In 1992, the Ford Taurus slipped past a vaunted import nameplate (the Honda Accord) to become America's best-selling automobile. Ever since, the Ford brain trust in Dearborn, Michigan, has displayed an unusually high degree of corporate common sense in adhering to the old show business adage, "If the audience is buying your act, don't mess with the lines."
Inside and out, on the road or at a standstill, our 1994 Ford Taurus LX test vehicle displayed the company's penchant for refining an enormously successful formula without deviating from it. The smooth, unmistakably aerodynamic styling signature of the original model has been retained for the '94 edition. The impressive combination of performance, handling and ride that propelled the Taurus to the top of the charts was more obvious during our test drive. And EPA ratings of 19 city and 28 highway continue to be good for a roomy mid-size sedan.
For 1994, Ford added reassuring touches such as standard dual airbags, engineering refinements such as speed-sensitive variable power steering, and improvements to the braking system. The Taurus platform shows no signs of crumbling.
As noted previously, the aerodynamic contours, sloping hood and slightly upswept rear deck that constitute the Taurus trademark look have been faithfully replicated. Ford uses subtle paint striping, color-coordinated vinyl protective side moldings, and bumper coverings in lieu of the chrome trim of the earlier Taurus. The result is a nice change in appearance.
Color choices for the '94 Taurus veer slightly to the wild side. Our Taurus LX test vehicle was a hyper-bright Moonlight Blue. Color match between metal and vinyl components approached perfection. The standard die-cast aluminum wheels added a touch of glitter.
Up front on our test car, impact-resistant clear lenses enclosed halogen headlamps and integrated with amber-lensed cornering lamps that wrapped gracefully around the front fenders. Unfortunately, there was a momentary loss of that gracefulness where the taillight lenses barely began to wrap around the fender-giving the impression of unfinished work. This small stumble was the only disappointment in an otherwise highly gratifying exterior tour.
The Inside Story
Our Taurus was loaded with standard and optional equipment. Everything was well-organized and situated for easy recognition and use.
The Taurus LX instrument panel housed a speedometer, tachometer, and fuel and temperature gauges, all easily readable through the leather-padded steering wheel. The position of the turn-signal lights, far on the periphery of the instrument/warning light cluster and not clearly visible depending on steering wheel position, was our only critical note.
The seats in our Taurus LX, including standard front buckets with six-way standard power assist for the driver, were nicely contoured and very comfortable. A full-length center console separated the front buckets and included a single cupholder -- a welcome touch because the CD player included with the optional high-level Ford JBL audio system occupied the space usually reserved for dual, pullout cupholders. The sound from that state-of-the-art system was just what we expected: absolutely superb.
Standard equipment within the Taurus LX base price includes air conditioning, power front-seat lumbar support (which we never did manage to locate) power windows and door locks, and trunk and fuel door releases. The addition of a preferred equipment package gave us the JBL stereo system, a rear-window defroster, remote control mirrors, six-way passenger seat power assist, a power antenna and moonroof, and other luxury goodies.
Despite all those power assists and attendant controls, the Taurus design team created a convenient, uncluttered feel in the interior. Power window, door and window-lock controls were positioned high on the left armrest, right where our driver's hand fell. Mounted on the dash, a separate mini-console made the trunk and fuel door releases clearly visible and accessible. That same nifty little console also housed a key-activated fuel door lock -- on the inside of the car, no less.
We believe it's that same push for organization and excellence in interior design that made our Taurus LX so spacious. No, there wasn't quite enough rear legroom with the front seats pushed all the way back for a tall person to assume a near-supine position. But a family of four could look forward to long hauls in this roomy, comfortable and, as a result, enormously popular vehicle.
The big trunk -- thanks to its recessed spare tire well -- will swallow three or four suitcases and other stuff with ease; it also includes a cargo net.
Ride & Drive
The surface street and highway trials of our Taurus LX left us with little doubt that this formidable sedan was well-engineered to maintain its No. 1 sales position.
The silky-smooth ride the Taurus is known for was evident throughout our road tests. Yet the independent MacPherson front and conventional rear suspension, coupled with the front-wheel drive system, managed to keep us in constant touch with the road. Lane changes and cornering were flat -- virtually devoid of lean or sway, and aided by Ford's variable-assist power steering, which delivered more help at low speeds and less at high ones. Simply stated, this was a smooth, stable and responsive car.
Powertrain response was adequate for most driving conditions. Our Taurus LX test vehicle married an optional 3.8-liter V-6 with an electronic four-speed automatic transmission. The combination accelerated nicely ftom 0 to 60 mph in a little over nine seconds, and took us from 45 to 65 mph on the highway in 6.5 seconds.
That certainly doesn't add up to breathtaking performance, but don't neglect to note several important points. First, there are the impressive EPA ratings. Second, the Taurus LX is a luxury sedan. And third, those in pursuit of pure performance can step into the hot, new Taurus SHO with its mighty 24-valve, 220-hp, 3.0-liter V-6.
Bringing things to a halt with our Taurus LX was easy, thanks to its superbly effective four-wheel anti-lock brakes.
We subjected the Taurus LX to an inordinately lengthy test period: nine days and 1,500 miles of driving. Because we were skeptical? No...we were simply reluctant to turn it in.
Mile after mile, this car proved why it sells -- and it's not because of slick advertising or endless rebates. The Ford Taurus simply delivers virtually everything the most demanding family-sedan buyers are looking for, including purchase and resale value. Need proof? Our loaded Taurus LX sported a highly reasonable MSRP of $23,620. Way to go, Ford -- for continuing to improve a great idea and refusing to merely tinker with a best-selling concept.
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© 1994 New Car Test Drive, Inc.