$24,988 | 13,399 mi
2013 FORD TAURUS$19,977 | 36,926 mi
2013 FORD TAURUS$20,998 | 34,672 mi
2013 Ford Taurus$21,986 | 31,212 mi
2013 FORD TAURUS$22,990 | 35,466 mi
2013 FORD TAURUS$23,990 | 16,580 mi
2012 Ford Taurus$15,987 | 63,949 mi
2011 Ford Taurus$12,861 | 86,008 mi
2011 Ford Taurus$13,888 | 78,030 mi
2011 FORD TAURUS$13,998 | 77,881 mi
2011 Ford Taurus$15,799 | 37,702 mi
2011 FORD TAURUS$16,987 | 61,716 mi
2011 Ford Taurus$18,987 | 57,400 mi
2011 Ford Taurus$21,763 | 28,997 mi
2010 Ford Taurus$17,997 | 58,143 mi
2010 Ford Taurus$18,790 | 74,151 mi
2010 Ford Taurus$19,900 | 28,603 mi
2010 Ford Taurus$21,963 | 27,972 mi
2009 Ford Taurus$8,000 | 118,343 mi
2008 Ford Taurus X$7,958 | 139,380 mi
2008 Ford Taurus X$12,988 | 86,849 mi
2008 Ford Taurus X$16,999 | 98,471 mi
2007 Ford Taurus$6,900 | 125,782 mi
2007 FORD TAURUS$6,999 | 94,850 mi
2006 Ford Taurus$5,988 | 147,427 mi
2005 Ford Taurus$6,900 | 93,751 mi
2004 Ford Taurus$6,888 | 88,291 mi