First Drive: 2010 Ford Taurus

Once a family favorite, the American full-size four-door sedan napped while the storm of imports, crossovers, and SUVs blew in. To revive its Taurus for life in the twenty-first century, Ford has endowed the 2010 edition with fresh thinking, modern engineering, and a wealth of contemporary content. Welcome aboard the recommissioned flagship of the Ford fleet.

Before we set sail, a quick recap of Taurus history might be helpful. With its debut in 1986, this nameplate brought aero design to the masses. The Taurus topped the car sales charts for five years starting in 1992, but the egg-shaped design that arrived for 1996 was less palatable. By the end of its second decade, Ford's bull had lost its snort and was consigned to rental fleets. Following a brief hiatus, the nameplate resurfaced on face-lifted Five Hundred sedans and Freestyle crossovers for the 2008 model year. Finally getting its act together, Ford has buried the Taurus X (née Freestyle) and most of the baggage from the misbegotten Five Hundred era to launch the 2010 Taurus, which hits the streets late this summer, followed by a twin-turbo Taurus SHO.

Lowering the roof, raising the beltline, and loading the wheel wells with a selection of seventeen-, eighteen-, and nineteen-inch wheels has swept most of the fuddy-duddy from the exterior. Inside, the dash and center console are integrated in a grand sweep that designers love to flaunt on show cars and engineers habitually veto before production. But the real proof that Ford is onto something is that the new Taurus drives nothing like a living room on wheels.

The damping is firm and fully packed. The tires don't howl in bends, and the body maintains an even keel during quick maneuvers. Actual road information is transmitted to your hands via the steering wheel, and the power assist is calibrated to share the work of guiding the car down the road. There's a teenager's enthusiasm in this Taurus's step.

Instead of focusing on old folks' smooth-ride preferences, Ford engineers shifted their thoughts in the BMW direction. Although the basic underpinnings are a throwback to the Volvo S80, improvements developed for the Lincoln MKS and a new rear suspension help avoid compromising either ride or handling. Rubber isolating the rear subframe takes the sting out of potholes without sacrificing composure, as does locating the rear dampers closer to the wheels.

All three trim levels (SE, SEL, Limited) share the same basic 3.5-liter V-6, six-speed automatic, and front-wheel-drive system. The top two editions have a paddleshifted automatic capable of holding gears to the 6700-rpm fuel cutoff as standard equipment and on-demand all-wheel drive as an $1850 option. The goodie list includes radar cruise control, a blind-spot warning system, Sync, voice-controlled navigation, and massaging front seats. Protective parents can program an optional MyKey to sound chimes when 45 mph is exceeded, to restrict radio volume and top speed, and to alert text-messaging teens with early low-fuel warnings.

Our hats are off to Ford for reinventing an American classic without a penny of taxpayer assistance.

The Specs:

ON SALE: AugustPRICE: $25,995/$31,995 (SE/Limited)ENGINE: 3.5-liter V-6, 263 hp, 249 lb-ftDRIVE: Front- or 4-wheel

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