Every so often, an automobile company brings out a car that wins them new respect (or respect, period). When Ford introduced the Taurus (and fraternal twin Mercury Sable) in 1985 as a 1986 model, it hit one out of the park and won over thousands of new fans. Suddenly, Honda and Toyota had someone in their rearviews.
Taking a cue from Audi, who had introduced its aerodynamically sound and visually stunning 5000 a few years prior, Ford enveloped the Taurus with a smooth, jellybean-like body. The futuristic shape had no grille, just a body-color panel where the Ford oval resided between the headlights. The Sable went one better (or worse, depending on one's taste in car styling) by having a full-width light bar in place of the Taurus' panel. The Mercury's light panel was mostly a styling gimmick as the lamps contained in it were of low wattage. Both cars had large glass areas with slim pillars, which granted excellent visibility. The Sable went for a more futuristic look in this area with all but the A-pillars blacked out, giving the glass a near wrap-around appearance. With an aerodynamic drag coefficient of only 0.29, the Sable was one of the slickest cars in the world.
The front-wheel-drive, midsize Taurus (and Sable) was available in either a four-door sedan or station wagon body style. The car weighed in at around 3,200 pounds and rode on a 106-inch wheelbase. Unlike its Japanese competition, the Taurus could seat six (or even up to eight in the wagon) as it was available with either a bench seat or bucket seats up front, as opposed to the strictly bucket arrangements in the Accord and Camry.
Four trim levels of the Taurus were available, L, MT-5, GL and LX. L and MT-5 versions were fairly basic, the chief difference between these two being the transmission that was hooked up to the four-cylinder engine; the L had an automatic and the MT-5 had a manual five-speed, hence that car's corny name. A GL came with a few upgrades, such as dual visor mirrors, cargo net and, in the sedan, rear headrests and a rear seat fold-down center armrest. The LX was loaded with features such as A/C, power windows/locks/driver's seat, stereo cassette and cruise control, among others.
The base engine for all except the LX was a four cylinder of 2.5 liters and 90 horsepower. As this was not really enough to propel a midsize car, most buyers went with the optional 3.0-liter V6 that put out a more respectful 140 horses. Transmission choices for the four banger were either a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic. The V6 came only with a four-speed automatic gearbox.
As Mercury has always been considered a step above its Ford relative, the Sable was marketed as a more upscale car than the Taurus. For this reason, the Sable came in just two versions, the GS and the more luxurious LS. Aside from a late-year run of four-cylinder/automatic Sable GSs (quite rare, and for good reason) both came with the V6 and four-speed automatic powerteam. The Sable LS was similar to the Taurus LX in terms of being fitted with numerous luxury features.
Pricing for the '86 Taurus ranged from $10,050 for an L Sedan to $14,300 for an LX Wagon. Sable prices ranged from $10,700 for a GS (four-cylinder) Sedan to $13,068 for an LS Wagon.
For 1987 air conditioning was made standard on the Sable LS and all Sables were V6 powered. No changes occurred for the Ford Taurus as sales continued to rocket upward for the hot-selling duo.
A larger (3.8-liter) V6 engine became optional for all Tauruses, except the L and MT-5 versions, and all Sables for 1988. Although rated at the same horsepower (140) as the standard 3.0-liter V6, the bigger engine produced more torque, and thus better off-the-line response, than the smaller engine. The Taurus MT-5 Wagon was axed, and the Taurus L got more standard features, such as power mirrors and split front seats with dual armrests and recliners. Likewise, the Sable GS received numerous standard equipment upgrades such as air conditioning, split front seats, and intermittent wipers.
Driving enthusiasts received a treat for 1989 when Ford brought out the Taurus SHO. Sporting a 220-horsepower, 24-valve, 3.0-liter Yamaha engine, along with a sport suspension package, the SHO (Super High Output) gave certain car companies a run for their Deutchmarks. The interior continued the serious, performance-oriented theme of the car with a 140-mph speedometer, an 8,000-rpm tach with a 7,000-rpm redline, aggressive side bolsters on the front bucket seats and a console from which sprouted only a five-speed manual gearshift, as no automatic tranny was available for the SHO.
Performance figures proved that this SHO had plenty of go; zero-to-60 mph took only around seven seconds and the car had no problem pegging the needle on the speedo. Four-wheel disc brakes were fitted and handling was competent as well, with a firmer ride indicating the SHO's sporting demeanor. There was no Sable equivalent to the Taurus SHO.
Along with the introduction of the high-performance SHO, 1989 also saw the extinction of the low-performance (a manual transmission alone does not a sporty car make) MT-5. Slight revisions to the grilles, headlights and taillights summed up the changes for the rest of the Taurus family as well as the Sable.
1990 saw the addition of a driver's side airbag and a revised instrument panel. Newly optional were antilock brakes (on sedans only) and a compact disc player. A four-speed automatic replaced the three-speed unit formerly fitted to the 3.0-liter V6. The Sable's changes for this year mirrored those of the Taurus.
LX Sedans and Wagons came with ABS (antilock brakes) as standard for 1991. The four-cylinder engine (the standard powerplant for the L and GL Sedans) got a much-needed boost in power, from the prior 90 horsepower to 115 horses. The 3.0-liter V6 got sequential fuel injection but no increase in its output and LX Wagons now came with the torquey 3.8-liter V6. A new option package, dubbed the "L-Plus," became available for the Taurus L and bundled A/C, automatic transmission and power door locks.
The SHO received some refinements this year as well. Larger (16-inch) tires and wheels replaced the former 15-inchers, and the manual gearbox and clutch were modified for smoother operation.
Alterations to the Sable line consisted of the fuel-injection system upgrade to the 3.0 V6 and two new options for the wagons; antilock brakes and a power moonroof.
By John DiPietro