Imitation may be a sincere form of flattery, but the 2008 Ford Taurus X won't win any style, performance, or tech points by being compared to its predecessor, the Freestyle. While the Taurus X is a rebadging of Ford's sedan-based crossover, aesthetically it's now more akin to its lower-cost cousin, the Ford Edge.
The Taurus X now shares a similar corporate fascia, rear end and contoured look with the Edge. Thankfully, its technology offerings also follow that of the Edge, and it's now available with the well-received Sync system.
For a company with a fuddy-duddy image, Ford has made some downright bold moves of late on the tech front, the Sync system being the most obvious and innovative. But there are other indications that Ford takes tech more seriously than some of its competitors. The Family Entertainment System (FES) in Taurus X Limited AWD I tested ($38,160) is also found in several other Ford vehicles, and is one of the most full-featured and flexible media setups available. For its capabilities, at only $995, it's also reasonably priced.
The FES includes an 8-inch, drop-down screen and DVD player in an overhead console, and includes two sets of wireless headphones. The system also has aux-in jacks to accommodate a separate A/V source (such as a videogame console) and an additional headphone jack is on tap for plugging in another pair of wired headphones.
Rear-seat passengers aren't stuck with only one or two entertainment options with the system. The wireless headphones that come with the vehicle each have two channels for listening to separate sources. But oddly, one set of headphones can access any audio source in the vehicle - DVD, CD, AM, FM, SIRIUS satellite radio or the auxiliary source - but the other can only tune into the DVD or aux source.
Ford gives the front-seat occupants the option of letting the rear-seat passengers take command of the system, or "locking" the controls of the FES via the in-dash head unit. After using a similar head unit/navigation display in several Ford vehicles, I've found it simple and intuitive to use and the 6.5-inch display is easy to read at a glance.
The navigation system performed admirably, although as a $1,995 option it seems overpriced compared to the latest portable nav systems that offer more advanced features at a fraction of the price. And Ford's labeling of the sound system in the Taurus X as "Audiophile" is a bit of a stretch, but it comes standard in the Limited, and performs as good or better than many systems in the same price range.
Ford has also stepped it up on the safety-tech front. The Taurus X secured a coveted five-star NHTSA crash-test rating in all four impact categories, thanks to six standard-equipment airbags, including Ford's Safety Canopy side-curtain system designed to protect passengers in a rollover. The Taurus X Limited also comes standard with Ford's AdvanceTrac stability control, as well as a Reverse Sensing System that warns if you are too close to an object behind you - a must on any vehicle this size.
The Limited comes standard with heated front seats, while second-row heated and auto-folding bucket seats and a power liftgate are part of the $825 Limited Ultimate Package. Adjustable pedals with memory come with the Limited Convenience Package, a $255 option that also includes a universal garage door opener.
The Taurus X also sports some simple but very useful tech touches, such as a calendar that's accessible on the head unit, and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. Although our press-fleet model was not so equipped, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and MP3 control is handled by the Sync setup, which is now standard on Eddie Bauer and Limited trims ($395 on the base SEL model).
The switch from the Freestyle to the Taurus badge also brings with it a much-needed increase in power, with the former's feeble 3.0-liter engine replaced by a more capable 3.5-liter V-6. I had the opportunity to test the Taurus X Limited AWD's winter grip in the snow, and its all-weather tires mostly kept me planted to the pavement.
As America gets over its long love affair with the SUVs and starts its courtship of crossovers, the Taurus X is well positioned to become the Ford Explorer of the category: a reasonably priced, spacious and reliable form of family transport. That it does it with style, power, and cool tech should make the honeymoon that much sweeter.
Doug Newcomb has been writing about car electronics since 1988, as editor of Car Audio and Electronics, Car Stereo Review, Mobile Entertainment, Road & Track Road Gear and as a freelance writer. His new book, Car Audio for Dummies, is available from Wiley Publications. He lives in Hood River, Oregon.