2013 Ford Taurus' stellar ride, efficiency can't hide interior flaws
The 2013 Ford Taurus boasts refined driving and good fuel efficiency, but two long-standing drawbacks remain -- and unfortunately, now there's a third.
Last redesigned for 2010, the Taurus this year boasts styling tweaks: a new turbo four-cylinder engine and a raft of interior updates. The turbo four is optional on front-wheel-drive SE, SEL and Limited trim levels, which otherwise get a lower-mileage V-6. The Taurus SHO, meanwhile, has last year's turbocharged V-6 but visually is further differentiated from the base Taurus this year. (Ford markets both turbocharged engines with the EcoBoost name.) All-wheel drive is optional on the V-6 Taurus and standard on the SHO.
I tested a Taurus SHO and an all-wheel-drive SEL at a media preview. We later drove a front-drive Taurus SEL with the turbo four-cylinder.
Decent Power With Any Engine
Thanks to punchy midrange torque, the turbo four-cylinder lends energetic passing power. Editors found it a bit pokey off the line, but prompt accelerator response helps the car hustle when needed. EPA mileage totals a good 22/32 mpg city/highway -- the best among its conventional gasoline competitors, if just by a hair. The Toyota Avalon Hybrid and 2014 Chevrolet Impala eAssist get better mileage still, but both combine gasoline and electric power.
Enhanced this year with the same valve technology as the Mustang V-6, the Taurus V-6 has 288 horsepower, which is 25 hp more than the 2012. It moves well enough from a stop and pulls energetically at higher revs, with a muscular exhaust note as you take on more speed. Front-drive V-6 cars weigh 214 pounds less than all-wheel-drive versions, which should increase acceleration off the line.
In either car, the standard six-speed automatic transmission needs grooming: It holds higher gears coming into corners, delaying needed downshifts until moments too late, and hunts through gears on hilly roads. Step into the gas to pass and the transmission stair-steps down through multiple gears. A Sport mode does little to change the behavior.
The Taurus SHO automatic's reactions feel quicker, with faster shifts and less indecision. The turbocharged V-6 scampers from a stop, hustling to higher speeds with the punchiness of a V-8. Indeed, our friends at "MotorWeek" hit 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds in their 2010 SHO. That's more than half a second quicker than a V-8-powered, all-wheel-drive Chrysler 300C that "MotorWeek" tested. The SHO weighs 4,341 pounds -- lighter than the 300C but much heavier than front-drive competitors from Hyundai, Toyota, Chevrolet and Nissan. For such a portly car, this Ford flies.
In keeping with other full-size sedans, ride quality is very good. The Taurus SHO's sport-tuned suspension picks up a little more chop over bumps, but on high-speed stretches it isolates the cabin as well as its comfort-tuned counterpart. A SHO Performance Package adds even firmer shocks and springs, retuned steering, up-rated cooling hardware and a 3.16:1 final drive ratio for quicker acceleration but lower gas mileage. Our SHO didn't have this package -- leaving us a 2.77 final drive instead -- but Taurus engineer Carl Widmann says the package removes a lot of the SHO's ride comfort for the sort of buyer "who takes his car to the track every once in a while or just wants to drive like a maniac all the time."
With a balanced chassis, good steering feedback and linear brakes, the overall experience suits the base Taurus, though the new electric power steering -- included on last year's SHO and now standard -- feels under-assisted at low speeds for a full-size car. The SHO's wheel takes more effort still, and I'm lukewarm on the payoff. The car is a supreme highway cruiser, but for a performance car it has too much body roll on curvy roads, and the steering feels a bit slow on initial turn-in -- even though Ford quickened the ratio to 15:1 this year from last year's 17:1 ratio.
New for this year, the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder's mileage beats all comers. The V-6 Chrysler 300 comes close, at 31 mpg with its eight-speed automatic, but its city mileage gives up 3 mpg to the 2.0-liter Taurus. The Hyundai Azera and 2014 Chevrolet Impala come close to the V-6 Taurus' 19/29 mpg while the redesigned V-6 Toyota Avalon's 21/31 mpg closes ranks with the four-cylinder Taurus. Unfortunately, Ford recommends premium fuel for both turbo engines. Regular fuel will suffice, but with slight power losses.
Issues Remain, and a New One Arrives
We've harped on the Taurus' cramped confines, and the problem persists. It's one of the largest cars in this class, with length and width exceeding even the imposing 300 and its Dodge Charger twin. The Taurus boasts the roomiest trunk in the segment, with a backseat that should suit even long-legged adults. Even so, the Taurus' overall passenger volume trails all but the undersized Maxima's, and it's felt most up front. The seats have generous adjustment range, but the thick doors and massive center console limit hip and knee room. At least Ford added padding along the console.
Visibility is another problem. Thick pillars, blocky rear head restraints and a low roofline limit the view in all directions. It's ironic, because this Taurus generation's predecessor had outstanding sight lines.
The third issue is MyFord Touch. I'm against carmakers replacing physical controls with touch-sensitive panels, whether it's the Chevrolet Volt or an increasing number of Ford and Lincoln products. The latest version of MyFord Touch gets a few more mechanical controls, like the often-brushed hazards button, and it responds faster than the system's earliest versions. But I still found myself hitting the wrong buttons, tapping climate controls a half-dozen times to adjust the temperature a few degrees, and waiting for a heated-seat icon to register three bars of heat while I wondered if I should tap it again. Competitors like the Charger and 300 have touch-screens with quicker response, and they retain separate physical knobs. MyFord Touch is better than it used to be, but the Ford cars that execute it best -- the Focus compact, the 2013 Escape and the F-Series -- combine the touch-screen with physical controls below.
You can skip MyFord Touch in the Taurus SE and SEL, but pricier trims and top-shelf options require it.
Safety, Features & Pricing
The Taurus scored top marks in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, earning it a Top Safety Pick designation. IIHS has yet to administer its new small-overlap frontal test on the Taurus, but the car has also earned five out of five stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's more rigorous side-impact tests. Standard safety features include antilock brakes, head-protecting side airbags and an electronic stability system with Ford's new Curve Control, which can brake more wheels than the stability system alone to slow things down if you enter a corner too fast. Click here for a full list of safety features.
Safety options include adaptive cruise control with a collision warning system, lane departure and blind spot warning systems and a cross-traffic warning system.
Reliability for the current-generation Taurus has been average for front-wheel-drive cars but subpar for all-wheel-drive models. Take note, however, that MyFord Touch has contributed tosteep reliability declines in certain Ford and Lincoln models. Time will tell if a revamped version can improve that.
Including the destination charge, the Taurus SE starts around $27,500 -- in line with the Charger and 2014 Impala, but cheaper than the Taurus' Japanese competitors. Standard features fall far short of the $30,000-plus cars, but they do include a power driver's seat, alloy wheels and a CD stereo with steering-wheel controls. Start adding options and you can get heated and cooled leather seats, a power passenger seat, navigation, a self-parking system and Ford's Sync system with USB/iPod connectivity and Bluetooth audio streaming. An optioned-out Taurus SHO can top $45,000.
Taurus in the Market
Full-size sedans continued to lose market share in 2012 as shoppers chose family cars -- a segment that boomed 24.8 percent -- by more than four to one. In Ford's stable, shoppers bought more than three Fusions for every Taurus through the year. Why wouldn't they? Many family cars reach the mid-30s in EPA highway mileage, and a few of them have large enough interiors to squeak into full-size designation. It's little wonder consumer tastes are shifting -- and full-size cars need to be damn good to stay afloat. The Taurus has strengths in terms of ride comfort, trunk space and passing power, but its drawbacks could leave it overrun by the changing tide.