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 the Focus and Fusion 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.