First Look: 2013 Ford Taurus

For those of us who’ve been around long enough to witness the entire history of the Ford Taurus brand, from its seminal mid-1980s debut as a modern American design icon; to its mid-1990s battle for sales supremacy with the likes of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry; to its millennial malaise as its maker kicked it to the curb in favor of SUVs; to its recent renaissance at the hands of Ford’s make-it-happen CEO, Alan Mulally, the 2011 New York Auto Show is a bit of a mind-blowing experience. Ford brought in dozens of members of the nation’s automotive media corps and staged two consecutive nights of events at a huge venue in Chelsea, including a live performance of the rock group Train to showcase its alliance with Sony, all in the name of promoting the Taurus, a car that until recently was synonymous with “rental car” in the minds of many, many Americans.

Yes, indeed, Ford is serious about the Taurus. The current car was introduced only in August 2009, and here we are less than two years later, and Ford’s entire New York Auto Show message is about the 2013 Taurus which is still an entire year away from showrooms, set to go on sale in spring 2012. The exteriors of both the base Taurus and the high-performance SHO models have been mildly redesigned, and the tweaked interiors will be offered with Ford’s MyTouch touch-screen interface, but the most significant changes are on the powertrain and performance fronts. Both front- and all-wheel drive will continue to be offered.

• The Taurus will be newly available with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost (turbocharged) engine making 237 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque and delivering “at least 31 mpg on the highway,” promises Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice-president for product development. It will, like all Taurus engines, be mated with a six-speed automatic transmission.

• The current standard 3.5-liter V-6 engine adds variable valve timing and gets a power boost of 27 hp, to a total of 290 hp, yet should provide better fuel economy than the current figures of 18/28 mpg city/highway.

• Active grille shutters, first seen on the new Focus, open and close automatically to either bring air into the engine compartment or to make the front end of the car more aerodynamic, thus improving fuel economy.

• All Taurus models have improved braking, with a larger brake master cylinder.

• Torque-vectoring control, which uses a slight amount of braking force on the outside front wheel when accelerating through a corner to aid handling, is standard.

• Curve control, a braking control aimed at slowing the vehicle if it senses that a driver inadvertently enters a curve too quickly, will be available. It debuted on the new Explorer.

• Exterior styling changes include a wider grille and front fascia opening; a new hood, new headlamps, taller rear fenders, a new decklid, and LED taillamps. A rear decklid spoiler will be optional on SEL and Limited models and standard on the SHO.

• The SHO will be distinguished from other Taurus models by a black mesh grille, black sideview mirrors, SHO badges behind the front wheels, and new 19″ or 20″ wheels.

Of special interest, the all-wheel-drive SHO gets its own portfolio of improvements, including tweaks to its electric power steering and, most welcome, its brakes. The front brakes see a 19% increase in thermal mass capability and a 67% increase in the swept area. The rear brake discs are now vented and themselves offer a 53% increase in thermal mass, which effectively measures the rate at which the brakes can cool. “These changes give us huge improvements in fade resistance,” says Taurus chief engineer Bill Gubing, “and also stopping distances.”

The SHO powertrain, a 365-hp twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 and six-speed automatic, carries over, but the paddle shifting apparatus is different: “We re-engineered the way they shift,” explains Gubing. “Each paddle [left and right] used to have the ability to go up and down. We got a lot of feedback from our customers that they really wanted one paddle dedicated to down and one paddle dedicated to up. So it’s now more like a race car-inspired shifting pattern. The right paddle is for upshifts, and the left paddle is for downshifts.”

We don’t usually think of race cars when we think of the Ford Taurus, but that could change with the 2013 SHO, which is going to be offered with a new performance package that is, Ford says, “engineered to deliver greater handling responsiveness, power and durability under more sporting driving conditions.” It includes:

• Package-specific sport-tuned suspension with unique dampers and springs
• Performance brake pads and unique track-tuned calipers
• Recalibrated electric power steering
• Electronic Stability Control track mode with true off
• 3.16 to 1 final-drive ratio for enhanced off-the-line acceleration
• Enhanced extreme-duty cooling system
• 20-inch machined and painted wheels
• 245/YR20 performance summer-compound tires

We can’t wait to get behind the wheel of 2013 Taurus SHO with the performance package, which sounds like it will finally deliver on the promise of the SHO, which currently has a great powertrain but is hobbled by weak brakes.

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