First Look - 2011 Ford Taurus

First Look

The year was 1986 and my Dad was driving home with his new car. Granted, it was a company car, but to a six-year-old about to enter kindergarten, it was quite possibly one of the best moments of my life (besides watching his previous car, an Olds Cutlass Ciera get towed away). As he pulled into the driveway, the red Taurus sparked my attention like no other. Granted, it was no Ferrari (not even close), but even to my young eyes, the Taurus's design was something truly innovative.

The jelly-bean like shape was a far cry from the aging Cutlass and it looked very futuristic. As such began Ford's revolution of the mid-size family sedan. Overnight, the competition became boxes on four wheels and the Taurus looked to be the shape of the future. Within a decade, however, the competition had come back hard, with names like Camry and Accord becoming more competitive. While the Taurus still sold well, it no longer had the design edge over the competition. When it was completed redesigned in 1996, the jelly-bean shape was taken too far and turned off many.

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Camry and Accord continued to dominate and the Taurus was left to rental car status. Even when the Ford Five Hundred was re-named Taurus, that original magic never came back. For 2010, Ford hopes the redesigned Taurus will rightly re-assume the mantle. The biggest difference is that it's now classified as a large car and no longer a mid-size. Its competition is the Lexus ES and Acura RL. The new Taurus, based off the platform of the previous model but with a redesigned body, comes with a standard 3.5 liter V6 producing 263 horsepower and mated to an excellent six-speed automatic.

For those seeking even more power can opt for the all-new 365 horsepower EcoBoost SHO. The 3.5 liter is not new, but it's a solid engine that provides more than enough power for a car this size. EPA numbers for it are rated at 18/28 city/highway. The overall exterior appearance is substantially upmarket when compared to previous models. In fact, its looks suggest a level of refinement into Cadillac territory. Just to give everyone an idea as to how large the Taurus is, it's five inches longer than a Toyota Avalon and one inch longer than a Chevrolet Tahoe. Yes, it's a big sucker.

For many years, Ford interiors were not known to be class-leading. At times, in fact, they were downright shameful when compared to the Japanese competition. Not this time as Ford's goal was to build a class-leading interior on par with the best, such as the Avalon. Instead of doing something simple, Ford went with a dual cockpit design with a large center stack splitting between the driver and front passenger. I never thought I'd say this, but the dash design is that of a pure sport sedan, even though the Taurus is still meant to be family friendly.

Everything from the leather wrapped steering wheel to the very comfortable bucket seats is first class. Of the many standard and optional features, the most noteworthy is Ford's excellent SYNC system with Bluetooth connectivity where you can even plug in your MP3 player using the USB port. The navigation system is also excellent, but it's an expensive option. It's better to consider things like adaptive cruise control, moonroof, and all-wheel drive that will enhance the driving experience. Remember, there's nothing wrong with using a paper map.

A sporty ride is not the Taurus's strongpoint as it still feels very much like a big car. It's agile for its size, but don't expect it handle like the Fusion Sport. If you want performance, go for the SHO. A base Taurus starts at $26,000, but that'll rise quickly once the features are added. Don't be surprised for a Limited model to go for $40,000. The new Taurus brings back memories of how good a car the original one was. Even though the latest model does not match the innovation of the original, it successfully recaptures the excitement and reminds the auto world that Ford can still build a top notch family sedan.