RICHMOND, Va. -- From Chamberlayne Road in Richmond we loop onto the 295 beltway and head west via I-64 across Virginia's Piedmont Plateau for driving tests in the 2015 Taurus, Ford's fancy flagship sedan.
Taurus for 2015 splits into three grades -- SE, SEL, Limited -- with front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive traction plus two powertrain options.
Standard engine is a dual-cam aluminum V6 displacing 3.5 liters and rigged with performance-enhancing twin-independent variable cam timing. The plant produces 288 hp at 6500 rpm and torque of 254 lb-ft at 4000 rpm while running on 87 octane unleaded gasoline.
Standard shifter for the V6 is a 6-speed electronic automatic with SelectShift manual controls.
The federal EPA sets fuel economy estimates for the Taurus V6 powertrain at 19 mpg city and 29 mpg highway for a FWD Taurus, or 18/26 mpg city/highway for the AWD version.
Optional power for 2015 Taurus FWD issues comes from Ford's 2.0-liter EcoBoost 4-in-line plant with turbo-charging, gasoline direct fuel injection and variable valve timing. The EcoBoost turbo delivers 240 hp at 5500 rpm with 270 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm, and it too links to a 6-speed SelectShift automatic.
Fuel-burn scores for Taurus outfitted with the EcoBoost engine tally to 22/32 mpg city/highway -- the 32 mpg highway rating qualifies Taurus '15 as the most fuel-efficient gasoline-fired large-size sedan in the United States.
The 2015 Taurus with a 112-inch wheelbase and overall length of 202.9 inches has the structural package of a mid-size model yet the passenger compartment with 123.3 cubic feet of space seems more akin to a large-size car.
It looks big too. The body features a muscular hood shape and aggressive prow with narrow corner headlamp clusters flanking a 6-sided grille with chrome fins, taut fender bulges over wheelwells and an edgy tail design with bisected LED lamps and twin exhaust pipes.
Ford engineers tune all editions to deliver surprisingly sporty handling traits. Taurus has independent suspension components -- front MacPherson struts with rear-facing L-shaped lower control arms and a 32-mm stabilizer bar, and a rear multilink design with coil-over shocks.
Brakes consist of a disc at every wheel with linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus a traction control system (TCS) and electronic stability control (ESC) device.
Ford applies additional dynamic safety devices such as Torque Vectoring Control, which adds a touch of braking to the outward front wheel when powering through a corner, and Curve Control, which automatically slows the car when onboard motion sensors detect that a driver is proceeding too quickly into a curve.
Ford also loads Taurus with passive safety systems. Front riders have dual 2-stage frontal air bags and rear anchors to tether a child's safety seat. Side-impact air bags mounted on outboard front seats and curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows on two rows are also on tap.
Taurus models may be equipped with MyFord Touch and the Microsoft-powered Sync system, as well as optional safety systems and driver aids such as radar-based adaptive cruise control with collision warning and brake support, Ford's lane-keeping system, a blind spot information system with cross traffic alert via icons popping up in side mirrors, Active Park Assist and Ford's Intelligent Access with push-button start and remote start technology.
For 2015 models, Taurus SE editions come with standard Ford Sync and a reverse-view camera. Taurus SEL models increase the slate of standard equipment with ultrasonic backup sensors, while Taurus Limited gets new options such as a sliding moonroof and more standard gear like power-adjustable pedals with memory.
The cabin layout for Taurus pitches a pair of bucket seats up front divided by a multi-function console and followed by a rear bench for three with seatback split in sections. Multicontour seats with Active Motion -- a Taurus option -- deliver a subtle rolling massage to the driver and front-seat passenger to reduce fatigue.
Taurus 2015 editions provide dazzling electronic instrument clusters, a heated steering wheel and electronic finish panels, high-quality soft-touch materials and acoustic insulation laced throughout the cabin.
Ford's MSRP figures for the 2015 Taurus start at $26,790 for Taurus SE/FWD.