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New Car/Review

1998 Ford Taurus

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:                  3.0-liter Duratec DOHC V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:       200 hp @ 5750 rpm/200 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
TRANSMISSION:            Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:            19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, 20.3 mpg test
WHEELBASE:               108.5 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 197.5 x 73.0 x 55.1 in.
CURB WEIGHT:             3294 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:           16.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:        15.8 cu. ft.
TIRES:                   P205/65R15
INSTRUMENTS:             Speedometer, fuel level, water temperature, 
                         digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:               Power windows, power door locks, 
                         power mirrors, power seats, 
                         cruise control, air conditioner, 
                         AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, 
                         anti-lock brakes, dual front air bags.
STICKER PRICE:           $19,995 (base)

All through 1998, the honors for top-selling sedan raged between the Toyota Camry and the Ford Taurus. Honda's Accord joined the fray too late to claim top honors but still finished a respectable second to Camry, ousting Taurus from the top position for the first time in five years.

There's a reason these cars are at the top of the game; they're all practical, good-sized vehicles that make "family car" a respectable term for a change. There was a time when the term "family car" meant a beast that would have serious trouble getting out of its own way. But these three cars have all contributed to a change in that perception, and you really have to thank Taurus for initiating that change.

The first Taurus offered (what is now called) jelly-bean styling in an era of square cars. The new Taurus is far more aerodynamic--more aerodynamic than its Japanese competitors. While this sleekness tends to put off some buyers, it has helped Ford retain its popularity.

Among the design themes of the Taurus is the oval. You can see an oval shape in the profile of the car, even though there's still swoopiness. The rear window is oval and the wagon stretches the oval theme even further.

Inside, the dash is dominated by an oval "control pod" in the center that contains the sound system and HVAC controls. One would think that this shape would make it difficult for aftermarket suppliers to create sound systems that would retrofit the Taurus dash, but we have been advised that there is a ready market for retrofit Taurus sound systems.

The sound system in our tester was good enough for these old ears. We had the convenience of push-button station changing and easy setting of the buttons to quickly find the stations we listen to the most. We drove the Taurus in the winter and I liked the way the HVAC part of that pod allowed the interior of the car to heat up quickly. I've also driven Tauruses in the summer and can report that the air conditioner works as well as the heater.

Under the hood was a 3.0-liter DOHC Duratec V6 that delivered 200 horsepower and 200 ft-lbs of torque. Coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission and driving the front wheels, the engine was a dream. It tended to be slightly noisy when we asked it to work--noisier, for example, than the Camry's 3.0-liter V6--but when we were at speed and cruising along it was quieter. Acceleration was excellent, both from stop signs and traffic lights as well as from 30-60 mph in passing.

Handling is good as well for the Taurus, another deviation from the old family sedan. Here is a car that isn't afraid to be thrown into a corner and it's one that will come out the other end of the corner on the pavement and in the same lane in which you started out. The front suspension is by MacPherson struts while the rear uses an independent Quadralink setup.

One of my favorite features of the Taurus is one I saw at its introduction but haven't seen in vehicles before this one. It's the convertible front seat. If you have five passengers or less in the car, you can fold down the center section of the bench seat and convert it into a console, complete with two cupholders and a storage area. Put an extra passenger in the front seat, though, and you can fold that center section back to create a seat back for the passenger. It's the kind of conversion that shows design intelligence and the kind of practical reasoning that makes today's family cars so much better than their ancestors.