Once Ford’s mainstay vehicle, the Taurus was for years America’s best-selling car. Now, however, as it approaches the end of its life cycle, the Taurus’ glory days are long past. It’s being succeeded by the larger Ford Five Hundred and, beginning in fall 2005, by the somewhat smaller Ford Fusion sedan, as well. The Five Hundred is a superior car, and we expect the Fusion (based on the laudable Mazda6) will be, too. For those who still want a Taurus–primarily car-rental agencies and other fleet buyers–Ford is still making them, in just two trim levels, the base SE and more deluxe SEL. The station wagon, however, will be dropped after the ’05 model year, and Mercury’s Taurus twin, the Sable, has already ended production. In the Taurus’ final year, Ford is de-emphasizing retail sales of the car, so dealers might not have significant stocks of the car on hand.
The second-generation Taurus launched for the 1996 model year with a dramatic body style that polarized opinion from Day One. Ford took the ovoid theme to the limit, with the curvaceous, porpoise-shaped sheetmetal festooned with circles. Facing criticism, Ford squared off some curves, most noticeably with the rear window, for 2000. The still-sleek, sculpted shape makes the car appear smaller than it is. You may be surprised to learn that the interior and trunk volume edge out those of the seemingly larger Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry, with key passenger dimensions overlapping these tough competitors’. Given the controversial styling, and subsequent expensive restyle, it no coincidence that the new Ford Five Hundred’s design, clean and plain outside but rich and roomy inside, is very different from that of the Taurus. Once a radical design, the lame-duck Taurus now looks dated.
The Taurus is one of the few remaining sedans to still offer three-across front seating: two buckets and one very cramped center seat that flips forward to make a roomy center storage console. Interior space is respectable, but the sloping roofline means taller passengers need to watch their heads when entering and exiting the back seat. There isn’t a car on the market with a plainer, less-exciting interior design. The SEL has fancy wood-look trim on the steering wheel and shifter, but overall the Taurus’s interior materials are not as nice as those used in many newer competitors. The layout of the car’s controls and switches is relatively simple and straightforward. As in many midsize sedans, the rear seatback can be folded forward to allow long cargo to extend into the cabin from the trunk.
Ford touts what it calls the “Personal Safety System” in the Taurus, which consists chiefly of front seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, as well as two-stage front airbags, which deploy with varying force, depending on the need. These technologies are widely available on other cars. The Taurus has performed well in crash tests, but anyone who is seriously concerned about passenger protection will want to get the optional Safety and Security Package, which includes side airbags, anti-lock brakes, and traction control. The package is an extra-cost option on both the SE and SEL, although its components are also available piecemeal. Stability control and side-curtain airbags aren’t available on the Taurus.
While many midsize sedans offer both a four-cylinder engine and a V-6, the Taurus features only a six-cylinder engine as standard. Unfortunately, the standard Vulcan V-6 engine is an old iron-block soldier that at 153 horsepower is less powerful than most competing fours. Buyers of the top-spec SEL can opt for the more modern Duratec V-6. Although both powerplants share a 3.0-liter displacement, the Duratec’s dual-overhead-cam, four-valves-per-cylinder architecture makes 48 more horsepower and 21 more lb-ft of torque. Despite the Duratec’s greater output, it delivers the same gas mileage as the Vulcan, making it a tempting choice. Whichever way you go, you’ll be shifting a four-speed automatic transmission (many competitors offer more economical five-speeds) that sends power to the front wheels.
Behind the Wheel
The Taurus driving experience is unremarkable, but not offensive. The base engine is somewhat crude-sounding and slow, and while the Duratec V-6 is better, it still doesn’t deliver the smoothness or acceleration of the Japanese six-cylinders. The suspension setup is geared toward a traditional American sedan buyer, emphasizing a comfortable ride over responsive handling, and the Taurus’ steering is extremely light and languorous. Spirited driving should be limited to those times when you’re so late for the rental-car return you risk being charged an extra day. The front disc and rear drum brakes deliver fairly long stopping distances.
Obviously, the Taurus is not the car for the buyer interested in driving a cutting-edge machine or who wants to make an automotive style statement. A Taurus is suited for the person who uses his or her car as simply a way to get from point A to point B and is looking for a low purchase price. The car’s traditional-style ride and handling will appeal most to the comfort-oriented driver. The Taurus would also serve well the driver who specifically wants a car that doesn’t call attention to itself; get it in municipal white and it’s almost invisible. Keep in mind that with the end of its road imminent, the Taurus is likely to suffer from steep depreciation, so it’s not a good choice for someone who plans to trade for a new car in a few years. Beware that the more desirable SEL model has a worse Cost of Ownership Value rating than the SE. On the other hand, buyers looking to hold on for the long term should be encouraged by the car’s relatively good reliability record.
Low purchase price is offset by a dated design and mechanicals that trail the mainstream competition, including other Fords.
- What’s Hot Roomy interiorLow transaction costCommodious trunk What’s NotOh-so-’90s stylingTrails competitors’ refinement, powerLame duck to the better Five Hundred
Nothing of significance. With 2006 scheduled to be the Taurus’s last model year, Ford unsurprisingly sees no point in making a lot of changes now.
Side airbags and anti-lock brakes are essential safety items. The Duratec V-6 (available on the SEL only) is considerably more powerful than the base engine and an appealing upgrade. Leather seats and a moonroof are optional on both models, while an 80-watt Mach stereo and automatic climate control are optional only on the SEL.