Ford likes the Taurus name so much that it used it on both a sedan and its new six-passenger crossover, the 2008 Ford Taurus X. In many ways, the Taurus X is a much more sensible car than a massive SUV. It's more maneuverable, gets plenty of power from its 3.6-liter V-6, and its lower height makes access easier. And its fold-down seats mimic the utility of a minivan.
But the Taurus X also qualifies as the new king of ugly on the road. Forget Azteks and Elements, the Taurus X brings in a 1980s wagon aesthetic to clinch the new title. Our test car had the Eddie Bauer trim, giving the body a two-tone treatment, which made the look even worse. The car has completely unnecessary big wheel arches that get unfortunately accentuated with the Eddie Bauer paint job. The C pillar sticks out from the rear doors, making the cargo area look like it was put on as an afterthought. The nose of the Taurus X is poorly proportioned to the rest of the car, being too long and low. Then there are the big vents under the front bumper that look like they were supposed to be covered with a mesh, but Ford ran out of money for materials.
If you are inside the car, things aren't so bad. The seats are comfortable, the ride is nice, and our test car came equipped with the navigation system and the rear-seat DVD player. And the new Ford Sync system is an option on the Taurus X. The middle and third-row seats both fold down, creating a big, flat load floor in back of the car.
Test the tech: Cinema Taurus X
For our tech test of the Taurus X, we settled into the middle-row seats to watch a movie on the rear-seat DVD entertainment system. This system uses a conventional roof-mounted 8-inch LCD screen and player, with audio playing over the car's speaker system or headphones. We popped an old Peter Sellars' movie, Two Way Stretch, into the player for our car theater experience.
We were planted in the middle-row's captain's chairs, which, although not quite like a full arm chair, were reasonably comfortable. We had to raise the head rests and recline the backs to get them just right for movie viewing. Fortunately for us couch potatoes, the DVD slot is in the unit, just to the right of the LCD, making it easy to change movies out. Some cars have the DVD slot mounted on the stack, so parents can program their kids' viewing content. With the roof mount, it's possible for someone in a front seat to reach back and put a DVD in the slot.
Although this DVD entertainment option didn't come with a remote, like many do, we had no problem controlling the DVD playback from the buttons on the roof-mounted unit. The left side of the unit has a four-way button that lets you choose options on a DVD's menu, along with an enter key for making selections. The right side of the roof unit has buttons for Play, Pause, and Skip. This button divide might lead to sibling fights, but we're civilized and experienced no dust-ups during our viewing.
We were very happy with the screen quality--all of the images in our black-and-white movie came through clearly, with no pixelization or artifacts. The speakers produced adequate but unspectacular sound. For this movie, we had to turn the volume up halfway to hear it well. There are volume buttons on the roof-mounted DVD unit, but for some reason, they didn't want to work. We had to reach into the front of the car to turn up the sound. From the front seat, you can lock the rear controls for the DVD player, which must be today's equivalent of being grounded. With the LCD down, it doesn't obscure the driver's rear view too much, merely occluding the long-range view behind the car.
In the cabin
We found it easy to control the cabin gadgets in the 2008 Ford Taurus X. The big LCD in the center stack is a touch screen, there are redundant buttons on the steering wheel, and there is also voice command. A button on the steering wheel labeled PTT activates the voice-command system. You can issue commands to control both audio and navigation. We found that it recognized our commands well, but it was tedious to use. There is a voice prompt after each command that tells you the available commands. The voice prompts do help in learning the system, and once you get familiar with it, you can preempt the prompts and also recite full command strings, such as "audio system CD next folder," which would move to the next folder of an MP3 CD.
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.