From the April 1986 issue of Car and Driver.
According to Webster, a milestone is “a significant point in development.” The term applies perfectly to Ford’s new Taurus and its sibling, the Mercury Sable. With their smooth, flowing lines and European-style road manners, the Taurus and the Sable chart a new direction for mainstream American sedans. But you undoubtedly know that by now. Ford has orchestrated an unusually long and intensive publicity program to prepare the public for these novel cars. We’ve done our share by devoting many of our pages to praising the design and performance of the prototypes we’ve tested.
Unfortunately, milestone prototypes do not always lead to good cars in dealer showrooms. A prototype’s virtues can be compromised by the penny-pinching of heartless bean counters, by manufacturing shortcuts required to meet introduction deadlines, and by last-minute second thoughts in the product-planning department. The purpose of this road test is to see whether the production Taurus lives up to its promise.
The moment of judgment has been a long time coming because Ford postponed its introduction of the Taurus and the Sable from last fall to the day after Christmas. That day hardly figured to be the best time for a new-car launch, but Ford needed the additional months to iron out the final production-line glitches. After gambling $3 billion on a high-risk design, the last thing Ford wanted was a problem-plagued introduction.
If the Taurus LX we tested is representative of the line, Ford’s extra time was well spent. The Tauruses lined up at your local Ford dealer have every sweet, windblown line in place, and they haven’t been sullied by last-minute additions of chrome strips, opera windows, or stand-up hood ornaments. The cars look so buttoned-down sleek that every Ford dealer should make sure its banners are displayed prominently, lest any customers walk away under the assumption that they have stumbled into a premium foreign-car emporium.
Even if the Taurus were styled like a boxcar, we would love it for the way it drives. This car’s European connection is more than skin-deep, and you feel it the moment you slip behind the wheel. Unlike the sofa-soft seats of most mainstream American sedans, our test car’s split-bench front seat had firm padding and a proper contour. It provided solid support for long stints behind the wheel.
The Taurus’s steering is also a departure from the over-assisted, lifeless American norm. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion mechanism is fast, communicative, and nicely weighted. With only 2.6 turns lock-to-Iock, the Taurus responds crisply to steering-wheel commands and changes direction in clean, precise arcs without any two-stage turn-and-wait action. At the same time, the steering has a pronounced on-center feeling. There is a distinct toggle-switch action when you turn the wheel off the straight-ahead position, and you can feel the pressure build in your hands as the front tires go to work in a corner.
This outstanding steering can be appreciated in any kind of driving, but it is particularly welcome when the Taurus is pushed, because it collaborates beautifully with the car’s excellent handling. Whether charging through an entrance ramp or slaloming down a winding mountain road, the Taurus feels reassuring and composed. There is always a bit of understeer, but only enough to keep the rear wheels in line; deliberate action is required to bring the tail out. The Taurus never pushes so much that it shreds its front tires, not even at its cornering limit. That limit is held to a modest 0.76 g by all-season tires, but the car’s friendly handling makes all of this grip available without demanding any daredevil driving.
Such behavior is not the result of any dazzling new suspension breakthroughs, for the Taurus rides on fairly conventional struts at all four comers. The secret is a commitment to excellent handling from the design’s inception, which has resulted in a number of subtle developments. The targets for this car’s suspension behavior came from Europe rather than from the Lincoln line. Such details as the negative camber and four degrees of caster in the front suspension, and the calibration of the springs, shocks, anti-roll bars, and bushings, are what produce the Taurus’s European-style road manners. Best of all, these details are not exclusive to a special handling package. Each and every Taurus LX handles the same. (The base Taurus, however, has different tires and lacks the LX’s rear anti-roll bar.)
Another result of the suspension tuning is a ride with more control than any big Ford sedan has ever had. And its control is not achieved in the usual American way, with stiff springs and thick anti-roll bars. The Taurus’s springs are soft enough to follow most road imperfections, and its shock absorbers have enough damping to keep a tight rein on body motions. One typically European feature that the Taurus lacks is very hard suspension bushings. As a result, the Taurus rides just like an Audi or a BMW over large undulations, but absorbs small ridges and sharp edged bumps a bit better.
No doubt some of the credit for this performance belongs to the Taurus’s rigid chassis. Our test car had that carved-from-a-solid-billet-of-steel feeling that is common among premium European sedans. This solid structure is apparently a result of plenty of material rather than of a perfectly optimized design, because our Taurus weighed a hefty 3251 pounds. A comparably sized Audi 5000S weighs in at under 2900, and a Pontiac 6000STE weighs only 3100 pounds.
Fortunately, the all-new Taurus powertrain deals easily with the excess poundage. The transversely mounted 3.0-liter V-6 is typically domestic in its use of a pushrod valvetrain and iron construction for its block and heads, but it does employ port fuel injection, Ford’s sophisticated EEC IV engine-control system, and aluminum castings for a number of components. It operates in conjunction with a four-speed automatic transmission that uses an electronically controlled lockup torque converter and an overdrive fourth gear to deliver good highway fuel economy.
With 140 horsepower on tap, the Taurus accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds and through the standing quarter-mile in 17.4 seconds at 79 mph. For comparison, that’s about as quick as an automatic BMW 528e, and quicker than both the Pontiac 6000STE and the normally aspirated Audi 5000. Furthermore, the Taurus’s 20 mpg on the EPA city cycle betters the mileage of all of these competitors.
Despite the V-6 engine’s American design, it has the refined, purposeful note at high rpm that we usually associate with premium European machinery. Indeed, it produces a bit more powertrain noise than is usual in large American sedans, reaching 76 dBA during hard acceleration. The engine is quite subdued during cruising, however; a slight wind whistle accounted for most of our test car’s 71-dBA interior sound level at 70 mph.
Much of the credit for the powertrain’s performance belongs to the transmission, which provides smooth shifts and unobtrusive converter lockup at moderate speeds and snappy downshifts to more aggressive ratios when acceleration is called for. We do wish that the transmission would stay in fourth gear under full throttle at high speeds. Its refusal to do so limits top speed to 114 mph, which corresponds to the redline in third gear. With 140 hp and a 0.32 drag coefficient, we’re sure that the Taurus could do better with a little help from its fourth gear.
We also found that the Taurus’s brakes could stand improvement. Its 194-foot stopping distance from 70 mph is not bad, especially with its low-grip tires, but the pedal feel was spongy, making it difficult to modulate the braking. Evidently, Ford engineers agree, because we have been advised that a redesigned brake booster is already in production; all but the very first Tauruses should have better brake feel. Our track testing also revealed that a little more fade resistance would be useful, though we never noticed any loss of braking capacity on the street.
We suspect that few Taurus buyers will subject their cars to repeated panic stops. They’ll be more likely to test its volume and load capacity. The EPA rates the Taurus at 100 cubic feet of interior volume, which puts it on the line that divides midsize and large cars. We found plenty of room inside for four adults. The rear passengers are treated to a comfortable, chair-high bench and commodious footwells under the front seats. In a pinch, the cabin is even wide enough to seat six; in front, however, the contours of the split bench will leave the center passenger sitting uncomfortably on a pair of raised bolsters. The trunk volume is also generous and usefully shaped.
Functionally, the Taurus’s interior is the equal of any European car’s, but some aspects of its styling reveal its Detroit origins. The tan A-pillar moldings in our test car were attached with exposed black screws. There was also an exposed bolt in the center of the dash near the base of the windshield, and a few interior panels fit less than perfectly. We think that the fake wood-grain on the dash and door panels is out of sync with the interior’s cleanly sculptured shapes, and the location of various minor controls lacks the military precision of most German cars. Some of the exterior details are also ragged, like the uneven line formed by the bottoms of the headlights, turn signals, and grille panel.
These are very minor nits to pick, however. All in all, the Taurus is an outstanding car. It has all of the comfort and utility that one expects in a large cruiser. And for the person who enjoys driving, American sedans don’t come any better.
The Taurus is competitive with European sedans as well. In performance, handling, ride, fuel economy, and utility, it is as good as or better than the Audi 5000S and the BMW 528e. And while the Audi costs $18,065 and the BMW $26,280, the Taurus LX can be had for $13,351. That price includes air conditioning; power windows, locks, mirrors, and lumbar support; the V-6 with the four-speed automatic; a four-speaker AM/FM-stereo radio; and premium interior trim. Even at the $15,079 price of our fully loaded test car, the Taurus is priced very competitively.
The Taurus doesn’t quite have the assembly quality or the careful detail design of the best European cars, but are the small differences worth several thousand dollars? Most of us think not. Furthermore, we suspect that Ford will do its best to smooth out the Taurus’s few rough edges in the coming months. Then the only remaining problem will be to convince the skeptics that one of the world’s finest sedans is a Ford.
Now there can be no more excuses. The Taurus is finally in production, and it either lives up to its promise or it doesn’t. Ford revealed this car to the press so early in the development process that it seemed like an old friend long before the production lines were cranked up to full speed.
That’s the soft spot in the early review process. Mass production, like marriage, always changes something. Some pieces of the giant mechanical jigsaw puzzle suddenly won’t fit anymore, because a stamping machine in some far-off factory has gone out of tolerance—or who knows what might happen? Anything can go wonky. For this reason, we tried in our previews of this car to keep a tight rein on hyperbole. That was tough, because cars as promising as the Taurus come along only once in a long while.
Now that I’ve finally driven a production Taurus, I’m more than ready to tackle the question we’ve been posing for the past several months. Is this Ford really a breakthrough, a car with European breeding, German-luxury-car moves, a strong dose of value, and all the goodness that can be packed into a cut-rate Audi 5000? The answer is yes. —Rich Ceppos
There was a time many months ago when I was convinced that the Taurus and the Sable were too advanced for mainstream American tastes. The new sedans so neatly fit my philosophies about what a modern American sedan should be that I couldn’t imagine the greater car-buying public nodding in agreement. Now that the assembly lines are rolling and the dealers are dealing, it’s clear that I wasn’t the only bloke waiting for Detroit to produce a worthwhile sedan. Plenty of folks with cash in hand have stepped up to the counter, and a good share of the first year’s production is already sold.
Yes, Martha, there really is a demand for functional, affordable, and distinctively good-looking automobiles. GM has also gotten the message, and it has literally rushed back to the drawing boards in response to the initial success of the Taurus and the Sable. Our testing of one production Taurus has uncovered no flies in the ointment, and I couldn’t be happier. Although there won’t be a Taurus or a Sable in my garage in the foreseeable future, I’m certainly looking forward to having a few hundred thousand of my kind of car on the road. —Don Sherman
I’ll wait six months, thanks. Ford has left itself a little detail work now that it’s flat nailed the basics of designing and producing a league-leading sedan. The Taurus’s big stuff is in the bag: great looks, great aero, great space, great comfort—in short, all the benefits you gain by carefully studying the big problems and responding to them with great understanding.
Now it’s time for Ford to address the little stuff. The screw heads staring from their open sockets in the interior trim. The atrocious orange-ish “woodgrain” that stretches across the dash but fails to match the darker inserts that adorn the doors. The big gaps in the LX’s exterior door spats. The wind noise around the A-pillars. The brake pedal’s closeness to the driver’s seat, which only emphasizes the brakes’ touchiness. The gas pedal’s oversensitivity at low speeds. The automatic’s often jerky shifting.
With the little stuff still on the loose, the Taurus isn’t ready for games of coordination with an Audi 5000S. But because the basics are so bullish, I am willing to wait. —Larry Griffin
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io
This commenting section is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page. You may be able to find more information on their web site.