EXPERT REVIEW

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NEW YORK — The styling is governmental. It would fit nicely into any municipal, state or federal vehicle fleet.

That is our first impression of the 2008 Ford Taurus Limited AWD sedan, a full-size car designed to haul parents, children, police, perpetrators or politicians. Even with its bright, bold, three-bar grille, the new Taurus appears devastatingly official.

That isn’t a complaint. It is, instead, restrained praise. There is something to be admired about a car that automatically slows neighboring traffic because of a collective assumption by fellow motorists that they are in proximity to a traffic citation.

The Taurus sedan, available with all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive, gets respect. That is no small thing in an often unruly world.

We noticed as much on our drive to and around this hard-knock metropolis. People gave us space, or they gently pulled alongside the Taurus, looked into the front cabin and breathed sighs of relief when they saw a bespectacled, small, gray-haired man with a woman of eternally undetermined age.

My wife, Mary Anne, and I laughed. “There goes another one,” I’d say. “Yep,” she’d say. We’d chuckle.

But our humor was undermined by vanity. The styling and dimensions of the new Taurus — a car more conservatively designed and substantially larger than its mid-size predecessors of the 1980s and 1990s — made us feel old.

“I feel like a senior citizen in this one,” said my spouse. “Did Ford design this one for seniors?”

The answer is “no” and “yes.”

The new, full-size Taurus follows the ill-named Ford Five Hundred, which enjoyed some fame among senior citizens but hardly anyone else. The Five Hundred was a good, solid, spacious sedan friendly to aging backs and bottoms, attributes shared by its successor. But, given its size and its weight approaching two tons, the Five Hundred largely was treated in the market as an underpowered lump.

The new Taurus shares many of its predecessor’s structural underpinnings. But it has a substantially stronger engine, a 263-horsepower V-6 as opposed to a 203-hpV-6 in the Five Hundred. Fit, finish and material quality are discernibly better in the new Taurus, too. Also, the Taurus has more intelligence — seriously.

Ford has installed its Microsoft-based, voice-activated Sync communications system in the Taurus. You can make phone calls, play music or contact emergency personnel simply by telling the car to do so. It would consume too much space here to explain Sync technology. Don’t worry. The system comes with an owner’s manual.

We developed affection for the Taurus Limited, which we nicknamed “Das Boot” after the 1981 movie depicting life and death on a German U-boat in World War II. Admittedly, sitting in the Taurus Limited on a long drive was nowhere near as harsh and, certainly, not even close to dangerous. But we were overwhelmed by the girth of the thing. We sometimes felt that we were piloting, more than driving the car, an assessment shared by our counterpart in these matters, Ria Manglapus.

“It is so big,” Ria said. “Everything in this car is big. The front seats are so big, you feel like you can slide across them.”That is why, of course, it is good to wear seat belts, especially in cars as large as the Taurus Limited.

But we became accustomed to the car’s size and all of the living space it provided on the road. We could stretch out in this car. We could rest in it at rest stops.

Soon, we expect Ford to build Taurus sedans with advanced diesel engines. Those cars would be about 35 percent more fuel efficient than current models. That development should ensure the long-term success of the born-again Taurus — a big car, comfortable and solidly built, certifiably safe, with enough power and utility to meet the transportation needs of a family, or a city, county, state or federal agency.

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