We're not crazy about how the maps look in the navigation system, but the functionality is top notch. You can use the voice command or the touch screen, the latter giving you more flexibility in entering destinations. Along with entering a street address, you can pick a location on the map, choose a freeway intersection, and even type in a phone number. If the phone number is in the car's POI database, it will do a reverse lookup on the address. This navigation system has two features we really like. The first lets you enter multiple addresses and will optimize the route to all of them. The second is text-to-speech, which reads out the names of upcoming streets. This feature is particularly useful in that you don't always have to be looking down at the map.
The stereo in the Taurus X plays music from its six-disc changer, which can read MP3 CDs, through an auxiliary input in the console, and through both terrestrial and Sirius satellite radio. The interface for satellite radio can be difficult to use, and it took us a little while before we could figure out how to tune individual channels. The tune function defaults to skipping through the presets. The MP3 CD interface also has its drawbacks in that it doesn't have a list mode for folders. Instead you have to skip forward or back through the folders on a disc.
We like the DSP screen for the audio system, which lets you point the music at the driver, the rear seats, or the entire car. Although it doesn't have the flexibility of individual fader and balance controls, its simplicity makes it safer for the driver to adjust the sound. The speaker system produces average sound quality. It has a subwoofer, but doesn't produce booming bass. At reasonable volumes, the audio comes through clearly, but without much power. We found significant distortion at higher volumes.
We covered the optional DVD entertainment system above. According to Ford's Web site, Sync should come standard on the Eddie Bauer-trimmed Taurus X, but it wasn't present in our test car. Ford has just started rolling this system out, and from what we've seen so far, it will be a very impressive addition, bringing in Bluetooth-cell-phone (currently not available) and MP3-player integration, along with a more comprehensive voice-command system.
Under the hood
The 2008 Ford Taurus X makes for an easy driver. With 263 horsepower, it gets adequate push from its 3.5-liter Duratec V-6 engine. We like that it uses a six-speed automatic, and found that it made its shifts smoothly, downshifting when needed. There is no manual-shift mode, only a low range and a button to turn off overdrive, which keeps the car from going into sixth gear. Judging from the pull of the engine, you could probably put six adults in the car, or load it with cargo, and still pull hills at a reasonable speed.
The Taurus X exhibited some of the sins of larger vehicles, including having a little play in the steering wheel and wobbling a bit in corners. Fortunately, there's only a small amount of play, after which the steering becomes responsive. But you aren't doing any canyon carving in the Taurus X--there's too much body roll in the corners.
Our car was also equipped with all-wheel-drive, a trim-level option on the Taurus X. Other incarnations use front-wheel drive. Combined with Ford's AdvancTrac electronic stability and traction control, the Taurus X has a good combination of the latest road-holding gear, although it's designed for slippery conditions with this car. Along with this safety equipment, the Taurus X also covers all seats with some kind of airbag, with front-side bags and a canopy for all seats.
As for fuel economy, the EPA rates the all-wheel-drive Taurus X at 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, not very impressive numbers. During our mixed city and freeway driving, we observed an average of 17.2 mpg. We would have liked to have been closer to 20 mpg. Much more impressive, though, is the SULEV rating the car earns from the California Air Resources Board, a very good eco score.
Our test car was a 2008 Ford Taurus X Eddie Bauer with all-wheel-drive, a trim level that bases at $30,820. Our major car tech options were the navigation system, for $1,995, Sirius satellite radio, for $195, and the rear-seat DVD player, for $995. Those and a few other sundry options ran the total price up to $37,110.
While the Taurus X has a practical enough interior, suitable for carrying people or cargo, we have a hard time getting over the exterior. If you opt for the top-of-the-line Limited trim, you at least get a single-tone paint job, which doesn't emphasize those wheel arches as much. On the two lesser trims, SEL and Eddie Bauer, you're stuck with two-tone. The cabin gadgets have a few features that push them above average, and when Sync becomes available, the tech in the Taurus X could really shine. But given what we had here, the Toyota Highlander looks a bit better, although it's a little pricier.