2009 Ford Taurus SEL (USA)

Taurus. For many years, an automotive name guaranteed to generate strong feelings of antipathy, or worse, in many of the road warriors who ended up being allocated this as their rental car for the week. What had once taken the US car market by storm, and deservedly so, had been allowed to linger on, unchanged for far more years than was sensible, and it was widely agreed by all who had experienced it that the Taurus of the early Noughties was seriously outclassed in just about all matters apart from cost. My own experience did not differ from this, and after I encountered the dire braking performance in the wet, I joined many a car renter who made a “no Taurus” rule in their booking profile. Ford did eventually launch not one, but two successors, with the mid-sized Fusion positioned slightly below the Taurus and the Five Hundred somewhat above it. It was not a winning strategy. Although the Fusion was widely regarded as a good car, sales were slow to take off. The Five Hundred had far more sales problems. Although it was generally well received by the press at launch, it was criticised for its rather weak engine and continuously variable transmission, and the styling was seen as being rather like an enlarged (previous generation) Passat, which was not meant as a particular compliment. Largely shunned by the rental fleet buyers, Ford lost significant market share in the middle of the decade as a consequence.

With the old Taurus finally out of production, and disappearing from the rental fleets, when Ford revealed a facelift for the Five Hundred, and its Mercury twin, the Montego, they surprised everyone by re-introducing the now rather tattered branding of Taurus and Sable. The reasoning was that at least everyone knew what these names meant. A combination of cosmetic changes and a new engine and gearbox pairing meant that these relaunched cars once again were praised by the press, but continued to struggle out of the showroom. They never regained the position as doyen of the rental fleets, either, and I have struggled to get to sample either car during its production life. I did finally get a 2008 model Mercury Sable back in September 2008, which I took from Boston up to Cape Cod, and returned the car favourably impressed.

With a completely new model launched at the 2009 Detroit Show, which went on sale as a 2010 model in the middle of 2009, I had assumed that any remaining examples of the now former generation Taurus had quietly disappeared from the rental fleets. Imagine my surprise when I found one at Hertz’ garage at the Sky Harbor rental car centre. With some admin difficulties, as the car did not seem to be on their corporate database, I persuaded Mrs Hertz to let me take this Taurus rather the allocated Corolla.

The key fob described the colour as Cinnamon. A little web research revealed that this in fact the name that Ford used for this particular hue, and sure enough, when I could see the Taurus in daylight, I discovered that I had indeed selected a brown car. I am not sure I’ve ever seen another Taurus in this colour, as they are more usually to be found in white, silver or black. Despite my fears from a photographic point of view, it proved to be nothing like as challenging as a black painted car, even if the pictures, taken in the strong sunlight of Arizona, do not really reveal the true and rather unusual shade. As to the rest of the aesthetics, well, comparisons with the Five Hundred suggest that replacing the rather anonymous mesh grille with the chrome bars was probably a good idea. Whether the clear lensed tail lights were such an improvement is perhaps a matter for personal taste.

There was no choice of motive power in the Taurus. All models were fitted with a 3.5 litre V6 which develops 263 bhp, and which is coupled to a 6 speed automatic transmission. Standard models came with front wheel drive, but all wheel drive was an option, the uptake of which, although relatively small as a percentage of sales, was higher than Ford had expected. My test car was a rental spec front wheel drive car. It was perhaps unfortunate that I came to the Taurus having just experienced another 3.5 litre V6, in the impressive Infiniti M35, so almost any car was going to seem a bit of a let down in comparison. The Taurus is not as powerful, and that much is quite obvious, but it is perfectly adequate for a family sedan, such as this car is. It is smooth, and refined, and it does actually pull well if you press hard enough on the throttle. It does, however, offer impressive levels of fuel economy. I averaged 26.9 mpg (US), which equates to 32.1 mpg Imperial, which is commendable for such a large car. It has to be said that this relatively parsimonious use of the fuel is in some way thanks to a fair amount of steady speed cruising on Arizona’s well police-d and camera-ed Freeways. No prizes for the steering and handling, but no brickbats, either. There is a fair amount of roll to be experienced when you take a corner at more than moderate speed, but it all felt safe and predictable, and the steering, whilst light has plenty of feel, giving a good indication of what the steered wheels are going to do. I am delighted to report that unlike the previous generation of Taurus, the brakes on this model seemed to be pretty good. Admittedly, I did not get to test them in the wet, but in the dry, they did what brakes are supposed to do, without causing fear and alarm that the car will not stop. There is a foot operated parking brake, as is so often the way with US market cars. The Taurus does ride very well, which coupled with low noise levels, made the journeys down the I10 to Tucson and up the I17 to Sedona rather comfortable and restful. With plenty of glass, all round visibility is also good. I understand that this is one area where the 2010 model is noticeably inferior.

The dashboard in the Taurus is very similar to both the Sable and its Crossover close relative, the Taurus X, but some of the details are different. The main instrument binnacle is identical, and comprises a large speedo and rev counter, with smaller temperature and fuel gauges and a display area for the odometer and trip computer. The dials are cleanly marked and well presented. A single column stalk controls the wiper functions, meaning that lights are operated by a rotary switch on the dash. There is no “auto” function for the lights, so you have to remember to turn the on, and off. Mounted on the steering wheel, you will find buttons for some of the stereo functions, and also some slightly awkward to operate buttons for the trip computer display, which shows as just a few simple fields in very old style LEDs in between the main dials. The centre of the dash contains a stereo system that is identical to the one I experienced in the Sable, and a climate control system, which appears different from my pictures of the Mercury. I think this is because that car had regular air conditioning. There is a fair amount of highly polished fake wood, which I did not particularly like, which goes across the dash from side to side, and which also features on the door trims. Compared to US interiors of a few years ago, the quality of this is a massive improvement, but compared to the very latest designs, it appears a little old-fashioned and as if it is just a little lacking in premium feel. The steering wheel is leather wrapped and the electrically adjustable seats are leather, but it just lacked the final touch. I recall being impressed by the appearance and quality of those in the Mercury, and for that reason alone (along, perhaps with the looks?), I would probably favour the Sable over the Taurus.

The 2009 model Taurus was available in three different trim levels: SE, SEL and Limited. The first of these was a new addition for the 2009 model year. The test car was an SEL, and this provides a good level of specification. Standard features include climate control, a 6 CD.MP3 stereo system with XM Satellite radio, wiper-activated headlights, 17″ alloy wheels among the other items you would expect in a car of this class. The test car had leather seats, which are an option on this model and standard on the Limited, and it featured a large electrically operated tilt/slide glass sun roof.

Although the tape measure says that the Taurus is a big car, it does not feel that unwieldy. However, one look in the passenger cabin, and there is no doubt that this is a commodious vehicle. There is an acre of space for the rear seat passengers, and the boot is massive. It is easy to access, too, with a low loading lip and a large opening. There is a space saver under the boot floor, with just enough space to put a couple of odds and ends in around it. Should you need even more luggage space, the rear seat backrests will fold forward, thus giving you a lot more length, but by no means is this flush with the main boot floor. Inside the cabin, there are plenty of places for odds and ends, with a large cubby under the central armrest, a small holder for pens and phones in the centre console, a shallow lidded tray on the top of the dash, a mediocre glove box and large door bins which have a moulding in them designed to hold a bottle.

Expecting the Taurus to do well against the Infiniti M35 was always somewhat unfair. List price of the 2009 model Taurus started at just over $25,000 whereas the Infiniti’s entry price was in excess of $45,000. As you are getting a similar amount of metal in either case, then if one is not merely blatant profiteering based on a prestige badge, you would hope that you are getting some other qualities for your extra $20,000, and indeed you are. Put it another way, you can see how the price of the Ford has been kept down. What you get is perfectly acceptable, but you notice it in the small details from the way the doors shut, to the quality of the leather on the seats, and the rather tinny feeling single skinned boot lid with just a thin lining. It is still an improvement on what you used to get even only five years ago, but noticeable nevertheless. That said, be in doubt that the Taurus is a perfectly competent large family saloon. It will never win prizes for excitement or “want one” desirability, but for those who need a regular sedan to carry five people and a lot of luggage, it is among the best cars in its class.


2010-04-06 18:19:28

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