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.