TROUTDALE, Ore. -- A looped route, swooping into Oregon's picturesque Columbia River Gorge, quickly reveals the taut handling traits and precise road manners of the upgraded flagship sedan from Ford.
Taurus of 2013 -- in the package of a mid-size model but the cabin of a big car with high-riding seats and a load of high-tech and high-quality gear -- tackles sets of curves with the sure-grip posture of a sporty machine, then delivers an instant kick each time you tap the throttle from one of the two new high-powered yet fuel-thrifty engines.
Despite the sporty driving traits, Ford's newest car carries an independent suspension system tuned to favor a smooth ride quality, and the passenger compartment, padded and insulated, amounts to a plush space lined with stylish appointments and clever accessories.
The revised body design, upgraded cabin styling and enhanced powertrains for Taurus '13 come only three years after Ford transformed the 2010 model.
Roots of this vehicle trace to the 2005 Five Hundred, a sedan fostering airs of a precise European touring car due to the rigid platform borrowed from Volvo, Sweden's automaker at that time under the corporate umbrella of Ford. Then for 2008 Ford applied the Taurus badge to a new and improved version of the Five Hundred with more than 500 changes to enhance the vehicle, and only two years later rolled out the 2010 Taurus with an inch added to the overall length and 1.7 inches more in breadth.
The 2013 Taurus receives a nice face-lift with a muscular hood shape and aggressive prow capped by a six-sided grille with fins, narrow corner headlamp clusters, taut fender bulges over wheelwells and a crisp tail design with bisected LED lamps and dual exhaust pipes protruding beneath smooth fascia.
Ford engineers retuned the Taurus suspension to produce the sporty handling characteristics, then switched the rack-mounted steering system to electric power assistance.
Taurus carries independent suspension components -- front MacPherson struts with rear-facing L-shaped lower control arms and a 32-mm stabilizer bar, and in the rear a multilink design with coil-over shock absorbers.
Brakes on the 2013 Taurus consist of a disc at every wheel with linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control device.
Ford applies additional dynamic safety devices to the 2013 Taurus 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.
New Taurus models also score the latest versions of MyFord Touch and the Microsoft-powered Sync system, new safety and driver aids such as radar-based adaptive cruise control with collision warning and brake support, Ford's Blind Spot Information System with cross traffic alert via icons in side mirrors, Active Park Assist and Ford's Intelligent Access with push-button start and remote start technology.
And Ford packs aboard passive safety systems. Front riders have dual two-stage frontal air bags plus seatbelts with load-limiting retractors and buckle pretensioners, while in the rear there are anchors to tether a child's safety seat. Side-impact air bags mounted on outboard front seats and Ford's Safety Canopy consisting of curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows on two rows are also on tap as standard equipment.
Taurus for 2013 still has the same three trim grades (SE, SEL, Limited) plus FWD (front-wheel-drive) or AWD (all-wheel-drive) traction options but Ford adds a choice of two new powertrains, each with improved fuel economy figures.
Standard engine for the 2013 Taurus is a DOHC (dual overhead cams) aluminum V6 displacing 3.5 liters and rigged with performance-enhancing Ti-VVT (twin independent variable camshaft timing) technology. The plant produces 288 hp at 6500 rpm and torque of 254 lb-ft at 4000 rpm while running on 87 octane unleaded fuel.
Standard shifter for the V6 is the six-speed electronic automatic with SelectShift (manual-shifting control).
The federal EPA sets fuel economy estimates for the V6 powertrain at 19 mpg city and 29 mpg highway for FWD, or 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for AWD.
Optional power for Taurus '13 comes from a 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-in-line plant with turbocharging, direct fuel injection and variable valve timing.
Projected power numbers for the turbo option are 237 hp and a muscular 250 lb-ft of torque on tap yet fuel economy estimates north of 31 mpg.
The passenger compartment on Taurus was designed around body sizes of intended occupants, with more than adequate room for long legs and broad shoulders. Cabin layout 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.
Taurus 2013 editions provide dazzling new electronic instrument clusters, a heated steering wheel and electronic finish panels, as well as enhanced seat trim material and the increased use of higher-quality soft-touch materials plus acoustic insulation throughout the cabin.
Multicontour seats with Active Motion -- a new Taurus option -- deliver a subtle rolling massage to the driver and front-seat passenger to reduce fatigue.
Ford surprises us with pared price points on the improved 2013 Taurus, starting at $26,600 for Taurus SE FWD.