How's this for a short and sweet product review? Remember what we said about the all new 2000 Mercury Sable? Ditto when it comes to the all-new 2000 Ford Taurus. Have a nice day. But, since the boss said we get paid by the sentence rather than the sentiment, we feel compelled to elaborate. The Ford Taurus and cousin Mercury Sable (Cartalk, Oct. 31) have been redesigned for the 2000 model year. The reason for the remake is that designers screwed up the 1996 version, the first overhaul in 10 years, or since Taurus replaced the LTD and Sable the Marquis in 1986. The 2000 Taurus/Sable are mea culpas for the mistake made when Ford got carried away with curved lines and aerodynamic design for '96 that not only gave the cars droopy tail ends that made them look like "before" ads for cellulite, but made them look squatty and smaller than they were. For 2000 sanity prevailed. Wrongs have been righted, at least most of them, and the folks at Ford's Dearborn, Mich., headquarters can again hold their heads high, at least as high as you can hold them when two--count 'em two--Japanese makes are selling more vehicles annually than Taurus. Toyota Camry and Honda Accord have offered discounted lease rates rather than droopy butts since 1996, so both have overtaken Taurus in the sales race. Camry took the No. 1 sales spot from Taurus in 1997, the first full year of Taurus new redesign. The 2000 Taurus comes in LX and SE sedans and wagons. We tested the SE sedan. Though sheet metal is different, wheelbase and overall length remain the same. Yet the vehicle looks larger. "We raised the deck lid and made it flatter without the droop. We also widened the trunk opening by 2 inches, raised the hood, made larger wheel-well openings and added larger 16-inch tires to make the car look bigger," said Dave Marinaro, Taurus chief program engineer. Those gimmicks worked, as did large tear-drop shape headlamps. The problem with the older model looking smaller outside than it was is that it left the impression the car was more cramped on the inside, which is another reason buyers migrated to Camry and Accord. The dash, instrument panel and control pod in the center of the instrument panel were curved on the old Taurus and left the visual impression of a narrow cabin. For 2000, the dash is flat and the curved control pod replace d by dials and buttons in horizontal rows to make the cabin appear wider. You can see and reach all controls easily. The cabin has 2 inches more headroom upfront, an inch more in back, yet it feels like more. Trunk space increased by 1.2 cubic feet and, if more room is needed, rear seat backs fold flat. But, as with Sable, not all Taurus troubles have been solved. Taurus offers two 3-liter V-6 engines. For 2000, the 3-liter, Vulcan V-6 delivers 153 horsepower at 5000 r.p.m. and 182 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 r.p.m., an 8-h.p. and 12-foot-pound increase for better off-the-line movement. The 3-liter, 24-valve, Duratec V-6 was lightened by 30 pounds and a single exhaust replaced dual exhausts. The result is 200 h.p. at 5700 r.p.m. and 200 foot-pounds of torque at 4500 r.p.m., a 15-h.p. and 15-foot-pound increase. We tested Taurus SE with the 200-h.p. Duratec, and it feels short on power off the line, into the passing lane and down the merge ramp. Ford r epo rtedly has a more potent 3.1-liter V-6 in the works for 2001 but won't comment. The former Taurus tended to lumber on the highway. For 2000, Ford revised the steering boost curve and steering pump valving to improve center-line feel and provide more limber response; revised the suspension to reduce sway and lean in corners and curves while providing smoother vertical movement; and replaced 15-inch radial tires with 16-inchers with 3 psi less air pressure for a softer, smoother ride, as well as a wider footprint when cornering. But you still feel weight in the wheel. Camry and Accord come across as more nimble. Steering response and suspension action are better than in the previous Taurus, but now that styling problems have been resolved, Ford needs to upgrade the suspension-- or shed some more poundage. Other changes for 2000 including dual-stage air bags with driver-seat position, seat-belt and crash-severity sensors to determine the energy level of deployment--or whether to deploy at all--in a front collision. For the bags to offer optimum protection, the driver must be belted, so BeltMinder chimes every few seconds if you don't fasten. The unrelenting chimes will drive you crazy until you buckle up. Taurus also comes with an emergency release handle in the trunk as standard to keep kids from getting trapped inside. And for the first time, there are optional ($390) head and chest side-impact air bags for front-seat occupants and standard child-seat tether anchors in back. A major innovation that rivals don't have is power adjustable gas/brake pedals as a $120 option. Push a button and the pedals move up to 3 inches closer so short drivers don't have to move the seat forward and end up with chest against the steering wheel, where the air bag is housed. Ford added movable pedals to large sport-utility vehicles in 1999. This is its debut in cars. You'll see more industry-wide soon. Also new for 2000 is all-speed traction control combined with anti-lock brakes, a Snow Belt must. ABS is standard on the SE, optional on the LX. Traction control is optional ($175) in both. Other nice touches include the optional six-disc CD changer moved to the instrument panel from the trunk and more map-pocket holders than any other vehicle on this planet. There are four cupholders, but seven map pockets in the doors, front seat backs and side of the center floor console. "When it comes to map pockets, we have industry leadership," joked Jim O'Connor, Ford division general manager. Base price of the SE is a respectable $20,895. Standard equipment includes heated power mirrors, electronic air conditioning, rear-window defroster, keyless entry, power windows and driver's seat, cruise control, AM/FM stereo with cassette, digital clock, leather-wrapped steering wheel and color-keyed bodyside moldings. Options--such as power moonroof at $840, traction control at $175, movable pedals at $120 , power passenger seat at $350, leather buckets at $895 and a hefty $55 for front and rear floor mats-- can quickly inflate the sticker price. For what those $55 mats cost Ford, you'd think the automaker would include them gratis. >> 2000 Ford Taurus SE Wheelbase: 108.5 inches Length: 197.6 inches Engine: 3-liter, 200-h.p., Duratec V-6 Transmission: 4-speed automatic Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/28 m.p.g. highway Base price: $20,895 Price as tested: $24,495. Includes $840 for power moonroof; $350 for power passenger seat; $390 for side-impact air bags; $670 for audio group upgrade with 6-disc CD changer; $895 for leather bucket seats; $105 for five-passenger seating with center console and floor-mounted shifter; $175 for all-speed traction control; $120 for adjustable brake/gas pedals; and $30 for front a nd $25 fo r rear floor mats. Add $550 for freight. Pluses: Excellent mileage. Adjustable pedals to keep you from having to move seat forward. Far better styling than previous model. ABS standard. Traction control optional. Dual stage air bags with deployment speed dictated by impact speed and whether you are belted. Decent base price. Minuses: $55 for floor mats? The 3-liter V-6 needs a power boost. BeltMinder chimes. Considerable list of options.>>
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