When it first debuted in 1985 as a 1986 model, the Ford Taurus (and its Mercury twin, the Sable) turned the entire U.S. auto industry on its collective head. The Taurus may even have struck fear into the hearts of the Japanese, whose cars at the time were making mincemeat of Detroit’s sales numbers. Inspired by the smooth unbroken shape of the Audi 5000, the Taurus was a wild departure from Ford’s full-size, rear drive body-on-frame family sedans. This new midsize sedan used a unitized body and was pulled by its front wheels. A choice of 4-cylinder or V6 engines was offered, as well a manual or automatic transmission, and you could buy it in sedan or station wagon guise.
The first Taurus was an immediate success with both the press and the public. Sales figures were strong, and consumers seemed to appreciate the wide and varied options packages, as well as the Taurus’ improved quality and impressive fuel economy. An available front bench seat meant the Taurus could fit six where its chief rivals, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, could only fit five.
In 1989, Ford surprised everyone by introducing the high-performance Taurus SHO. Powered by a Yamaha-built V6 engine good for 200 horsepower, the car included a firmer suspension, an aggressive wheel and tire package, sport bucket seats and a 5-speed manual transmission. The Taurus sold more than 200,000 units in 1986, and by 1991, Americans had purchased more than 2 million of these vehicles.
The year 1992 marked the first major redesign for the Taurus, and it was clear that Ford wasn’t about to mess with a good thing. The exterior shape remained familiar, but with smaller headlights, taillights and front panel, along with more glass. Ford dropped the 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission from the mainstream Taurus line, but the SHO kept its manual and for the first time could be ordered with an automatic. In 1994, the Taurus became the first midsize sedan to offer dual front airbags as standard equipment. Sales continued to be brisk, and the second-generation Taurus soon took the coveted title of best-selling car in the United States, a prize it held until its redesign in 1996.
A Wrong Turn
The third-generation Taurus debuted in 1996, and in the eyes of many, it was a turn down the wrong path for Ford’s popular midsize sedan. Where the first Taurus was original and bold, this design seemed cliche, overwrought by an abundance of oval-themed design cues that made the car look almost cartoonish. The Taurus grew larger and heavier, losing much of its youthful appearance and audience. On paper, the Taurus retained it best-selling title, but only because Ford sold massive numbers to the rental car fleets, a decision that would further damage the Taurus’ image. This generation would see some major improvements, however, including a new dual overhead camshaft 24-valve 3.0-liter V6 engine and the option of a flex-fuel engine. The SHO trim would lose its manual transmission and gain a 235-hp V8 engine.
The years 2000-2007 ushered in the fourth-generation Taurus. The oval themes were played down and the car was given a more formal, mature look. The SHO was dropped, but the Taurus wagon remained. Taurus sales figures stabilized, but they would never return to the car’s best-selling glory days. While Ford seemed heavily focused on its truck and SUV sales, Honda and Toyota continued to evolve their sedans, seeing sales of the Camry and Accord boom while the Taurus faded into the background. In 2007, Ford pulled the plug on the Taurus, and it appeared to be a sad end for what could have been a glorious career.
But thanks to the vision of a new CEO, Alan Mulally, the Taurus name was revived for 2008 by affixing it to another car. Ford’s short-lived Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle SUV became the 2008 Ford Taurus and Taurus X, respectively. The return of the Taurus name was welcome, but the vehicles to which it was attached were hardly the home run hit the company needed. That would come with the introduction of the sixth generation.
A More Modern Sedan
2010 would mark the triumphant return of the Taurus name and image. The 2010 car was big, bold, powerful and cutting edge. It led in the areas of fuel economy, power and interior room while also offering such options as all-wheel drive and a host of electronic safety features, including collision warning and blind spot alert. The SHO would also return in 2010, powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 and all-wheel drive. Despite its bold design, however, the Taurus never seemed to reconnect with the public, who flocked to newer, less bulky designs such as Ford’s own Fusion.
2013 saw a mild refresh for the Taurus including a new grille and taillights, and more modern features such as Ford’s SYNC with MyTouch infotainment and configurable screens.
Ford recently revealed an all-new version of the Taurus in Shanghai, but the automaker confirmed that car won’t be available to U.S. buyers. We’ve also heard several rumors that Ford will no longer sell Taurus at all in North America, making the Fusion the largest Ford sedan. Shoppers who want a big sedan may have to step up to a Lincoln.