While not as overtly outre as the previous generation, the current Taurus remains a styling leader, sleek, fresh and contemporary, confidently leading the way to Ford's future.
But like every previous Taurus, this one grabs attention with its styling and then keeps it with its engaging combination of everyday practicality and enthusiast flair. Both of its powertrains deliver vigorous response. Its handling, while suitably smooth and comfortable, delivers a sporting crispness that will satisfy even the aspiring Formula 1 driver in the family.
The cabin is functional and attractive, with controls that are straightforward and easy to use. The materials, switchgear and interior textures have a high-quality look and feel.
While the 2001 Taurus is rich with interesting features, no list of hardware can sum up this car's greatest strength--its behavior on the road. Its Duratec V6 is as responsive as a finger snap, delivering crisp acceleration from low revs straight through to the glass-smooth full-throttle shift point. This engine not only provides good thrust, it makes an understated but nicely throaty declaration that it means business. In the tradition of the high-performance Taurus SHO, the current SEL is a genuinely satisfying car to drive.
Automatic transmissions have been improving by leaps and bounds in the past five years, and the Taurus four-speed is no exception. Its shifts are positive, authoritative, and at the same time, almost impossible to feel. The kickdown response is not quite as quick as with some of the best European automatics, but it's still very, very good.
If you ever wonder just how important modern electronics have become, the Taurus with its powerful Duratec engine can quickly demonstrate the benefits of traction control: Simply switch off the traction control, nail the throttle, and the front tires will shriek as they claw for traction. With a powerful modern front-wheel drive package like the SEL's Duratec engine, traction control works very well, reducing wheel spin to help you better control the car.
The Taurus chassis proves an uncommonly successful home for this forceful Duratec drivetrain. Its all-independent suspension provides a smooth, impact-free ride. Unusual in a family sedan, however, Taurus uses gas-pressurized shock absorbers, so that when it is pushed in the corners, it proves stable, nimble and ready for more. Cornered hard, its body roll is moderate, and the nicely tuned variable-ratio power rack-and-pinion steering delivers a steady stream of road information. And when the turning is done, this steering system provides improved on-center response, guiding you straight down the center of your course once more.
As we learned in an emergency lane-change demonstration set up in a parking lot, the brakes bring the Taurus to a smooth stop and the ABS allows you to maintain steering control during hard braking. Braking performance was much smoother than that of the Dodge Intrepid.
With its excellent chassis and Duratec power, Taurus comes very close to being a very good sports sedan for the price of a family mid-size.
Vastly improved last year, the Ford Taurus remains more than just competent: It is a genuinely exciting family sedan. It offers little to complain about, combined with many reasons to nod and smile appreciatively. The Taurus offers very good mid-market value with excellent drivetrains, good looks, plenty of creature comforts, and the added bonus of a surprising level of driving pleasure.