Likewise, the Mercury Montego has been renamed Mercury Sable, and the Ford Freestyle has been renamed Taurus X, the X for crossover SUV.
Along the way, Ford has made some 500 changes to the new Taurus, changes that were already scheduled for the mid-cycle freshening of the Five Hundred. The general body shape of the new Taurus is the same as that of the previous Five Hundred, a large, front-wheel-drive family sedan, but almost everything else has changed for the better.
This family of vehicles, loosely based on the same architecture as the Volvo S80 luxury sedans with some detail changes to the suspension systems, also uses the same Swedish Haldex all-wheel-drive system as the Volvo when it is ordered as an option.
The weak 3.0-liter V6 engine has been dropped in favor of a new 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 engine that makes a full 30 percent more power. It's the same engine that powers the larger and heavier Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers and MKZ luxury cars. Likewise, the CVT transmission has been replaced by a new 6F six-speed automatic.
This new powertrain makes the Taurus a whole lot more fun to drive than the ill-conceived Five Hundred was. Its 0-60 mph acceleration performance has been reduced by more than a second and a half, from 9.2 seconds down to 7.6 seconds, which is a huge chunk of performance. The new engine not only makes more power, it gets 10 percent better fuel economy, even after adjusting for the new, stricter testing procedures EPA has mandated for 2008 models. On the open road, we found the Taurus to be very quiet and smooth.
Taurus competes directly against other larger sedans on the market, chief among them the Toyota Avalon, the Chevrolet Impala, and the Chrysler 300. Against that competitive set, the Taurus is the largest car in the group, and carries four five-star safety ratings for front, rear, side and rollover crashworthiness. The big kicker in all of this is that, with all the new styling, interior, engine, transmission and standard features upgrades, the price hovers only about $250 above comparably equipped versions of last year's bland, slow Five Hundred.
Ford Taurus SEL ($23,245); SEL AWD ($25,095); Limited ($26,845); Limited AWD ($28,695)
In the transition from Five Hundred to Taurus, Ford completely redesigned the front end, with a large three-bar horizontal grille that fits in better with the Ford family look of the existing Fusion, the Edge, and the coming Flex. It's altogether a better looking and more contemporary design for the grille, with new, quieter mirrors, gigantic new headlamp units, big driving lamps under the new bumpers, with necessary changes to the hood and fenders. Decorative, nonfunctional gills have been added to the front fenders to add visual interest and take up some space on the huge fenders.
Likewise, the taillamps, rear quarter panels and decklid have been redone, and the rear bumper has been rejiggered to feature exposed dual exhaust tips.
The most noticeable interior feature of the new Ford Taurus is the sheer size of the space inside the car, 108 cubic feet inside, with a 21 cubic-foot trunk, according to EPA measurements, making it by far the largest interior in the class at 129 cubic feet total.
With folding rear seats and a flat-folding right front seat, you can put a nine-foot-long object inside the car. After you notice the space and the limo-like rear-seat accommodations, you then begin to notice that every piece in the interior, the instruments, controls, shifter, seats, console, and dashboard, has been redesigned, with a more luxurious feel and lots more chrome trim here and there. They've added a plug for an MP3 player inside the center console as standard equipment.
The Motorola Sync system offers integration with all Bluetooth-enabled phones and music players, including iPods, via electronic and USB 2.0 connections. Sync features include 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 will be offered on Taurus and 11 other 2008 Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles later this year.
A Taurus Limited AWD we drove was loaded with options, including AdvanceTrac electronic stability control, a roof-mounted rear-seat DVD entertainment system, heated front seats, convenience package, wood package, power adjustable pedals, a moonroof, voice-activated touch-screen navigation, Sirius satellite radio, and reverse sensing system, bringing the bottom line to $33,600, and making it the best-equipped Taurus possible, short of the 18-inch chromed aluminum wheel option.
We spent in inordinate amount of time at full-throttle with the new Taurus because it's so much fun to wind up in the lower gears; the old Five Hundred was just slow. We did a 0-100-0 run with an ABS panic brake stop at 100 mph, and we were suitably impressed with the way this car accelerates from rest and brakes from high speeds.
With traction control and optional AdvanceTrac electronic stability control, the computers take over whenever you try to do anything foolish, to keep the car flat and stable. The steering is accurate, with good feedback, and not overly assisted in normal and highway driving. The ride is soft and compliant, with some body roll in the fast corners and a noticeable upward pitch of the front end on hard acceleration.
The new Ford Taurus has about as much useful room inside it, counting the trunk, the folding seats, and the interior layout, as your average crossover SUV. It just happens to look and behave like a family sedan. It's big inside, big outside, and it's taller than almost every other sedan on the market with that big bubble roof, but if it's room you need and room you want, this might be the one. It won't outrun a Chrysler 300 Hemi, but it's quicker than almost everything else in the class, and at these prices, we think it's a real bargain.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Dearborn, Michigan.