In the cabin
Although our 2008 Ford Taurus Limited came with just about all the tech options, the one we are most looking forward to, Ford Sync, wasn't available yet. As it was, we were very impressed with the navigation system, voice command, and the stereo. These systems don't have the luxury look that you find in a BMW 535i, but they accomplish most of the same tasks.
The voice command worked well, not up to the same level as that found in the Honda Accord, but almost as good. We pressed the button marked PTT and the car's voice said "main menu," while an icon and the word "Listening" appeared at the top of the LCD. After playing with the system for a little bit, we found out how to issue navigation and audio system commands. For example, with a CD playing, we hit the PTT button and said "audio system," then said "shuffle," and the system played our CD tracks in random order. Navigation is a little more limited. When we tried to enter a destination, it would only let us pick from its POI database, although that worked well when we wanted to find a place for lunch.
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 look-up on the address.
We mentioned above how this system easily handles multiple addresses. It also does route guidance very well, offering adequate notice and using graphics to indicate upcoming turns. Better yet, it has text-to-speech capability, so it can read out the names of streets, a particularly advanced feature.
The stereo in our 2008 Ford Taurus Limited was the upgraded, audiophile model, which meant it had a six-disc in-dash changer and an amp that was too powerful for the speakers. At half volume it was almost painful, and above that the speakers started rattling. This isn't a finely balanced system, but it does produce satisfying bass. The overall audio quality is also good, although it lacks crispness in the high range.
We've also seen this stereo interface in other Fords. It works very well, although it should take more advantage of its screen real estate by showing more song information. Currently, it uses very large buttons and only two lines of text on the display. We like that you can navigate the Sirius satellite radio by channel or genre. There is also an auxiliary audio input in the center console to hook up an iPod.
Although there is a button marked "Phone" next to the LCD, it merely mutes the audio system. Bluetooth cell phone integration will only be available with Sync.
Under the hood
With a 3.5-liter V-6 under the hood, the 2008 Ford Taurus doesn't want for power. As our car was the all-wheel-drive version, we didn't get any torque steer on a fast start, but you probably would with the standard front-wheel-drive version. That engine puts out 263 horsepower, and we could feel all of it when we stomped on the gas. We could also hear it, as the engine makes a delightful growl that penetrates through the dampening material Ford put under the hood.
Of course, the six-speed automatic contributes to the satisfying acceleration, holding its low gears when we gave it the gas from a stop and downshifting nicely when we wanted some passing acceleration on the freeway. The only thing we missed with this transmission was the ability to manually select gears. With the car under heavy acceleration and the engine growling, our hand naturally moved to the shifter, only to find there was nothing for it to do.
The transmission didn't give us a performance downshift when we braked on the approach to a hard corner, but that didn't really matter as we found way too much understeer for canyon carving. We knew we had a problem when, on the first sharp corner we took it into, we found our arms crossing as we rolled the steering wheel around. The suspension wasn't particularly into cornering either, as it let the car body roll out in the direction the g-forces wanted. Sure it has all-wheel-drive, but it seems more designed to deal with heavy snows rather than dry mountain roads.
EPA fuel economy for the all-wheel-drive 2008 Ford Taurus comes in at 17mpg city and 24mpg highway. In our testing we saw an unimpressive 19.2mpg from both city and freeway driving. For emissions, the California Air Resources Board has the all-wheel-drive Taurus listed as a SULEV, a very good rating. As the Ford 500, this car achieved one of the highest safety rankings for a sedan, so if that's part of your criteria, the Taurus is worth a look.
Our top-of-the-line 2008 Ford Taurus Limited tester came with all-wheel-drive, giving it a base price of $28,695. Major options included the voice-activated navigation system, Ford's AdvanceTrac all-wheel-drive stability control, and Sirius satellite radio. With its options, our test car came in at $33,815. When Sync becomes available, it won't add much to the cost, just $395.
The Taurus is a big, comfortable sedan with a middling level of luxury appointments. Its tech implementation is functional but not fancy. Once Sync becomes available, the Taurus could prove to be a very comfortable touring car, with its roomy cabin and huge trunk space. Its fuel economy is too weak to make it a good commute car, and its mediocre handling keeps it from the sport segment. A Toyota Camry Hybrid offers similar space and cabin tech, along with better fuel economy, all for a little less money. And a better audio system can be had in another Ford offering, the Lincoln MKZ.