The big sedan, that icon of American roads, became an endangered species as gasoline prices climbed, and drivers were not so keen on dumping the entire contents of their wallets in the tank. The 2013 Ford Taurus looks like an attempt to save the big sedan, modernizing the vehicle to fit our current economic and ecological circumstances.
Although almost 17 feet long and featuring slablike sides, the Taurus' front-wheel-drive platform and independent suspension mark a big departure from its massive, road-crushing forebearers. A V-8 does not appear on the menu, but the Taurus' V-6 produces more than equivalent horsepower compared with those old behemoths.
As a further slap at the past, Ford offers the Taurus with a four-cylinder engine. However, with direct injection and a turbocharger giving it 240 horsepower, Ford's EcoBoost engine puts much of the past big iron to shame.
The 2013 Taurus also reflects Ford's latest styling and tech innovations. Ford did a neat job of incorporating its signature three-bar grille from the last decade into the new hexagonal front intake, previously seen on theand models. The slit headlights with their halogen projector "eyes" give the front of the Taurus a predatory look.
The example delivered to CNET came in Limited trim, with front- instead of all-wheel drive and the 3.5-liter V-6 instead of the EcoBoost four-cylinder. This engine makes 280 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque, decent numbers but lacking the efficiency boost that direct-injection fuel delivery would add. On this engine, Ford opted for a variable timing system for both intake and exhaust valves.
Ford couples that engine to a six-speed automatic transmission, the only choice for the Taurus. Its big shifter rows through the standard PRND positions, then ends at S, putting the transmission in Sport mode. Lacking shift paddles on the steering wheel, Ford places a rocker switch on the side of the shifter for manual gear selection.
In a nod to modern convenience, the Taurus' engine fires up at the push of a button, at least with the Limited trim's smart key fob, which also let me unlock the doors just by touching the door handle. Strangely, the only way to open the trunk seemed to be from the key fob.
More family sedan than sport-luxe car, the cylinders fired with an initial growl that settled into a quiet idle. It's a middle ground in an era when cars either seem to start with a ground-shaking explosion or the complete absence of an exhaust note.
Although large, I found the Taurus easy to maneuver in parking garages and through crowded city streets. Its width made it sit uncomfortably close to cars in adjoining lanes, so I found it necessary to assume a New York taxi driver attitude in traffic.
The steering impressed me the most. The Taurus uses an electric power-steering system, a technology quickly being adopted across the spectrum because of its fuel-saving characteristics but often tuned too light. In the Taurus, it gave just a little resistance during low-speed maneuvers, enough to let me know I was turning the wheel and not the volume dial. Barreling down the freeway, its heft increased, making it easy to keep a straight line with little effort.
The transmission felt a little tighter than the typical slushbox, but not by much. In the Drive position, it opted for higher gears whenever possible, typical these days as a fuel-saving measure. When I hit the gas hard for a merge or a lane change, it took a beat to gear down and unleash the engine's potential. The D position worked fine in most driving situations, but I preferred S in the city. The Sport mode made it quicker to access the engine's power for spur-of-the-moment maneuvers.
Despite the transmission's Sport mode, the Taurus is not a sports car. Ford engineers did as good a job tuning the suspension as they did the steering, but lacking active-ride technologies, the Taurus must balance comfort with good handling. The suspension never felt soft, but delivered a reasonably comfortable ride over both city streets and long freeway miles. On a freeway cloverleaf or a sharp city turn, the car maintained excellent balance, and showed that it could handle something over the recommended speed.
Without the EcoBoost engine option, the Taurus' driveline falls short of the cutting edge in automotive tech, but its driver assistance options make up for a lot. Our Taurus Limited model not only came with blind-spot monitors but also adaptive cruise control, collision warning, and automatic parallel parking. The only thing missing was a lane drift or prevention system, something offered on the new Fusion but not the Taurus.
Over hundreds of freeway miles, I let the adaptive cruise control handle all the braking and acceleration. This technology works well and felt very safe. Even when cars made sudden lane changes in front of me, the system handled the braking. It took a little longer than I would have wanted to get back up to speed after a quick slowdown, but I assume Ford built a little safety margin into the system's response.
At one point on the freeway, the Taurus was cruising along at 65 mph, and the system detected stopped traffic ahead. The adaptive cruise control began to brake and the collision warning flashed its red light on the windshield. In a moment of weakness, I decided to take over the braking myself, although it looked like the car could have handled it easily enough.
The rearview camera, with its trajectory lines, was a boon when parking the big Taurus. Even better was the automatic parking system, which easily and accurately steered into curbside spots. While years of city living have given me first-rate parallel-parking skills, I sometimes hit the curb or have to make an extra maneuver, but Ford's parallel-parking system always gets it in one.
As I would expect from its authoritative exterior, the cabin was quite roomy, both for legroom and width. The front passenger seat was practically in a different time zone from the driver's seat. And this Taurus featured many amenities, from heated and cooled seats to the Sony premium audio package.
Along with its new Ford-standard grille styling, the Taurus gets the MyFord Touch cabin tech interface, which gives touch-screen control over stereo, navigation, phone, and climate control. As I recently saw in the Ford Fusion, MyFord Touch remains sluggish in its response to touch input. For example, after starting the car I tried switching the stereo from AM to Sirius satellite radio. Nothing happened when I hit the appropriate button, so I touched it again, and again. Eventually the radio jumped from AM to FM, through a few presets, then finally to Sirius.
However, I did notice that most of MyFord Touch's problems occurred within 10 minutes of turning on the car. It's as if an old carbureted engine powers the cabin tech, one that needs a little warm-up time before you can get going.
Starting out in a city center, I set a destination in the navigation system and began following the route. And just as I was taking the left turn the system suggested, it recalculated, telling me I should have gone straight. Another time, again in a city center, I set out and got off its recommended track. The GPS showed the car driving through buildings, and had to wait to get the car's position fixed on the road before recalculating the route. After a little drive time, the system settled down and gave me accurate directions.
These errors can be particularly frustrating in an unfamiliar city with lots of traffic and pressure to keep moving.
Despite the poor performance, the navigation has an excellent feature set. The maps show in flat or perspective views, and included 3D-rendered building models in some downtown areas. Sirius brings in traffic data, which the system uses to actively change the route, and voice prompts read out street names.
Because of MyFord Touch's sluggishness, using the touch screen to find destinations proved tedious, especially when typing in addresses using the onscreen keyboard. Voice command worked a lot better, letting me give it full addresses as a single string, rather than having to specify city and street separately.
Voice command for the hands-free phone system worked equally well and had no trouble interpreting when I asked it to call people in my phone's contact list. Ford includes a feature that will receive and read out text messages, but it works with only a handful of phones.
I particularly like that Ford puts two USB ports in the console, as I could pack a 32GB USB drive with music and plug it into one while charging my phone from the other. During my road trip with the Taurus, I had a ridiculous amount of music to choose from, and the touch-screen interface mostly made it easy to find particular artists or albums. It still proved a little sluggish when scrolling through a music collection. I found it safer to program a few playlists, or just tell the system to play all the music on shuffle.
The Sony audio upgrade, with its 12 speakers, delivered excellent sound. Played low, it still let me hear music distinctly. When I cranked up the volume, it maintained good fidelity and did not noticeably distort the music until the volume knob was near maximum. What I really like about this system is that it could deliver convincing bass for hip-hop tracks, but also convey some nice acoustic performances. It lacks the midrange finesse to compete with true high-end systems, but it generally proved very satisfying.
The most effective part of the MyFord Touch interface shows up in the instrument cluster, which features small LCDs on either side of the speedometer. The right one let me view cabin tech functions, such as the current track on the stereo or route guidance. It offered me limited control using the steering-wheel-mounted buttons, letting me, for example, switch audio sources.
From the left-hand LCD I could choose different vehicle information displays. It offers two trip computers, a virtual tachometer, and fuel economy. For most of my drive time, I kept the fuel economy display up so as to monitor the Taurus' fuel efficiency. In the city, it was tough to keep it above 20 mpg, in line with the EPA-estimated city mileage of 19 mpg. Maintaining freeway speeds of 65 to 70 mph, the instantaneous fuel economy hovered in the mid-20s, ultimately justifying my driving average of 24.3 mpg, a bit under the EPA highway number of 29 mpg.
A few things stood out as high points of the 2013 Ford Taurus for me. The driver assistance features were excellent, and I would recommend optioning those. Long trips are made much more comfortable by adaptive cruise control, and collision warnings could prevent expensive and time-consuming fender benders. Automatic parking may seem like an unnecessary frill, but it works so well it becomes indispensable.
Although it's not exactly a high-tech feature, I was impressed by the suspension tuning. And while power steering feel may seem like a small point to dwell on, the new electric systems have led to some odd implementations from competitors. I really like how Ford nailed down this part of the car. The V-6 is plenty powerful, but I would be more interested in the EcoBoost four-cylinder, as it should pull in better fuel economy with only a minor power sacrifice.
I think Ford still has some work to do in perfecting the MyFord Touch system. Although it seems to work better after 5 or 10 minutes, I use it most when I start the car. Despite the performance issues, it offers an excellent set of navigation, phone, stereo, and connected features.
|Model||2013 Ford Taurus|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6, six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||19 mpg city/29 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||24.3 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional flash memory-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard with contact list integration|
|Digital audio sources||Smartphone apps, onboard hard drive, iPod/iPhone, USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Sony 12-speaker audio system|
|Driver aids||Automatic parallel parking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, rearview camera, cross-traffic warning|
|Price as tested||$39,680|