Ford’s midsize Taurus sedan and wagon get a new eggcrate grille, front fascia and passenger-seat weight sensor, as well as fresh taillamps, for 2004. The engines and transmissions have been modified, and the instrument cluster and steering wheel have been updated.
Taurus sedans come in LX, SE, SES and SEL trim levels and can seat either five or six people, depending on the model. Both body styles in 2002 earned major styling changes that featured a more conservative look than the 1996 – 1999 generation. The Mercury Sable is built from the same platform as the Taurus and also is available in sedan and wagon forms, but the Sable models have more standard equipment and higher sticker prices.
Aerodynamic teardrop-shaped headlights and large taillights are the major styling cues on the four-door Taurus sedan, which rides on a 108.5-inch wheelbase and 16-inch tires. At 197.6 inches long overall, the Taurus is approximately 8 inches longer than the Toyota Camry.
Depending on the model, the Taurus can seat either six people — with a front bench seat and folding center storage console — or five occupants in models equipped with front bucket seats. Six-passenger seating is standard in the LX, SE and SES, while the top-of-the-line SEL has space for five. All four doors contain map pockets, and the trunk holds 16 cubic feet of cargo.
Standard LX equipment includes air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Remote keyless entry, cruise control and a cassette stereo go into the SE sedan. Moving up to the SES model brings antilock brakes, a six-way power driver’s seat and a CD player. Topping the lineup, the SEL gets automatic climate control, an in-dash six-CD changer, automatic headlights and a 60/40-split, folding rear seatback. Power-adjustable pedals are standard on the SEL wagon and optional on all other trims besides the LX, where they are not available.
Two 3.0-liter V-6 engines are available. The base Vulcan overhead-valve engine produces 155 horsepower. The SEL version holds a Duratec dual-overhead-cam V-6 that makes 200 hp. Both engines mate with a four-speed-automatic transmission. Ford also offers a version of the 155-hp V-6 that runs on a mixture of E-85 ethanol and gasoline, or either substance alone.
The front airbags deploy at one of two inflation levels based on crash severity and whether or not the seat belts are buckled. Optional side-impact airbags protect the heads and chests of front occupants. Antilock brakes are standard on the SES and SEL and optional on the other trim levels.
The Taurus wagon looks similar to the sedan, except at the rear. The powertrains in both body styles are identical, but the wagon holds 37.8 cubic feet of cargo when the rear seat is up and 81.3 cubic feet when that seat is folded.
The Taurus sedan is satisfying in most respects, but it doesn’t stand strongly above the midsize pack, which includes the league-leading Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Ride and handling are acceptable, but the Taurus can feel a little ponderous at times; it can also exhibit a harsher-than-expected ride quality.
Performance with the dual-cam V-6 engine is vigorous and responsive. The automatic transmission functions in an easygoing manner but has just a bit of hesitation when downshifting.
Interior space is ample, but large roof pillars impair visibility. All of the seats are comfortable and supportive. Despite a few drawbacks, attractive prices help make the Taurus a good buy against much of the competition.