We’re covering the hot-rod SHO version in its own First Drive, letting us focus on the mainstream SE, SEL and Limited Taurus trims here. The entry-level SE avoids rental-car status with a healthy standard feature list, including a 6-speaker single CD and MP3 sound system, a 6-way power driver’s seat and three power points. The volume-leading SEL adds SIRIUS Satellite Radio, dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob as standard, plus plenty of options ranging from the Sync infotainment system to a 12-speaker Sony sound system to all-wheel drive, a moonroof and remote start.
Buyers of the Limited will enjoy what is likely the most feature-intensive Ford ever. The standard perforated-leather front seats hint at the Limited’s luxury. Besides a standard 10-way power adjustment, the seats offer optional heating, air conditioning, seat cushion “active motion” and lumbar massage to promote circulation on long drives. Even the rear seats are heated. A power rear-window sunshade is also available on the Limited. It’s a truly posh ride.
Under the Hood
All SE, SEL and Limited iterations are powered by the same 3.5-liter V6 engine, rated at 263 horsepower and 249 lb-ft of torque. Likewise, the only transmission is a 6-speed automatic with both center-console and steering-wheel paddle shifting. Well, all except the SE; it forgoes the paddle shifters.
Technically up-to-date with four valves per cylinder and variable-intake camshaft timing, the V6 is smooth and quiet and offers a relatively wide power band, but it isn’t a powerhouse in this heavy sedan. Fuel economy — 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway — is good, considering the Taurus weighs well over two tons.
All-wheel drive is available on the SEL and Limited (and is standard on the SHO). Requiring no input from the driver, the AWD is useful for winter traction in snowy climes. Expect around a 2 mpg drop in fuel economy with AWD, though.
Wheel sizes vary from 17-inch aluminum alloys on the SE to 18- and 19-inch choices on the SEL. The Limited steps up to chrome 19-inch rims; all versions wear all-season tires. The suspension is nicely damped via three tuning variations across the SE, SEL and Limited trims, resulting in an almost athletic ride but without a hint of harshness.
No shrinking violet on the outside, the Taurus continues its powerfully contemporary theme inside. A deep center console strongly defines the dual-cockpit layout, while flowing lines and a sharp forward rake to the dashboard set an energetic yet elegant tone. Rich detailing and quality materials abound, with cloth seating standard on the SEL and leather optional.
Because Ford now sees sedans as a personal reward rather than as basic family transportation, and with the Taurus as the flagship Ford automobile, this four door is stuffed full of electronic aids and convenience features. For example, auto-dimming outside mirrors, an exterior temperature display, a trip computer and a compass are all standard on the SEL, but that’s just a warm-up. Options include Sync for hands-free communication, navigation and entertainment, plus radar-guided cruise control and reverse and blind spot warning systems (all rather handy).
Keyless entry, keyless starting (via push button), capless fueling and a sophisticated valet control to limit speed and audio volume and to promote seat-belt use by teens are also available. A Sony 12-speaker sound system, voice-activated navigation system with moving map and SIRIUS Travel Link are also available. Ford claims 10 of these features as class exclusives; there’s no doubt the Taurus exceeds in features.
On the Road
Besides all of its electronic trinkets, the Taurus employs the latest in dual-sealed windows, sound insulation, rigid body structure and sophisticated suspension. This gives it a quiet, stable, surprise-free ride. Interstate miles float by, and back-road touring is luxurious.
The flip side to the excellent insulation is a feeling of isolation. The high beltline can limit outward visibility for shorter people, especially across the large hood. Power is adequate, with the V6 zinging unobtrusively when prodded, but unless you opt for the performance-oriented SHO version, the Taurus does not have a lively driving personality. The paddle shifters are excellent for holding the car in gear on hills or in curvy sections, but are ignored in daily driving as superfluous to the automatic’s fine self-shifting.
The radar-guided cruise, blind spot and backing aids are all useful. For example, the cruise control faithfully maintains distance from traffic ahead over a surprisingly long range of adjustable distances. The backing aid is a godsend when reversing from blind parking slots, as it spots cross traffic and sounds an alarm.
Certainly there is no lack of comfort in the front seats. Support is very good and long hours in the saddle should not be a problem. Ford earns high marks for intuitive controls for the many functions literally at the driver’s fingertips, but the price paid for the swoopy forward-sloped dashboard is occasional sunlight glare off the instrument panel. Typically this isn’t an issue, but when it is you will definitely need sunglasses.
Back seaters enjoy their own special place. All but giants have good room in the rear, although basketball centers will find themselves brushing the headliner as the roof does come down slightly.
Generally, however, the Taurus is surprisingly luxurious and well appointed — more than expected inside an automobile bearing a Taurus nameplate. In fact, given a well-optioned Taurus Limited, there are few features reserved for Ford’s upscale Lincoln brand, such as self-parking.