Before the Honda Accord and then the Toyota Camry took over the top of the sales charts, the Ford Taurus was the number one selling car in the United States. During the final years of its lifetime the Taurus became the darling of daily rental fleets, with the bulk of its still-prodigious sales going there rather than to retail customers like its competition. This also meant in part that residual values for Taurus were the lowest in its class. As the Taurus era came to an end, Ford decided to make a clean break and split the previous sedan/wagon lineup into three distinct vehicles with new names. Thus was born the smaller, lower-cost Fusion sedan, the larger Five Hundred sedan and the Freestyle crossover wagon. The latter two never made much impact on the market thanks in large part to bland styling and underpowered engines.
Shortly after launch it became known that the Five Hundred and Freestyle would be quickly restyled with the new three bar Ford grille and a bigger engine. Just before their debut at the Chicago Auto Show in February, new CEO Alan Mullaly made the decision to revive the Taurus nameplate for the revamped models and the Freestyle became the new Taurus X. Just a week after production launched at the Chicago assembly plant, Taurus X serial number 70, a Limited AWD model with the new 3.5L V-6 and six-speed automatic was turned over to Autoblog for a week of evaluation.
Find out what it's like to live with the Taurus X after the jump
Going from Freestyle to Taurus X involved more than than just slapping on a new grille and taillights, although that's the aspect that most passers by will immediately notice. And notice they did. People actually stopped to take a look at the big wagon in the Whole Foods parking lot and asked what it was. The new chrome face has utterly transformed the character of the Freestyle by actually giving it some. The overall angular look of the Taurus X is more like a traditional car-based wagon than an SUV, which is fitting since it's based on the previous Volvo S80 platform. The Taurus I drove had the titanium green paint without the two-tone finish that was prevalent on the earlier model to give it that faux SUV look popularized by the Subaru Outback. Two-tone is still available, but to my eye the single color is a more handsome, upscale look. The Saturn Outlook still has a more modern and stylish appearance overall, but the Taurus finally wears the face it should have had from day one.
On the inside the style is carryover, but that's fine because the design is attractive and functional. The plastic wood trim has been changed to simulate a different style of wood, but it's still plastic. If you're not going to use real tree parts, please don't bother. There's plenty of storage space throughout the interior, including deep, wide pockets in all four door panels with Ford's now customary cup holders molded in. The door cup holders will easily hold a half liter bottle of your favorite beverage. A decent sized compartment in the the dash above the center stack can hold the usual assortment of electronic toys including iPods , phones and assorted other gear. A roof mounted console has a compartment suitable for glasses or garage door openers. The front and second rows each have a center console with a deep bin that easily holds all manner of cameras, DVDs, books and other detritus. The front console has A/C vents for the second-row passengers on its back end in addition to the roof-mounted ones.
The standard seating configuration accommodates seven passengers in a two-three-two layout, although the test unit had the six-seater setup with the second row console. Getting into the back row is relatively easy thanks to the one-touch flip and fold second row seats. The raised rear roof allows for theater-style seating with the third row elevated to allow the rear passengers to see out the front. The third row seatbacks are pretty short and best suited to juveniles, although headroom was plentiful for my 5'10'' frame. The middle row seats offer plenty of room and feature both fore-aft and recline adjustments.
The front seats proved to be comfortable for a run from Ann Arbor to Muskegon to retrieve our young camper, although as with the Escape, the bottom seat cushions were a little short on thigh support. Many vehicles, including the Taurus X, offer heated front seats. In the X, the second row seats are also heated and perforated center inserts on both of the front two rows provide some ventilation on hot days.
Taurus X's interior offers a number of configuration options that allow drivers to take advantage of the middle name in CUV. The third row seats can individually flip forward, leaving a deep luggage well in the back, or flip back around into the well leaving a flat load area for larger loads. The second row and the front passenger seatbacks also flip forward, allowing for objects up to nine feet long to be carried on one side while still leaving seating for three people. Accessing the cargo area is easy with the remote power liftgate. Unlike the Outlook, the tailgate always opened and closed consistently with a double press of the button on the key.
Our Taurus X was loaded with every option except for the moonroof, including the satellite navigation system and the rear seat family entertainment system. That latter option includes a roof mounted DVD player with flip down screen and auxiliary inputs. Although the manual specifically states that the player can handle DVD-r/DVD-rw discs, the test unit failed to read any of the half dozen burned discs I tried, but played all the commercial discs without issue. In spite of the MPAA's aversion to consumers' rights, it seems to perfectly logical to take a backup copy of a DVD on road trip and leave the original at home, especially if the kids in the back are the ones actually loading the discs. The entertainment system does have auxiliary inputs that allow you to plug in a video iPod or game console and play that on the screen. Given the problems playing burned discs, the $1,000 price tag might be better spent on a portable DVD player with two screens and a couple of iPod Nanos for the kids. At least the portable player will usually play burned discs, and you can also take it on a plane when needed.
Driving the Taurus X was actually a more pleasant experience than the Saturn Outlook we tried recently. It's amazing what a difference eight hundred pounds makes in a vehicle. While the Taurus is by no means nimble at 4,200 pounds, it certainly didn't have any of the ponderous feel of the Outlook. The Taurus is similar in length but narrower and not as tall as the GM crossover and definitely has more carlike ride and handling characteristics. When equipped with the towing package, the Taurus can drag 2,000 lbs compared to 3,500 for the Outlook and has a maximum seating capacity that's one less as well.
The new 3.5L engine is a huge improvement over the old 3.0L in both the Taurus sedan and this wagon. It feels much stronger and never seems to strain itself. Dipping into the throttle brings effortless acceleration and pulling out to pass triggers smooth quick downshifts from the new six-speed which has replaced the discontinued CVT. That transmission was a joint effort between Ford and GM and also finds a home in GM's Lambda crossovers. Unlike the GM application Ford doesn't offer a manual shift mode, but frankly it isn't needed in a vehicle like this anyway. The steering effort is nicely weighted but pretty devoid of feedback. Accelerating through freeway on-ramps demonstrated mild but sustained understeer but merging with traffic wasn't a problem.
The suspension does a good job of keeping Michigan roads at bay without feeling mushy, a trait which unfortunately doesn't apply to the brake pedal most of the time. Under normal braking, the Taurus stoppers provide good deceleration but the pedal has a spongy feel. Stepping on it when sitting at a red light usually provides a sinking feeling. There were at least two exceptions to this during the evaluation when hitting the brakes resulted in a hard pedal, which was quite disconcerting. Some lane changes on gravel roads showed smooth, seamless operation from the stability control system. Unlike the Toyota Tundra, the Taurus system doesn't jerk the wheel around in your hands or make any unnecessary racket, it just feels like a big hand guiding the vehicle where you wanted it to go.
A lot of Ford's engineering efforts on the Taurus and Taurus X for 2008 went into NVH improvements, with a great deal of detail tweaking throughout. The top surfaces of the outside mirrors were sculpted to reduce aerodynamic drag and wind noise, and the change worked. On the road, the Taurus X was nicely hushed -- not quite Lexus-quiet but much better than the Freestyle. Wind noise was almost nonexistent and the sounds that did come through from the engine compartment were muted and never felt strained. A day-long round-trip across Michigan proved to be an effortless run with plenty of room for four to stretch out and no one feeling cramped or particularly cranky at the end.
A week of mixed urban and freeway driving yielded fuel economy of 18.7mpg and the long freeway trip brought that overall average up to 19.3. The Taurus X makes a fine family hauler for those with an aversion to minivans who don't need to do any serious towing. If you need capacity for eight bodies or a heftier towing capacity you'll need to look elsewhere such the Expedition or the various GM choices. With the options on the test vehicle the bottom line price comes in at $37,682 ,although the base SEL front wheel drive model starts at $26,615.
All Photos ©2007 Sam Abuelsamid/ Weblogs, Inc.