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2008 Ford Taurus AWD Limited Road Test
Big, bold and ready to rock 'n roll
By Bill Roebuck
When Ford renamed its Five Hundred sedan as the Taurus, one of its most best-selling nameplates that was sold from 1985 to 2004, I was surprised. That's because I didn't think a simple name change would have much of an impact on consumers. I was wrong. The 2005-2007 Five Hundred sold relatively poorly. Rebadged as the new Taurus, it is doing much better.
However, it isn't just the nameplate that Ford changed in order to boost sales of its full-size four-door sedan. The grille and front and rear headlamps are significantly redesigned -- now looking bold and modern versus the old-man-car appearance of the Five Hundred.
As well, the Five Hundred wasn't an impressive car to drive when it was launched. It felt heavy and underpowered, the suspension seemed soft and the transmission was mushy.
All those characteristics are gone from its replacement, the 2008 Taurus. The beefy-looking sedan now has a new 3.5-litre V6 engine (replacing a 3.0-litre unit) and a six-speed automatic transmission, replacing the previous model's rubbery CVT (continuously variable transmission). The engine provides almost 30% more power than before, and the transmission, lifted from the new Ford Edge crossover, performs flawlessly.
To say this combination makes for a fervent Ford is an understatement. You can drive it sedately if you wish, but when you want to boot it, it responds with plenty of power. It won't burn rubber, but it is surprisingly fast for its 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) curb weight.
Even better, Ford claims the new Taurus gets almost 10% higher fuel economy than the Five hundred because of its powertrain advancements, despite not using the efficient CVT technology. The all-wheel drive Taurus we tested was rated at 12.7 L/100 km in the city and 8.3 L/100 km on the highway. While the car's trip computer reported an average mileage of 12.0 L/100 km, our measured mileage over 324 km of city and highway winter driving was 14.3 L/100 km (not so great).
By the way, there's no relationship between the 'old' Taurus and the new one. I should note that I quite liked the old Taurus -- I'd owned three wagons in a row, right from when it was first launched in Canada in 1986. All were a bit troublesome at times but nicely designed to suit the needs of a growing family and its minivan-averse drivers. (By the way, I eventually moved on to drive a couple of ubiquitous Dodge minivans, the last of which left our driveway for the final time in December 2006). I'm now in the 'crossover SUV' stage of driving life, having a very car-like Honda CR-V in the driveway -- plus a new test car most weeks.
Park the new Taurus beside any other sedan and it appears huge. It's quite tall -- the hood, roofline and trunk are higher than most any car you might compare it to.
Size matters when it comes to safety, and the Taurus delivers, says the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, which has named it a Top Safety Pick. It also achieved five-star ratings in the U.S. government's crash tests, allowing it to be rated the safest full-size car in North America.
The safety ratings are aided by standard dual-stage front air bags, seat-deployed side air bags and Ford's Safety Canopy side curtain air bags for both rows of seats. A new steering wheel design recesses the front air bag 15 mm farther away from the driver. That's good, as the steering wheel tilts but does not telescope.
Also standard is electronic stability control, which reduces engine torque and automatically applies the brakes when wheel slip is sensed. Traction control also is standard, as are four-wheel ABS disc brakes.
That old Five Hundred suspension has undergone some design work too. Upgrades include revised strut towers that help increase front suspension travel by 10%, new dampers and springs both front and rear, and a revised, retuned rear suspension. That all helps make the big Taurus downright agile -- even sprightly -- when you push it around.
To reduce vibration, the engine and transmission are now bolted using hydraulic mounts to the body (instead of to the front subframe as before).
As expected for a vehicle in the large-car segment, the Taurus is capacious. The trunk carries 600 litres of cargo (the largest trunk of any sedan in Canada, says Ford), and the rear seats split 60/40 and fold flat to extend capacity. As well, the front passenger seatback folds flat, which means items up to 2.7 metres (9 ft) long can fit inside.
The Taurus is certainly roomy inside, both front and back, and can easily transport five adults in comfort. And when you're driving by yourself or with a full complement of passengers, you can enjoy rock 'n roll or any music of your choice. A six-disc in-dash CD audio system is standard, as is Sirius satellite radio (a six-month subscription is included) and an audio jack for your iPod. Optional is a DVD Family Entertainment System with an 8-in. screen and wireless headphones. Another option is Microsoft's Sync voice-activated communications and entertainment system. With the Limited model, you also get the Audiophile Sound system with MP3-capability and a subwoofer.
There's two trim levels; the SEL front-wheel drive Taurus starts at $30,899 and the Limited is $36,699. Standard features on the SEL, over and above the usual power toys, include eight cupholders, compass, outside temperature display, automatic temperature control, 17-in. aluminum wheels and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Our tester, an AWD Limited model ($39,199), included leather seats, 18-in chromed wheels ($790), a power moonroof ($1,020), navigation system ($2,695), reverse sensing, and adjustable pedals. As tested it was $43,879 plus $1,250 delivery for a total of $45,129.
Clearly, Ford has dealt effectively with the shortcomings of the Five Hundred. As a result, there's little to criticize about the 2008 Taurus. It's a great full-size sedan. And you can rock 'n roll in it as is your preference -- using the sound system or the agile handling.
If you like a big car with big performance -- inside and out -- the 2008 Taurus is worth a careful look.
Bill Roebuck is the Editor and Senior Reviewer for CarTest! ©2007
Posted Dec. 18, 2007