Ford Taurus applies a familiar nameplate to a larger vehicle

2008, Ford, Taurus

DEARBORN, Mich. -- The infield speed track at Dearborn Proving Ground, vehicle test facility for Ford Motor Company, is a long straight shot with a banked loop around each end.

To run this course at speed without losing traction or control, a driver needs a vehicle which responds precisely to instantaneous commands from accelerator, brake and steering wheel, plus a suspension setup that checks overt body roll to keep all that mechanical mass balanced atop the four rubber footprints on pavement.

What one driver uses to power down the straight section and whip around each end's parabolic loop happens to be the new flagship sedan for Ford which incorporates torquey V6 engine power plus wily suspension and steering systems in the package of a mid-size model but the cabin of a big car with high-riding seats for five and a load of luxury gear.

The vehicle, capping Ford's car class of 2008, bears the familiar nameplate of a best-seller from the past.

You must drop back a couple of decades to find the first Taurus, a 1986 model which looked radical for its day with a distinct exterior design that seemed far more curvy than other cars of the era. It also performed like no other model that year, so crisp and explicit.

More curvy lines came in 1996 with the egg-shaped Taurus, where design cues stemmed from sensuous contours of an elliptical curve.

But Ford deleted Taurus from the line following the debut of the 2005 Five Hundred, a sedan measuring much larger than Taurus and fostering airs of a precise European touring car due to a rigid platform borrowed from Volvo, Sweden's automaker under the corporate umbrella of Ford.

New Taurus of 2008 applies the popular Taurus badge to a new and improved version of Five Hundred -- Ford itemizes over 500 changes to enhance the vehicle.

The exterior shows revisions, such as a sculpted hood and new front fascia holding a bold three-bar grille. At the tail, new lamps skew to horizontal as a fresh low fascia houses twin chrome-tipped exhaust pipes.

Also, check the chrome vents on front fenders.

Another important improvement concerns the powertrain: Ford installs a larger V6 packing a lot more firepower, which explains why we're zipping the high-speed track at Dearborn Proving Ground so easily.

There's a fuel-efficient dual-cam 3.5-liter V6 below the hood and it links to a six-speed electronic automatic transaxle with standard front-wheel-drive (FWD) or optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.

The V6 produces 263 hp at 6250 rpm and torque of 249 lb-ft at 4500 rpm.

By comparison, the 3.0-liter V6 in the original Five Hundred netted 203 hp at 5750 rpm with 207 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm.

The horsepower bump represents about 30 percent more muscle for Taurus but -- since the new V6 operates more efficiently -- the fuel economy numbers actually improve by a couple of miles per gallon.

EPA estimates for the new engine amount to 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for Taurus FWD and 18/28 mpg city/highway for Taurus AWD.

The AWD device for Taurus is a sophisticated electronically-controlled system developed by Haldex, a Swedish pioneer in AWD mechanisms.

It's always engaged and automatically splits the engine's torque between front and rear wheels to keep tires sticking securely to pavement, wet or dry.

The point of the AWD hardware is to maintain forward momentum and keep the vehicle operating in a safe mode.

Taurus in the new iteration is rather tall for a sedan, due to a bowed roof.

Doors run deep to make cabin entry and exit easy and seats are elevated so passengers sit about four inches higher than in other sedans of comparable size. Ford labels the design as 'Command Seating' and compares the upright seat position to that of a crossover utility vehicle (CUV).

And while the beltline is high, so too is the wrap of windows around the cabin so a driver has good sight lines with virtually no blind spots -- note triangular glass in rear roof pillars to diminish corner vision blockage.

Essentially, the cabin for Taurus was designed around the body sizes of intended occupants, with more than adequate room crafted for long legs and broad shoulders.

It's this attention to personal space that makes the car feel like a larger vehicle than the linear dimensions categorize it, and this perceived spaciousness means you don't mind spending time strapped inside the cabin.

The 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 60/40 in sections.

Issues of personal safety in the car are addressed with strong structural elements and energy-absorbing crush zones front and rear plus a variety of active and passive safety systems aboard.

All editions contain smart dual-stage frontal air bags for front riders, plus seat-mounted side air bags up front and Ford's Safety Canopy curtain-style side air bags.

Equipment promoting active safety includes a fast rack and pinion steering mechanism and four-wheel disc brakes tied to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and traction control system (TCS), with Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic anti-skid device on the option sheet.

Taurus SEL stocks air conditioning, a key fob and fold-flat front passenger seat with power controls, plus an audio kit with AM-FM, a CD player and an audio input jack for MP3 players, and 17-inch aluminum wheels with P215/60Rx17 tires.

The Interior Convenience Package brings dual-zone climate controls, wiper-activated headlamps, eight-way power controls for the driver's seat, wood grain trim in the cabin, and upgraded audio with a six-disc CD changer.

Options include a video entertainment package, navigation system, Sirius satellite radio service, front row heated seats, power adjustable pedals, power moonroof, 18-inch aluminum wheels with P225/55Rx18 tires, and new Ford Sync with voice-activated control over in-vehicle phones, media players and USB storage devices.

The MSRP for Taurus begins at $23,245.

By Bob Plunkett

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Images of the 2008, Ford Taurus

2008 Ford Taurus front view
2008 Ford Taurus front view
2008 Ford Taurus interior shot
2008 Ford Taurus interior shot
2008 Ford Taurus gauge cluster
2008 Ford Taurus gauge cluster
2008 Ford Taurus rear view
2008 Ford Taurus rear view