Ford says 80 percent of consumers recognize the Taurus nameplate, but only 40 percent have heard of the Five Hundred, making the full-size sedan a tough sell. Rather than pour millions of dollars into raising awareness, Ford chose to resurrect the bygone Taurus nameplate and put it on the freshened 2008 Five Hundred. The closely related Mercury Montego receives a name change as well — it's now the Sable, recalling the Taurus' longstanding Mercury twin. The Freestyle wagon, which shares many components with both cars, becomes the Taurus X.
Changes for the new Taurus include a larger and more powerful V-6 engine, new front and rear styling and new suspension tuning. Available in SEL and Limited trims, it hits dealerships this summer.
While the Five Hundred didn't really stand out in a crowd, it wasn't ugly, either. The Taurus definitely has more presence than its predecessor, as the front end now features a three-bar chrome grille that abuts new rectangular headlights. The sides remain mostly unchanged, but the Limited trim level gets chrome side vents, door handles and mirrors. New clear-lens taillights adorn the rear of the car.
Changes to the four-wheel independent suspension include 10 more millimeters of front suspension travel, new dampers and springs, and tweaks to the rear suspension. This was done to give the sedan a smoother ride, according to Ford. SEL models come standard with 17-inch aluminum wheels, Limited trims get 18-inch aluminum rims, and 18-inch chrome wheels are optional.
The gauges have been mildly restyled and the steering wheel is new, but otherwise the interior carries over relatively unchanged. There's still room for up to five occupants with the front bucket seats and 60/40-split rear seat. Folding the rear seat expands the already large 21.2-cubic-foot truck, and the front passenger seat can fold flat to carry cargo up to 9 feet long inside the car.
A navigation system, Sirius Satellite Radio, a DVD entertainment system and Ford's Sync system are available. Sync is a new communication and entertainment system that features Bluetooth-based connectivity for cell phones. It can also control MP3 players with voice commands or cabin buttons when connected to the system's USB port.
Under the Hood
A new 3.5-liter V-6 makes an estimated 260 horsepower. This represents a significant increase over the 203 hp of the 3.0-liter V-6 used in the Five Hundred. The new V-6 teams with a six-speed automatic transmission, and front- and all-wheel-drive models are offered. The Taurus can tow up to 1,000 pounds when properly equipped.
All-disc antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags are standard. Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability system is optional.