by Ted West
Back to the future.
Base Price $17,695
As Tested $24,095
Generation four of Ford's Taurus goes out of its way to undo the loopy stylistic oddities of generation three. The basic form of the all-new 2000 Taurus is sleek and fresh. The foregoing model's fixation with ovals, ovals, ovals is replaced by an attractive contemporary appearance that confidently leads the way to Ford's future.
But the 2000 Taurus is more than just a styling exercise. Upgraded powertrains provide vigorous response. Its handling, while suitably smooth and comfortable, delivers a sporting crispness that will satisfy even the aspiring Formula 1 driver in the family. The new Taurus cabin is functional and attractive, with controls that are straightforward and easy to use. The materials, switchgear and interior textures have a high-quality look and feel. Should you opt for leather seating, the Taurus has clearly profited from Ford's relationship with the luxury sedans of Jaguar Cars.
The 2000 Taurus comes in two trim levels: the base LX Sedan ($17,695) and the high-end SE Sedan and Wagon.
The most fully equipped, luxurious and attractive versions of the SE are the $19,620 SVG (Special Value Group) and top-of-the-line $20,895 Comfort editions.
Key elements distinguishing the SE Sedan from the base LX are the SE's body-color exterior mirrors, alloy wheels, AM/FM/cassette stereo (the LX lacks cassette), available six-passenger seating and remote keyless entry. The upscale SVG includes anti-lock braking (ABS), power driver's seat, 60/40 split fold-down rear seat and dual lighted vanity mirrors. The SE Comfort adds to this machined five-spoke alloy wheels, leather seating and electronic automatic climate control. The SE Wagon adds four-wheel disc brakes.
Approaching the new Taurus at curbside, you'll recognize immediately its familiar contours. But this new model has a more muscular, forceful appearance that sets it apart from earlier renderings. The grille is slightly broader and more aggressive looking than before. The headlights are larger and produce 25-percent brighter low beams, 20-percent brighter high beams. The new car's flanks have handsomely modeled character lines, and the rear bears a resemblance to the mildly controversial stern of the Jaguar S-Type, applauded by some, found ponderous by others. Our test SE Comfort had P215/60R16 tires mounted on handsome machined five-spoke alloy wheels.
The new Taurus follows the cab-forward layout of the prior model, but has been subtly modified. The new model allows nearly an inch more headroom for front-seat passengers and nearly two inches more headroom in the rear. The rear deck lid is higher than before as well, producing 1.2 additional cubic feet of trunk cargo capacity - 17.0 cu. ft. in all. The roomy SE Wagon, with its rear seat down, has space for a maximum of 81.3 cu. ft. of cargo--38.8 cu. ft. with the seat up.
Under the hood, the standard engine in all models except the SE Comfort Sedan is the 12-valve 3.0-liter Vulcan V6, generating 155 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 185 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. The SE Comfort is furnished with the high-output, 24-valve 3.0-liter Duratec V6, which delivers 200 horsepower at 5750 rpm and 200 foot-pounds of torque at 4500 rpm. LX buyers be warned: After one drive with the SE Comfort's responsive Duratec V6, you may never be satisfied with less.
Climbing behind the wheel, the new Taurus's interior, controls and instrumentation are admirably simple, straightforward and easy to use. The Taurus's well-publicized adjustable pedals make possible a comfortable driving position for even very short-legged drivers. The small-diameter leather-wrapped steering wheel has a pleasingly thick grip. Buttons for manipulating the cruise control are mounted on the steering wheel and are easy to operate. The highly legible dashboard gauges, which include an analog speedometer and tachometer, are white-on-black. A single stalk on the left of the steering column operates the washer and wipers and the bright/dim control for the headlights. The power window automatic-down circuit operates the driver's-side window only, and there is no automatic-up. On the dashboard just below the tachometer is an on/off switch for the SE's traction control, useful when driving with chains and/or in snow.
The central console containing audio and (HVAC) heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls is an intimidating sea of similar-looking push-buttons and toggle switches. While elsewhere the Taurus is ergonomically first rate, operating the controls on this panel requires very careful reading of the various closely spaced buttons. Among the audio controls, only the volume control is a radial knob--it would be more convenient to have the station-tuner a radial knob as well. In our SE Comfort Sedan, the audio included a CD capability. The removable six-CD changer cassette was cleverly concealed in the center console at the driver's right elbow. This is far more convenient than the remote 12-CD changers commonly hidden in the trunk of other cars. Excellent.
The center console is furnished with twin foldaway cupholders, though the swing arm meant to hold your cup in place was not as firm as it might've been. Overhead, our SE had a tilt/slide sunroof, with a difference. Opening the sunroof required only one touch of the button, whereupon it opened automatically. Very bright idea. Closing the optional moonroof required holding the button down.
The five-seat layout of our test car was excellent, with the front seats providing very good lateral support for a family sedan--without being overly limiting laterally for the Big Guy driver. The cushions and seatbacks are not cushy, but firm seats are usually best on long drives. Each of the SE Comfort's lighted vanity mirrors in the two front visors features a rheostat for regulating their brightness, a novel touch.
The roomy rear three-place seating includes two semi-buckets and a pull-down central armrest containing two cupholders. An HVAC duct at the rear of the center console provides climate control for rear passengers. Dual baby-seat anchors are provided on each side of the rear seat. In the SE SVG and SE Comfort, the rear seatback is split 60/40 and folds down, providing an enormous pass-through luggage capability for skis and other long items. Again, excellent. The trunk is of generous size and contains the Taurus' mini-spare tire.
While the 2000 Taurus is rich with interesting features, no list of hardware can sum up this car's greatest strength--its behavior on the road. In the past, the driving manners of the Taurus have been utilitarian; it did everything competently but without cause for excitement. And surely, the base LX model maintains that familiar marketing position. After all, Ford has had no trouble selling huge numbers of this sedan.
But the 2000 SE Comfort we tested has an excitingly new personality. Its Duratec V6 is as responsive as a finger snap, delivering crisp acceleration from low revs straight through to the four-speed automatic's glass-smooth full-throttle shift point. This engine not only provides good thrust, it makes an understated but nicely throaty declaration that it means business. In the tradition of the high-performance Taurus SHO, this SE Comfort is a genuinely satisfying car to drive.
Automatic transmissions have been improving by leaps and bounds in the past five years, and the Taurus four-speed is no exception. Its shifts are positive, authoritative, and at the same time, almost impossible to feel. The kickdown response not quite as quick as some of the best European automatics, but it's still very, very good.
If you ever wonder just how important modern systems have become, the Taurus with its powerful Duratec engine can quickly demonstrate the benefits of traction control: Simply switch off the traction control, nail the throttle, and the front tires will shriek as they claw for traction. With a powerful modern front-wheel drive package like the SE Comfort's Duratec engine, traction control works very well, reducing wheel spin to help you better control the car.
The 2000 Taurus chassis proves an uncommonly successful home for this forceful Duratec drivetrain. As a family sedan, the SE Comfort's gas-pressurized shock absorbers provide a smooth, impact-free ride. Yet when pushed in the corners, the Comfort proves stable, nimble and ready for more. Cornered hard, its body roll is moderate, and the nicely tuned variable-ratio power rack-and-pinion steering delivers a steady stream of road-information alerts every step of the way. And when the turning is done, this steering system provides improved on-center response, guiding you straight down the center of your course once more.
As we learned in an emergency lane-change demonstration set up in a parking lot, the brakes bring the Taurus to a smooth stop and the ABS allows you to maintain steering control during hard braking. Braking performance was much smoother than that of the Dodge Intrepid.
We hate to say it, but in SE Comfort form, this 2000 Taurus family sedan comes uncomfortably close to being a very good mass-produced sports sedan.
The 2000 Ford Taurus is a vastly improved, competent--even exciting--family sedan. It offers little to complain about, combined with many reasons to nod and smile appreciatively. For just less than $21,000 in the LX, or just over $24,000 for a loaded SE Comfort, the 2000 Taurus offers very good mid-market value with excellent drivetrains, good looks, plenty of creature comforts, and the added bonus of a surprising level of driving pleasure. We think this new model will prove to be far more popular than the last-generation Taurus.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.