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2010 Ford Taurus
2010 Ford Taurus

First Drive: 2010 Ford Taurus

Taurus is back in business Add to ...

It's the rebirth of an icon.

Some say the Ford Taurus revolutionized the sedan more than two decades ago. It made its debut in 1986 and became an instant hit, winning Motor Trend Car of the Year. It rose to the top and stayed there until the late 1990s.

But the Taurus lost its ground amid a surge of Japanese competitors. In 2005, it was discontinued, replaced with the Ford Five Hundred sedan. But that did little to improve sales. So Ford reverted back to the old Taurus name in 2008. Yet it wasn't enough to spark interest or sales. So designers and engineers went back to the drawing table and recreated an all-new 2010 Taurus sedan - one that's a drastic leap forward in design and performance from its past.

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"The '08 model didn't go far enough. This one smacks you and wakes you up. It feels like a sporty car that you want to drive," says Ford's Arnie Muscat, from the back seat of a new Taurus as I drive from Knoxville, Tenn., to Asheville, N.C.

The Taurus was supposed to be a 2011 model, but Ford's CEO Alan Mulally insisted it come out a year earlier than planned. That wasn't the only smart move. Dropping the price was also wise.

The 2010 Taurus SE FWD base model costs $29,999 - $1,500 cheaper than the outgoing model. The other trims cost slightly more. The SEL FWD is $32,299 vs. $31,999 (2009); the SEL AWD is $34,799 vs. $34,499 (2009). The upscale Limited AWD trim costs $40,699 compared to $40,199 (2009).

For hard-core driving enthusiasts, there's more good news. Returning to the Taurus lineup is the sporty SHO (Super High Output) trim. It costs more - $48,199 - but it comes loaded-to-the-nines with heated/cooled front seats, a power moon roof, heated rear seats and cool innovative technology like a blind spot information system (BLIS) that warns of vehicles in your blind spot and MyKey, which lets parents activate driving restrictions for kids such as limiting the audio volume and top speed.

It also has Ford's 3.5-litre EcoBoost V-6 engine, which delivers the performance of a V-8 engine with the fuel-efficiency of a V-6 and fewer CO{-2} emissions as well. The SHO was originally produced from 1989 to 1999 - in that period, more than 100,000 were sold.

The Taurus' new look is bold and aggressive. "The goal was to develop a car that was a lot sexier than the outgoing product. The outgoing car was confident and this car had to retain that confidence and also be exciting. It had to attract people and generate that 'I want that car' as opposed to 'I need that car,'" says Lon Zaback, interior design manager.

The exterior is wide, low and long. New headlights and recessed parking lamps frame Ford's signature tri-bar grille. New wheels, from 17- to 20-inch, are also available.

A lowered roofline, muscular arches and flowing lines extend across the exterior. But there's one crease in the sheet metal I don't like; it's on the back corner. If you stand back, it's supposed to be a continuation of the line on the body side, but it's broken up by the fuel filler door so it ends up looking like a mistake, a dent in the car rather than creating the illusion of movement that the designers were aiming for.

The SHO stands out even more with beefy 20-inch painted aluminum wheels, a rear spoiler, dual chrome exhaust tips and tiny SHO badges on the exterior and interior floor mats and instrument panel.

The cabin is extremely spacious and comfortable. There's plenty of leg-, head- and shoulder- room in both the front and rear seats. The 60/40 rear seat also folds flat for more flexibility if you need extra cargo space.

The upscale interior, especially on the Limited trim, looks more like a Lincoln than a Ford. But there's a reason you pay more for a Lincoln - Lincoln gets real wood in the cabin; the Taurus gets the fake stuff.

A one-piece forward-leaning centre stack flows nicely into the overall design. It houses the climate controls, audio system and navigation screen, all within the driver's reach. It also has Ford's Sync hands-free system, a fully integrated, in-vehicle, voice-activated communications and entertainment system with 911 assist.

Under the hood of the Taurus is a 3.5-litre V-6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which delivers 263 hp and 249 lb-ft of torque. The SHO gets a 3.5-litre EcoBoost V-6 - it's the first gasoline direct-injection twin-turbocharged engine produced in North America. By 2013, Ford says, more than 90 per cent of its North American lineup will be available with EcoBoost.

The SHO AWD pumps out 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed automatic with steering-wheel paddle shifters. I don't like the paddle shifters - the gear shifts aren't as smooth.

The Taurus' ride and handling is pleasant and comfortable. There's little road, wind, engine noise or vibration. Body roll is minimal, too. The SHO is more spirited, sporty , and firmer. And there's no turbo lag or whining from the engine, either. Rear visibility, however, is obstructed by large rear headrests and a small window.

Ford has a lot riding on its new Taurus, which goes on sale this summer. It's banking its halo sedan will recapture the glory days of the past. And it'll likely succeed.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

2010 FORD TAURUS (SE, SEL, LIMITED AND SHO)

Type: Full-size, four-door sedan

Price range: $29,999-$48,199

Engine: 3.5-litre, DOHC, V-6/3.5-litre, twin turbo, EcoBoost V-6

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front- or all-wheel-drive

Horsepower/Torque:

  • 263 hp/249 lb-ft for non-turbo
  • 365 hp/350 lb-ft for turbo

Fuel economy (litres/100 km):

  • 11.6 city/7.2 highway (FWD);
  • 12.3 city/7.9 highway (AWD);

regular gas; premium recommended for SHO

Alternatives: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Volkswagen Jetta, Saturn Aura, Chrysler 300

Like

  • Spacious cabin
  • Cheaper price on the base model
  • EcoBoost engine
  • Pleasant road manners

Don't like

  • Paddle shifters
  • Crease in rear quarter looks odd
  • Rear visibility blocked by large rear headrests

pgentile@globeandmail.com

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