It started innocently.
A mope at headquarters decided that any new car carrying the Ford name must start with the letter F.
Simple enough until it came to naming the successor to Taurus, one time the industry’s best-selling sedan. The rule jettisoned that well known and popular name for Five Hundred, dug up from the company’s more distant past.
Forget that Taurus reigned for two decades, sold more than 7 million copies since 1985, was the best known moniker at Ford after Mustang and had historical significance. Taurus was the last No.1 selling car in the industry assembled by a domestic automaker. It was displaced by the Honda Accord in 1997, which has since been bumped by the Toyota Camry.
Five Hundred was decent enough when it rolled off Ford’s Torrence Avenue assembly line in Chicago in 2005. It was the large midsize sedan in the lineup with Fusion joining it as a smaller companion a year later.
That left Taurus as a fleet vehicle sold at discount to rental outfits and left critics quick to take Five Hundred to task. Its 3-liter, 203-horsepower V-6 didn’t have sufficient muscle. It loped along, wearing a front end considered more frumpy than fashionable.
Sales totaled 107,000 in 2005, slipped to 84,200 in 2006 and through August were 33,934 calendar (plus 14,350 of Taurus for a combined 48,284.) That’s down from 62,028 Five Hundreds a year earlier.
The lack of power and pizazz hurt sales — and production. Torrence Avenue has been idled a week here and there to match output to the weak demand.
Problem remedied for 2008. Ford used this year’s Chicago Auto Show to unveil a remake sporting a front end with a trio of large chrome bars borrowed from the better-selling Fusion instead of the wire-mesh grille.
And a 3.5-liter, 263-h.p. V-6 with a 6-speed automatic borrowed from the Edge crossover, a Fusion derivative, is good for a 30 percent more horsepower than the old 3.
Oh, and the Taurus name was brought back — at the direction of new Ford CEO Alan Mulally. To make it a complete sweep, the Freestyle crossover derived from Five Hundred is now Taurus X and Mercury Montego cousin has gone back to Sable, it’s name the first time around.
Taurus now can get off the line without lumbering and swing out into the passing lane or down the merger ramp. One gripe, however, is that the V-6 tends to growl when you stomp on the pedal. The family sedan is not tuned for luxury quiet. A little more insulation would be appreciated. Camry, Accord and Chevy’s Impala are quieter.
And the livelier movement is not limited to leaving the light; Taurus no longer wheezes up steep inclines when the cabin is full of people and the trunk full of packages.
Handling benefits from the larger standard 18-inch, all-season, radial tires. The base SEL rides on 17-inches. All-wheel-drive helps keep the sedan from wandering. Still, this isn’t a sports car, so there’s a little lean in sharp corners.
And a little better mileage would be nice. Taurus is rated at 17 m.p.g. city/24 highway, though in fairness nearly all vehicles have seen their numbers cut thanks to more real-world testing for 2008.
Ford in the 2008 calendar year will offer a gas/electric version of the midsize Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans. Hybrid would certainly help Taurus, too. No word on whether it will get it, however.
Taurus is offered in SEL or Limited trim with front- or on-demand all-wheel-drive. We tested the Limited AWD, which adds extra decorative touches over the SEL — chrome door handles, mirror caps and engine vents along the fenders.
Taurus carries over the best of Five Hundred — a spacious and comfy cabin with limo-like rear seat room to stretch legs and arms and keep from knocking your noggin’.
And there’s that trunk. It can hold eight, count ’em, eight sets of golf clubs, which means it will hold all the luggage or groceries the family wants. Need more cargo room? The rear seat backs fold flat. Need even more? The front passenger seat folds flat at the pull of a strap so you can slip a ladder or lumber inside.
Base price is $28,695, which includes side-curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes and traction control; stability control is a $495 option.
Other goodies are AM/FM stereo with CD player and MP3 jack, automatic temperature control and power windows/locks/mirrors/driver and passenger seats.
A convenience package at $475 adds power adjustable pedals, universal garage-door opener and reverse-sensing system that lets out a beep when coming too close to whatever’s behind you when backing up. A navi system adds $1,995, and rear-seat DVD system runs $995.
Ford is counting on Taurus to account for about 80,000 plus sales annually while Fusion handles the volume at 100,000 plus.
A new name, looks and power should help but so should retaining massive cabin and trunk room in a midsize sedan loaded with goodies — plus the all-season security of AWD — for around $30,000.
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2008 Ford Taurus Limited AWD
Price as tested: $31,855 *
Wheelbase: 112.9 inches
Length: 201.8 inches
Engine: 3.5-liter, 263-h.p., 24-valve V-6
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city/24 m.p.g. highway
$1,995 Navigation system
$495 AdvanceTrac stability control
$475 Convenience package with power pedals, garage-door opener and reverse park-sensing system
$195 Sirius satellite radio
* Add $750 for freight.
Same spacious room in cabin and trunk.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Transportation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.