It’s amazing how much things change in 10 years in the car business.
Back in 2002, the Ford Taurus was wallowing around in mostly rental-car fleets and bargain-basement bins at local dealers. It was an okay car if all you wanted was a roomy mid-size car for not a lot of money, but interior appointments, refinement, ride and handling were all sub-par in a class dominated by the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The performance-oriented Taurus SHO was gone, a victim of lacklustre sales and a flaccid fun factor.
Today, the refreshed 2013 Taurus has grown from mid- to full-size, its price has grown along with it, and all versions come with an advanced torque-vectoring stability control system, and its button-less MyFord Touch infotainment system can understand 10,000 spoken words (usually, if you know what to say to it).
And the “super high output” Taurus SHO is back, as of 2010, now with a 365-hp EcoBoost V-6, with shift paddles, a twin turbocharged engine and a heavy emphasis on the boost.
The SHO’s output, while impressive, is the least changed of the Taurus family. The base engine has increased to 288 estimated horses (Ford didn’t have confirmed numbers during our test) from its current 263-hp V-6. Likely more importantly to most buyers, this base 3.5-litre V-6 engine is also more fuel efficient, for a tweaked 3 per cent increase in fuel economy, on top of that 25-hp bump up.
Using the U.S. government’s more real-world consumption ratings, which the Canadian government can’t adopt soon enough (planned for 2014), this volume Taurus achieves a combined 10.2 litres/100 km, or slightly less than its Buick LaCrosse, Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 V6 rivals. Mind you, if ultimate fuel efficiency in a full-size package is your goal, the LaCrosse offers a more efficient four-cylinder eAssist mild hybrid system that blows away those figures, while the Charger also offers a cylinder deactivation system, though only on its thirsty 5.7-litre V-8 models.
Combine any of these V6 models with all-wheel-drive – a fine idea with the rear-drive Chrysler and Dodge cars, but likely unnecessary on the front-wheel-drive Taurus, especially if you’re a winter tire user – and fuel economy unsurprisingly drops. But the Ford still comes out at or close to the front of the pack here, thanks to the tweaks (more aggressive throttle shut off, electric power assisted steering).
The biggest new addition for Taurus in the engine compartment for 2013 is an EcoBoost 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine, similar to the one just introduced on the Explorer seven-seater. It will offer about 237 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque, and will arrive in early summer. No prices or fuel economy figures are yet available for it, though Ford promises best-in-class fuel economy. Of course, it likely considers the battery-boosted LaCrosse eAssist in a different class, even though the two will be the only full-size sedans to offer four-cylinder engines in North America.
The Taurus starts at a reasonable $28,799 for a base SE with front-wheel-drive, although those will likely be for the more limited fleet Ford is still doing with the car. The front-drive SEL starts at $33,799, and Limited and hot SHO trims – both featuring standard all-wheel- drive – start straddling luxury postal codes at $41,199 and $49,199, respectively.
The tester we drove around a rainy Portland for half a day was an all-wheel-drive SEL model; we also had a quick spin in the tasty SHO, whose engine doesn’t change this year, but receives the upgraded interior, MyFord Touch system and torque-vectoring system.
It was pretty clear Ford wanted to clear up that it has addressed some of the complaints hurled at the MyFord Touch, and specifically its touch (in)sensitive screen. A less flashy but easier to use Ford Sync infotainment system is standard at sub-Limited trim levels in Canada, but ours had the navi/HVAC/stereo/Bluetooth combo MyFord Touch system. Like the similarly upgraded system in the Flex, the touch-screen was much less fussy to use, and finger pokes actually led to perceptible actions, unlike in the original system, especially on cold winter mornings. And it even understood commands with thick gloves on, which was impressive.
My main beef with the revamped MyFord Touch system is that one still can’t simply cycle up and down your favourite radio station presets using the steering wheel buttons without taking your eyes off the road. It may not bug folks who have a favourite station and leave it there, but for station hoppers like me it’s a deal-breaker.
My short time in the Taurus SHO reminded me of what a fine and refined sport sedan it is, trending to the luxury side of that equation. Its steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters don’t shift the six-speed automatic awfully quickly, but it’s nice to have them. Since the base V-6 is so torquey, it’s really at high rpm where the extra 72 hp make themselves known.
Overall, the latest Taurus is not radically redone, but radically better than it was 10 years ago.
2013 Ford Taurus
Type: Full-size sedan
Base price: $28,799; as tested, $37,699
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 288 hp/254 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.4 city/8.1 highway/10.2 combined; regular gas
Alternatives: Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon