In the Autoblog Garage: 2008 Ford Taurus Limited AWD

click above image to view complete high-res gallery of the 2008 Ford Taurus

Ford knew what it was doing handing me the keys to a 2008 Ford Taurus Limited AWD. I'm a self-professed Taurus fan, counting the 1991 Ford Taurus SHO Plus as one of my favorite cars of all time. I consider the Taurus one of the most influential cars in the history of the American auto industry. I even read a book about it called "Car: A Drama of the American Workplace" by Mary Walton. That makes me, like, an expert on the subject. Unfortunately, by the time production of the Taurus ended in late October of 2006, it had come to represent Ford's over-reliance on fleet sales rather than its cutting edge innovation.

When a CEO from Kansas named Alan Mulally took over as CEO of Ford last September, one of his first actions in office was to announce that the Taurus name would return in 2008, replacing the forgettable Five-Hundred and Freestyle badges affixed to Ford's large sedan and wagon. So here we are, reviewing the 2008 Ford Taurus, and along with a new name, it's got an updated design and more powerful engine. Does the new Taurus do the old one any justice? More importantly, is it a better car than the Five-Hundred it replaces? All those questions and more will be answered after the jump.

Live Photos Copyright ©2007 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

Whereas the design of the 1986 Ford Taurus was refreshing, and the 1997 Ford Taurus derided, the Ford Five-Hundred's design was ultimately anonymous and even derivative. The 2008 Ford Taurus, meanwhile, makes no effort to connect with Tauri of the past, but rather toes the current corporate line by adopting the brand's ubiquitous three-bar chrome grille. Both the grille and the Taurus name are meant to give Ford's big sedan some instant recognition, and they do their job.

However, the 2008 Ford Taurus is really just a mid-cycle enhancement of the Five-Hundred. The car is nowhere near all-new, but the design has been tweaked extensively to get it noticed more. Along with the new grille, the front end gets new headlights that are more expressive, though we still wish Ford had used the better headlights from the Taurus X on the sedan, as well. The hood is also new with a pair of stylized indents that we find entirely superfluous. Another design element for the Superfluous Files are the fender vents. While not as atrocious as those on the 2008 Focus, they're purpose on the Taurus is to merely up the car's chrome quotient.

The arched roof profile of the Five-Hundred remains, as nothing we could see has been changed between the A- and C-pillar. That is, except for those side view mirrors, which now feature four raised streaks on top that aren't just for looks. They supposedly reduce turbulence created by air blowing over and under the mirrors, which not only decreases wind noise but also improves aerodynamics.

Out back the Taurus receives a new taillamp design to differentiate the car's derriere from the Five-Hundred's. Whereas last year's rear lamps were mostly red with just the backup light gleaming white, the new ones are almost Altezza-like with a clear cover that's interrupted only by the red turn signals. As with many of the Taurus' tweaks (the hood indents, the fender vents, etc.) the new taillights come of as being different for the sake of being different. There was likely no budget for actually redesigning the car's rear end, so designers did what they could and ordered up a new taillight assembly that doesn't so much make the back more interesting as it just makes it different.

One thing that remains the same is this car's size, which can't be fully appreciated in pictures. At 62.3 inches, the Taurus is tall enough to ride the big roller coasters and almost as long as one with 16 feet and 10 inches between each bumper. The 18-inch rollers on our Limited AWD model do much to make the car look in proportion, but the gap between the tires and the body makes the car look off-road ready. As such, the Taurus rides very high off the ground, so much so that its roof is almost level with some midsize CUVs. In fact, the seats themselves are closer in feel to those found in larger vehicles. They're chairs more than seats, and the bottom cushion is so far from the ground that entering the vehicle is a matter of opening the door and sliding your butt to the right. Ford calls it Command Seating, and we dig it.

With butt in place, the driver encounters the best of what Ford's parts bin has to offer. We've seen most of this switchgear in other vehicles like the Fusion and Edge and therefore felt immediately acclimated with the Taurus' controls. The flip side is that there's nothing interesting about the design of this car's interior. Our Limited model was equipped with faux wood trim that warmed up the dash amongst acres of dark plastic, as well as an analog clock with a light-colored face that almost matches the light-faced gauges. Though depressingly dark, most of the plastic on the dash panel is soft to the touch and feels more expensive than the flimsy hard plastic lid that opens on top of the dash.

The Taurus may look large from the outside, but it's absolutely ginormous from the driver's seat. It's one of the largest car's you can get for the money, with headroom, legroom and width to spare for even the largest of hominids. The center console and transmission tunnel are as wide as a HUMMER's, which tells you that there's space to spare in between the front seats. There's so much room, in fact, that an average sized driver can feel overwhelmed by it all. You begin to trust the backup sensors a lot since the rear bumper is in a different area code. And the ceiling is so high you half expect to look up and see Michelangelo lying on his back doing a paint by numbers. That high ceiling, however, allows for the optional DVD entertainment system to be mounted up there for the benefit of rear seat passengers. It's the same unit used in much larger vehicles like the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, but works well in the slightly smaller confines of the Taurus.

Passengers in the Taurus just might be more interested in watching a DVD than enjoying the visceral pleasure of this car's performance. While the new 3.5L V6 producing 263 HP is a big improvement over the Five-Hundred's 3.0L V6, especially matched with Ford's 6-speed automatic, the engine is not the jewel that many have made it out to be. First of all, it's difficult to tell all of those horses are present and accounted for. The Taurus has a damped throttle and power delivery always feels muted, as if the driver is always being protected from the inertia of acceleration. While the Taurus will get up and go when the pedal is mashed, it clearly prefers a more measured approach for getting from Point A to Point B. Secondly, this powerplant is not a smooth operator like some V6 engines with which we've become particularly smitten. Press an accelerator pedal connected to Nissan's VQ 3.5L V6 or VW/Audi's 3.2L V6 or even GM's 3.6L V6 (especially in the new Cadillac CTS!) and you'll know exactly what we mean.

The Taurus' supporting cast of handling hardware, however, is up to the task of keeping this big barge buttoned down. We were surprised and delighted to find a strut-tower brace up front and never felt a shimmy or shake in the body while cruising over cobbled pavement. The strong platform and rigid construction goes a long way in making the Taurus feel like a high quality car from behind the wheel.

Our opinion of the 2008 Ford Taurus doesn't really matter though, as the buying public has already spoken. The newly named car went on sale in September and combined sales of the Taurus and Five-Hundred that month were just 4,230 units, some 30.1% below Five-Hundred sales in September of 2006. That's right, sales actually fell in the first month that the new Taurus was on sale. That's got to sting a little. With an interesting exterior design, a more powerful engine and a new identity that at least conjures something in the minds of prospective buyers, we thought increased sales for the Taurus would be a given.

Apparently that's not the case, though we still expect the pace to pick up as soon as buyers realize that a base front-wheel-drive Taurus starting at $23,245 is one of the best values on the market right now. Our tester was optioned to the hilt as its $32,600 MSRP attests, though the base price of the AWD Limited model is a more reasonable $28,695 ($1,500 cash back is also currently being offered on the Taurus). Even at that price, we still feel the 2008 Ford Taurus is a great value and compares favorably against competitors like the Toyota Avalon, Hyundai Azera, Chrysler 300, Chevy Impala and Buick Lucerne. The fact that you can buy an all-wheel-drive Taurus for thousands less than a front-wheel-drive Avalon will not remain a secret for long.

Live Photos Copyright ©2007 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own — we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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