The era of the family car is over, they say, and the time of the Ford Taurus as a family car is done. Figuring that families, the dad, mom and 2.5 kids have moved irretrievably to minivans, then SUVs and now to crossovers and Fusion-sized automobiles, Ford will no longer try to make the Taurus something for which a market no longer exists. The old Taurus, we’re told, was about “we.” The new 2010 Taurus is about “me.” The Taurus is dead. Long live the Taurus.
The Taurus has been dead before, of course. The original car to bear the name was a game changer for American sedans, and its rounded contours were so imitated that “jellybean cars” became a slur about the sameness of American cars. It didn’t help that Ford neglected the franchise with the success of the Explorer, another game changer as the originator of the modern SUV. The Taurus languished in the dismal swamps of fleet sales.
Ford attempted to bring back what it had lost. But with the Taurus name thought irredeemably tainted, Ford called its new generation the Ford Five Hundred, a reach back into its heritage. It was a reach too far, as most of those who can remember the Sixties don’t remember the Ford Galaxie 500. With Five Hundred apparently a dud, Ford immediately said, hey, perhaps Taurus wasn’t so bad after all.
So now Ford, with the all-new 2010 Ford Taurus, is repositioning the four-door sedan as the brand’s flagship rather than workaday workhorse, and a personal car for someone who has friends or family who might occasionally want to ride along. The new Taurus is to be what carmakers call “aspirational,” a goal or destination rather than a waystop or, worse, a transportation settle-for.
A recent first-drive in a top-of-the-line Taurus Limited AWD gave an initial impression that the Taurus, at least that top of the line model that we drove, is certainly something to which one could aspire: The 2010 Taurus with Ford’s 3.5-liter Duratec V-6, rated at 263 horsepower and 249 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard with optional all-wheel drive.
Ford offers two new six-speed automatic transmissions in the Taurus, the SEL and Limited getting SelectShiftAutomatic, Ford’s term for paddle shifting. The transmission also matches revs on downshifts and holds gears until the driver wants them to change, not some microchip somewhere. The Limited has a higher numerically final drive ratio than the SEL, and the all-wheel drive’s radio is higher yet for improved acceleration and sportier feel.
Our test Limited AWD was surprisingly quick for the size and weight that comes with a full-size sedan, though not hang-on-for-your-life so. The paddle shifters on the steering wheel frustrated us during our test drive because we couldn’t remember whether pushing was an upshift or was it pulling. For the record, it’s pull up for upshifts, push down for downshifts. Just like Porsche, said the Ford rep. While we would have liked some sort of marking on the paddles as to which is which, no doubt after a day or two the average owner would remember.
We were also pleasantly surprised by the handling. Ford calls the new suspension SR1 and along with the MacPherson strut front suspension, the multilink rear setup has “one-to-one” rear shock absorber ratio—the shock absorber moves as much as the wheel—which gives, says Ford, a “superior balance between cornering and handling while providing a stable baseline for fine tuning.” The redesigned rear suspension also makes room for 19-inch and 20-inch wheels, sufficiently in fashion that no “me” car can do without the option.
Our test 2010 Ford Taurus Limited tackled North Carolina’s Appalachian byways with sincere confidence, or maybe that was us realizing that the this full-size Ford wasn’t going to embarrass us, even if it isn’t a racer and was never intended to be. It was easy to place the car—and that’s important for a fill-the-lane full-size car—and suspension travel didn’t feed in any of its own ideas where the car might go. Again, ditto. Appropriately enough, we think. A flagship needn’t handle like a barge.
A flagship should also have attention to detail. One Ford engineer relayed to us that the car wasn’t eviscerated by cost accountants. Typically, items such as improved air seals around the door windows—which he described in lovingly parental terms—were easily approved, as long as it improved quality. In this case it did, reducing wind noise. The interior of the Taurus was sufficiently muted that at highway speed, conversation with a backseat passenger was wholly unstrained. In fact, it was quiet enough that after turning off the radio and then the main ventilation system to find what vehicle noises there might be, we heard another wind-type noise we couldn’t find—but which we finally determined to be the gentle whoosh of the ventilated seats’ fans.