If a rugged stretch of Appalachia along the Tennessee/North Carolina border seems an odd place to showcase a two-ton full-size family sedan as opposed to somewhere flat and urban (like Chicago), that’s because it is. But that didn’t stop Ford from officially launching its new 2010 Ford Taurus lineup in the Blue Ridge Mountains, home to the famous Tail of the Dragon as well as countless other twisty, driver-friendly roads. With its third rework of the car in five years — starting with the ill-fated Five Hundred in 2005 — Ford’s location choice is a clear indication that it’s feeling confident its big sedan can dance better than the Chicago Bears in “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”
Despite the drive route designed to highlight the Taurus’ newfound athletic stance, the car’s biggest asset is its interior styling. Even on the base model, the plastics are surprisingly soft and comfortable to the touch and seem to be put together quite well. Ford accomplishes this through the use of spray polyurethane to finish the panels, which allows for tighter fits and extra details such as stitching and decorative patterns without adding too much extra cost. The Taurus also features highly comfortable “multi-contour” seats, though the jury is still out on the “Active Motion” system, which is said to help reduce fatigue through the use of inflatable bladders in the seat pad and back rest. Aside from odd sensations in the lower back and gluteus maximus, it’s not certain how well these work. A pad extender for taller folk probably would have been more beneficial.
With the interior poke-and-prod over, it’s time to get behind the wheel. First up: An extended 100-mile-plus jaunt in a front-drive SEL equipped identically to the one driven earlier by MT Detroit editor Todd Lassa. The aforementioned Tail of the Dragon was not on the itinerary, however. Because of its fame, the road has become heavily traveled (and heavily policed), so Ford opted for an alternate route via the area’s numerous state and US routes. The transportation departments in both states are apparently not too fond of great road signage — at one point, the northbound side of one highway and the southbound of another were on the same side of road. Thanks to this and a navigational error or two (441 and 411 look deceptively similar) we took an impromptu detour through the town of Pigeon Forge, a tourist trap to end all tourist traps. The town is home to the Dolly Parton-owned Dollywood amusement park, various theaters, and horrific traffic down the US-441 main drag. After several not-suitable-for-TV words, a pit stop, and a couple of wrong turns, we finally found our way back to US-411. The whole episode probably could have been avoided if our car had been a Limited equipped with the available nav system.
The going got increasingly twisty as the road turned to US-70/US-25, yet the big Taurus was relatively unfazed. The base car’s 263-hp, 249-lb-ft 3.5L V-6 provides ample power and doesn’t feel labored hauling around 4060 lbs — even eliciting a fair amount of torque steer under hard acceleration. Despite its somewhat disconnected steering feel (it’s not any better in the SHO either, from what we could tell), the car turned in compliantly with less understeer than one would expect, although there was just a tad too much body roll for our tastes. Ford even threw in driver-friendly features like standard paddle-shifters (albeit with push/pull operation instead of left-down, right-up) on all but the base SE trim. The gearbox is programmed to hold the selected gear and not upshift until redline (which is curiously missing from the tach) when in manual mode, adding an extra degree of control. Overall, a pleasantly surprising drive that set the bar fairly high for the next day’s drive of the SHO.
Our time behind the wheel of the SHO started out with a torrential downpour accompanied by claps of thunder and flashes of lightning. A wet-weather test looked like it was in the cards, but the rain cleared out fairly quickly. The SHO performed admirably, its 365 hp, 350 lb-ft EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 delivering certifiably quick acceleration. EcoBoost has been the subject of much hype, and after our time behind the wheel, we can say that it’s been justified. In the SHO, it delivers roughly the same fuel economy as the all-wheel drive version of the naturally aspirated V-6 in the rest of the Taurus lineup, but with an extra 100 horsepower. Ford thoroughly torture-tested the unit before production, putting it through the equivalent of a million miles of use, subjecting it to 360 hours of continuous operation on an engine dyno, turning 1000 hot and cold starts and running it for 1000 hours at sustained peak horsepower and torque for good measure. Even better, Ford says there’s extra power left on tap for tuners to (Eco) boost it further. After some prodding, Advanced Engine Design and Development Manager Brett Hinds said that the engine could be safely coaxed to about 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque without major modifications and that there’s some room to increase peak boost past the stock 12 psi.
And yet, the SHO was almost a letdown because, beyond acceleration, it didn’t feel that much better than the regular car. Part of the problem was no doubt due to the fact that the particular example we tested wasn’t equipped with the optional Performance Package (the one MT Technical Director Frank Markus tested was). Instead, it was loaded to the hilt with every option BUT the performance pack and checked in at a considerable $45,175. Without the performance pack’s summer rubber, uprated brakes, suspension, and steering adjustments, the SHO feels just slightly better than the SEL on the road, almost as if it should be positioned as the top-of-the-line ultra-luxury offering of the Taurus rather than the performance variant. The Chrysler 300C AWD Ford had on hand for a roughly 13-mile comparison drive provided a more tactile driving experience, with its V-8 making for more visceral-feeling acceleration as opposed to the SHO’s almost CVT-like behavior due to its plank-flat torque curve. The Taurus is easily the better car overall, though, featuring a much higher-quality interior and modern design. (To be fair, the Chrysler is a five-year old offering and is due to be replaced for the 2011 model year.)
It took some time and a few swings and misses, but for the most part Ford has finally done this car right, creating a flagship sedan the Blue Oval boys can be proud of — the best, most competitive Taurus since the original one all the way back in 1986.
Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6551871/auto-review/taking-on-the-blue-ridge-mountains-in-the-2010-ford-taurus/index.html