2008 Ford Taurus Limited AWD Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2008 Ford Taurus

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

With apologies to `60s folksinger Donavan Leitch, first there is a Taurus, then it's gone, and then it's back again. After a short hiatus, when it was apparently replaced by the Five Hundred, the Ford Taurus is back. And it's back bigger and better than ever.

But there is a catch. You may notice that there is no 2008 Five Hundred. For whatever reasons, that name was retired, and the Taurus badge re-introduced. But since the Five Hundred was originally going to be the next-generation Taurus, Ford has, somewhat confusingly, ended the confusion.

And the 2008 Taurus is far more than a restyled Five Hundred. Ford claims over 500 (hmm...) improvements, and the external styling is the least important of those. Structural changes for enhanced crash protection, more standard safety features, a new optional all-wheel drive system, and a new powertrain are the highlights in the upgrades department.

The second most notable change, other than the Fusion/Edge-derived styling, is under the hood. The venerable 3.0-liter Duratec V6 has been replaced by the 3.5-liter version also found in the Edge, and that's very good news. 203 horsepower (by the more liberal old rating method) has been replaced by 263. The transmission has been upgraded to a six-speed automatic, for further improved performance with no major loss of fuel economy, even with more power and displacement. As with the Five Hundred, front-wheel drive is the standard configuration, with all-wheel drive optional.

Two trim levels are offered, SEL and Limited. As expected, the Limited has a higher standard appointment level than the SEL with standard leather seating surfaces and fancier interior trim, more power adjustability for the front seats, and many items optional in the SEL standard. But both offer large vehicle room, with passenger accommodation as good as in some large SUVs, and much better fuel economy and handling. Access is easier, as a car sits much lower than an SUV or even crossover, and a huge trunk and standard 60/40 rear seat and fold-flat front front passenger seat give plenty of cargo space and the ability to carry long items inside. Like the Taurus idea but still need a wagon/crossover configuration? Check out the Taurus X, ex-Freestyle.

I've just finished a week with a Taurus Limited AWD in press fleet trim, meaning pretty much every possible option. As such, it's a good example of an American near-luxury car. But don't think that means your grandfather's LTD or your great uncle's Crown Victoria. It's totally contemporary, with better ride and handling qualities than those old warhorses, and with standard SYNC connectivity, a high-quality sound system with MP3 CD and auxiliary player capabilities, and available navigation and rear-seat DVD entertainment systems it offers information and entertainment for today's customers.

APPEARANCE: It's amazing what a little sheetmetal work can do for a car. The cosmetic surgery involved in the transformation of Five Hundred to Taurus involves a new grille, headlights, hood, and front fenders, plus revised taillights. It gives the car much more presence on the road. The newest Ford look, as originated on the smaller Fusion sedan and then developed on the Edge crossover, is further developed on the Taurus. The new corporate grille, with three massive horizontal bars, is flanked by rectangular wraparound headlights, and twin incisions in the hood stop any possible visual monotony caused by its large expanse. Chrome-trimmed faux vents do the same on the front fenders, ahead of the doors. Chrome also brightens the door handles, outside rearview mirrors, and side window trim, for a luxury look. While the Taurus's taillights are the same shape as those found on the Five Hundred, they are white over red bulbs instead of old-style red over clear bulbs.

COMFORT: Hit the Taurus Limited's remote entry fob at night, and perimeter lighting including puddle lamps in the outside rearview mirrors makes entrance pleasant and safer. Ditto for exit after removing the key. Inside, it's contemporary upscale Ford, pleasantly styled and with all of the contemporary conveniences standard or available. At the Limited level, that means perforated leather seating surfaces, heated power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, SYNC Bluetooth phone and digital music player control, an upgraded two-layer console box with the MP3 player jack, power point, and USB port, the AM/FM/6 CD in-dash (MP3 compatible)/external player "Audiophile" sound system, and more. Both models have woodgrain trim on the dash, center stack, and console, a leather-rimmed steering tilt-adjustable wheel with cruise and auxiliary audio controls, a storage box in the top center of the instrument panel, and electrochromic auto-dimming mirrors. The front seats in my Limited were wide and flat, with little bolstering, but it's not a sports sedan. Comfort level was better than average, and optional power pedals allow the perfect driving position. The driver's eyepoint is higher than usual for a sedan, for good visibility, and the open C-pillar allows good three-quarter vision, for better crunch avoidance in parking lots. Instruments and controls are designed and placed for function, and the optional navigation system uses a simple touch-screen interface. The rear seat offers at least business class space, and is wide enough that the center position is a reasonable place to sit, at least for a while. With its 60/40 split folding rear seat, fold-flat (forward) front passenger seat, and cavernous trunk, the Taurus has much of the versatility of a crossover.

SAFETY: The 2008 Taurus is built on the same platform as the Five Hundred, which is based on the first-generation Volvo S80. So safety is expected, and delivered. The new Taurus scored a five-star rating in NHTSA frontal and side-impact tests, and four stars for rollover protection. It's rated Top Safety Pick by the IIHS. Standard safety equipment includes dual stage front airbags, seat-mounted front airbags, Safety Canopy(tm) full-length side curtain airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and traction control. The AdvanceTrac¨ stability control system is available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: On the road, the new Taurus is polite and quiet. Improved sound-deadening materials and structural revisions see to that. Small details like climate control fan design also contribute. The Macpherson strut front, multilink rear suspension is the same basic design as that of the Five Hundred, but details make a difference. The engine is now mounted directly to the body with hydraulic mounts, not to a subframe, and springs and shocks are new, tuned for compliance without excessive bounciness. The all-wheel drive system is designed for all-weather traction.

PERFORMANCE: The 3.5-liter Duratec V6 is just what this car needed. The Five Hundred was marginally underpowered, with the 3.0-liter, 203-horsepower V6. The new engine, like its forebear an aluminum alloy design with dual overhead cams, 24 valves, and continuously-variable cam phasing on the intake cams, is considerably more powerful, with 263 horses (at 6250 rpm) and 249 lb-ft of torque - versus 207 - (at 4500 rpm). Curb weight has only increased by around 100 pounds, so performance is considerably improved, to the tune of about two seconds less for 0-60. All the better for the cut and thrust of traffic. The transmission is a six-speed automatic. There is no manual mode, which should bother the target buyer not at all. "D" works just fine, thank you.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2008 Ford Taurus combines style, space, and comfort with a remarkable degree of versatility.

SPECIFICATIONS
2008 Ford Taurus Limited AWD

Base Price			$ 29,080
Price As Tested			$ 33,985
Engine Type			dual overhead cam,
				 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 with
				 variable intake cam phasing
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 213  cu. in.
Horsepower			263 @ 6250 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			249 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		112.9 in. / 201.8 in.
Curb Weight			3930 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.9
Fuel Capacity			20 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P225/55 HR18 Pirelli P6 Four Seasons
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front- or all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17 / 24 / 20
0 to 60 mph				7.0  sec
Towing capacity				1250 lbs.

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Limited Convenience Package - includes:
  adjustable pedals w/memory, universal garage door
  opener, reverse sensing system, cargo net		$   475

Family DVD Entertainment System				$   995

DVD Navigation System					$ 1,995

Sirius Satellite Radio					$   195
AdvanceTrac¨ stability control system			$   495
Destination charge					$   750

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