2003 Ford Taurus SEL Review


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SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

    The family sedan isn't going away any time soon, despite the 
popularity of SUVs. I've just finished a week with a 2003 Ford 
Taurus sedan, and it seemed that I saw myself, or at least my car, 
everywhere I went. 

    Which is not all that surprising. The Taurus has been at or near 
the top of the sales charts since its introduction nearly 20 years ago. 
It's Ford's contemporary take on the American family sedan. Or 
wagon, as it is also offered in that body style. A Taurus may not be 
the stuff of teenage performance fantasies (except, maybe, for the 
NASCAR racing version, which shares little other than the name 
with any Taurus you can buy for the street) but it fits the needs of 
many Americans.

    After some major changes three years ago, ``refinement'' has been 
the Taurus watchword. The 2003 Taurus is offered in, as mentioned, 
sedan and wagon body styles, with four trim levels. 3.0-liter V6 
engine choices are the 155-horsepower pushrod ``Vulcan'' and the 
200-horse twincam ``Duratec,'' both matched to a four-speed 
automatic transmission. The base LX and slightly fancier SE are 
augmented by the premium SEL and new, sporty-looking SES.

    My week with a fully-equipped Taurus SEL was quite pleasant. 
With a very good suspension calibration it was comfortable and 
surprisingly enjoyable to drive, with a very European ride quality. 
Interior and trunk space were never problems, and new 
soundproofing in the floor made helped keep road noise at bay. 

APPEARANCE: Back in the mid-1980s, the original Ford Taurus 
redefined automotive styling, replacing the boxy look of the late 
1970s and early `80 with more rounded forms. When the current 
Taurus was introduced back in late 1995, it made the first-
generation car seem as square as the cars it replaced, and pushed the 
envelope for rounded styling. In the view of many observers, it 
pushed a little too far, and so soon was revised with a touch of 
Ford's ``New Edge'' angles-and-planes styling. A larger grille, 
character lines cut into the hood, and a truncated rear with large 
triangular taillights gave it better definition, without losing character. 
Styling changes since 1998 have been minor, mostly to wheels and 
paint colors.

COMFORT: What makes a car easy to live with? If interior space 
and comfort top your list, the Taurus will not disappoint. It's at the 
large end of the mid-sized category, and can be had in five- or six-
passenger form. The interior was restyled at the same time as the 
exterior, with a more mainstream appearance and the addition of 
useful storage pockets. My SEL test car was in five-seat trim, with 
comfy front bucket seats separated by a functional console. The rear 
bench seat is wide enough for three people, with better-than-average 
head and leg room. It folds with at 60/40 split to handle long cargo 
items, but that should be a rare occasion as the trunk is 
commendably large, with easy access. Easily readable black-on-
white instruments are featured, and the control buttons are the 
standard large, easy-to-use Ford items. In standard trim, the Taurus 
SEL is well-equipped, with a power driver's seat, AM/FM/cassette/ 
6-CD changer stereo, an excellent climate-control system, remote 
keyless entry, and more. Options in my test car like a genuine wood 
and leather steering wheel that looked to be right out of a Lincoln, 
leather upholstery, and the premium ``Mach'' audio system brought it 
up nearly to an entry-luxury level of appointment. 

SAFETY: Every 2003 Ford Taurus comes with the ``Personal 
Safety System''(tm), which uses electronic sensors to determine 
deployment of the dual-stage front airbags in a crash. Antilock 
brakes are standard, and side airbags are available. The Taurus has 
received high ratings in both government and insurance industry 
crash tests.

ROADABILITY: Combine a rigid chassis with well-designed fully-
independent MacPherson strut front and multi-link strut rear 
suspension that is tuned correctly, with matched spring and shock 
rates, and you get a comfortable ride that smoothes out road 
irregularities and handling characteristics that are a cut above what is 
expected in an American family sedan. The Taurus has a 
contemporary European feel. Body motions from acceleration and 
braking are damped out quickly, and cornering behavior is very good 
for a middle-of-the-road family sedan. New underfloor sound 
damping material lessens road noise, for a quieter and more relaxing 
driving experience.

PERFORMANCE: With the 200-horsepower twincam 32-valve 3.0-
liter ``Duratec'' V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission, the 
Taurus SEL is optimized for American everyday life. It's out of its 
element over about 75 mph, when the engine begins to run out of 
breath, but acceleration and response in all common situations is 
very good. Welcome to the real world. In highway cruising, in city 
traffic, and at moderate speeds on secondary roads the Taurus is in 
its natural habitat.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2003 Ford Taurus combines space and comfort.

SPECIFICATIONS
2003 Ford Taurus SEL

Base Price			$ 23,835
Price As Tested		        $ 26,160
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 24-valve aluminum 
                                 alloy V6
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 180 cu. in.
Horsepower			200 @ 5650 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			200 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission			4-speed electronically-controlled 
                                 automatic
Wheelbase / Length		108.5 in. / 197.6 in.
Curb Weight			3322 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        16.6
Fuel Capacity			18.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/60 TR16 Continental Touring 
                                 Contact AS
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum,
                                 antilock no-cost option
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut / 
                                 independent multi-link strut
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 27 / 22
0 to 60 mph				8.4  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Wood steering wheel and shift knob	$ 190
Premium leather seating		        $ 945
Mach audio system			$ 345
Luxury/convenience group - includes:
  power heated outside mirrors, perimeter
  lighting, inside mirror with compass	$ 185
Destination and delivery		$ 660

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