If you've never heard of a Taurus X before, it's only because this is a new name for an existing product, the crossover SUV that used to be called the Ford Freestyle.
However, the 2008 Ford Taurus X offers host of improvements inside, outside and underneath when compared to the old Freestyle. So it's ready to compete in the hotly contested crossover segment with a whole bunch of new arrows in its quiver.
Like the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable sedans, the Taurus X is loosely based on the same architecture as the Volvo S80 luxury sedan and Volvo XC90 SUV and it uses the same Swedish Haldex all-wheel-drive system as the Volvo on AWD versions. The Taurus X offers some detail changes to the suspension, however.
Last year's 3.0-liter V6 engine has been dropped in favor of a new, 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 that makes a full 30 percent more horsepower and more load-pulling torque. Likewise, last year's continuously variable transmission has been replaced by a new 6F six-speed automatic.
This new powertrain makes the 2008 Ford Taurus X a whole lot more fun to drive than the Freestyle crossover was. The new engine makes more power, and accelerates the truck much quicker (Ford says up to 44 percent quicker), but it also gets about 10 percent better fuel economy, even after adjusting for the new, stricter 2008 fuel economy rules that the EPA is using for fuel economy numbers on the window sticker.
The Taurus X fits into the product lineup above the five-seater Ford Edge crossover SUV that's built on the same platform as the Fusion, and under the upcoming 2009 Ford Flex, a larger, more luxurious, square-cornered family truck.
The Taurus X is designed to compete with the Nissan Murano, Mitsubishi Outlander, Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook, and GMC Acadia, among others.
Ford Taurus X SEL ($26,615); Eddie Bauer ($29,355); Limited ($30,335)
In the design change from Freestyle to Taurus X, Ford has completely redone the front end, with a large three-bar horizontal grille that fits in better with the Ford family look of the Focus, Fusion, Edge, and the coming Flex. The hood, fenders, headlamps and driving lamps are all new, with a bit more bling around them here and there. From the dashboard rearward, though, it's pretty much carried over from the Freestyle, because it was a pretty solid package to begin with.
Likewise, the Edge-clone taillamps, rear quarter panels and decklid have been redone, and the rear bumper has been rejiggered to feature exposed dual exhaust tips. The roof rack has been strengthened and reinforced to carry more load.
The Ford Taurus X cabin has a light and airy feel, an important feature. Inside are bucket seats front and rear, each with center consoles, offering roomy accommodations for four, while large windows everywhere lend an open feeling. EPA-rated passenger volume is 146 cubic feet. Taurus X seats up to seven people.
Cargo capacity is generous, with a 15 cubic-foot space behind the third row, 47 cubic feet behind the second row with the third-row seats folded, and 86 cubic feet with all the seats folded down, according to EPA measurements. The power liftgate makes loading easy. And the Taurus X has a relatively low load height when compared with other crossover SUVs, which makes loading and unloading heavy objects easier.
The second- and third-row seats are very easy to flip, fold, and reset. The second-row seats slide fore and aft and recline for an extra measure of flexibility.
Overall, the interior ambience is modern, nicely laid out and, the materials are reasonably good throughout. The well-crafted seats, panels and other accommodations have a quality feel, as do the instruments, controls, shifter, seats, console, and dashboard. The wood applique on the center stack looks like a slapped-on afterthought, and it's particularly noticeable because it's the only wood-like material inside the vehicle's front compartment.
An auxiliary plug for iPods and other MP3 players comes standard and is located inside the center console.
The Motorola Sync system offers integration with all Bluetooth-enabled phones and music players, including iPods, via electronic and USB 2.0 connections. This system has received positive reviews from everyone we've talked to who has learned how to use it. The Sync system has the ability to have text messages read aloud, voice recognition for control of both phone and music functions, and phonebook transfer. The system is upgradeable for future players and for additional functionality down the road. Sync is optional, but if you're into wireless connectivity, we highly recommend opting for it.
The Taurus X is quiet. It moves down the road with a minimum of wind and tire noise for a vehicle in this price class, and the absence of noise allows you to better enjoy its in-car entertainment and communications features. We liked that, and took it as a mark of quality.
Overall, we found the Taurus X to be very comfortable, easy to use and get familiar with, and very flexible in terms of its interior layout, space utilization.
The 3.5-liter engine and six-speed double-overdrive automatic transmission in the Ford Taurus X have really put some performance in the package. That's especially true when compared with the old 3.0-liter engine and CVT transmission, which was awful.
The 2008 engine is quiet and smooth at idle, with a pendulum mounting system that separates its motions and vibrations from the rest of the car. It sounds healthy, powerful and smooth at full throttle, and the Taurus X has very good acceleration for passing. And, as mentioned, the Taurus X is very quiet inside at freeway speeds.
No complaints on the steering and suspension. The Taurus X has pretty good steering feel for what it is, a family hauler, with plenty of steering assist for easy driving around town and decreasing assist at highway speeds so it doesn't wander or get sloppy.
The ride is soft and compliant, with plenty of suspension travel and damping to soak up bumps and potholes. There's not much body roll (lean) in the corners. We'd prefer to have one size wider tires for more aggressive cornering, but that would probably eat into the gas mileage.
The brakes are very solid and nicely progressive from top of pedal to bottom. We never felt the standard ESP system go on, but it's always there, and now it's standard on all models.
The Ford Taurus X is a much better vehicle than the Freestyle. The acceleration, shifting performance, powertain smoothness, and fuel economy are of a much higher order now. The instrument panel is more interesting and prettier to look at. The space, and use of space, is excellent. Taurus X is a solid crossover SUV, it's practical and it's affordable. Loaded with navigation, satellite radio and the DVD entertainment system, the Taurus X is a really good long-distance traveler as well as an around-town family hauler.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Dearborn.