Friday, October 2, 2009

Old name + new look = Nice job

Sacramento, California – I’m happy to report that the latest version of the recently resurrected Ford Taurus is not merely an effort to recall happier times at Ford Motor Co.

The extensively reworked-for-2010 Taurus is a substantial car, much more substantial than the old Taurus that was a serious seller for Ford a generation ago. I’d take the 2010 Taurus over any previously produced car wearing that name.

Ford rode the 1986 Taurus to the top, when the new sedan proved hugely popular with Americans looking for a nicely-sized car at a nice price. The Taurus proceeded to become the nation’s best-selling passenger car. Then, in 1995, Ford introduced a second-generation Taurus that was decidedly more swoopy.

That turned out to be a mistake. Taurus sales plunged, and the brand eventually was dropped … in favor of the Ford Five Hundred, arguably a bigger mistake than the mid-1990s restyling of the Taurus. Thankfully, Ford chief Alan Mulally figured out that the best thing to do was drop the Five Hundred and bring back the Taurus.

And with the 2010 Taurus, the comeback is complete, and admirable.

I just spent a week in the 2010 Taurus SEL with front-wheel drive. This model is only a slight cut above the entry-level Taurus SE FWD, yet it was as solid as a rock. Talk about old-school; it looked and felt like a loaded Buick Riviera from years past. And yes, I really enjoyed the old-school Riviera.

The Taurus has a high-riding look, with tall doors and side sculpting riding up to seemingly crunched window glass. Yet the view from inside the Taurus was fine, with no visibility problems whatsoever from the cockpit.

The 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 263 horsepower handled all challenges with ease. The V-6 had more than enough juice to handle what California’s challenging highways and mountain roads could dish up. The ride was quiet and smooth, with a strong suspension and a light, but just-firm-enough feel in the steering wheel. Fuel mileage ratings of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway were about what one expects from this V-6.

Performance fans will be pleased with the presence of shift paddles behind the steering wheel. Nothing like living out that Formula One fantasy in a Ford sedan.

The interior of my tester was juiced up with leather surfaces that were part of a $2,700 package of options that bumped up the interior environment, the audio system and some safety systems. Frankly, I would have liked the car just as much without them.

The standard package is impressive, with dual chromed exhaust tips, halogen headlamps, six-way power driver’s seat, eight cup/bottle holders and dash controls that were large enough to be seen and easily used.

The list of technologies that can be had in the Taurus is staggering. It includes adaptive cruise control, collision-warning system, programmable “smart” keys, a blind spot illumination system, a cross traffic-alert system, rain-sensing wipers, the SYNC audio/communication system and voice-activated navigation.

No, this isn’t your daddy’s Taurus. And it isn’t priced like daddy’s ride, either.

Motorists used to Taurus window stickers of old might be shocked to see the entry-level model starting at $25,170. The starting price on my tester was $27,170. A Taurus Limited with all-wheel drive tops $33,000. And if you want a rip-roaring 2010 Taurus SHO with a 365 horsepower V-6, the starting fare is $37,170.

Well, that’s progress. And frankly, those prices are in line with all that the current Taurus has stuffed into it.

By the way, that Taurus SHO is likely to end up winning some prestigious Car of the Year awards before we welcome in 2010. Believe it.

And welcome back, old friend.

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