New Taurus perfectly fine, though somewhat anonymous
BY STEVEN COLE SMITH
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL (KRT)
You want to know what's wrong with Ford? It's sitting in the parking lot -- a silver Ford Taurus SES.
No, there's nothing wrong with the car. The 2002 Taurus, along with the 2003 model, is a solid midsized sedan, capable of hauling around five adults in comparative comfort. Between the two there are only a handful of minor changes, such as illuminated cruise control switches and a new color (Gold Ash Metallic).
What's wrong is how Ford has botched the Taurus brand. When the car was introduced in 1986, it was a genuine revelation, something brand new, which suddenly made sedans from GM, Chrysler and even Honda and Toyota look pedestrian. Though there were teething problems, the early Taurus and its twin, the Mercury Sable, were pretty good cars.
The 1992 redesign was more of a freshening, and when time came for the complete 1996 redesign, the pressure was on -- Ford had been selling basically the same car for 10 years, and it needed the '96 to be a home run. It wasn't. It was overweight, and had a face like a gasping catfish and the profile of a melting Milk Dud. An emergency facelift was ordered, and it was successful, but by then, it seemed Ford had lost interest in the Taurus.
When was the last time you saw an ad for a Taurus? A Taurus TV commercial? Even so, it is the seventh-best-selling vehicle in the country and the third-best-selling car, behind the Accord and the Camry. Granted, a lot of the Taurus production goes to fleet sales, such as rental agencies, but the Taurus remains a profitable car.
Yet it isn't scheduled for a redesign until at least 2005, if it isn't phased out, replaced by the larger 500. Meanwhile, the Camry was new for 2002, the Accord new for 2003.
That said, the test car -- a midlevel SES model with the 3.0-liter Duratec V-6 -- lacks the refinement of the Honda and Toyota, but is nonetheless a very pleasant, if anonymous, sedan. The suspension could be firmer, the steering more precise, but overall, it's a car that handles around-town chores and highway travel with equal grace.
There are some nice features, such as adjustable pedals and a strong Mach audio system with a six-disc CD changer. And on the safety side, anti-lock brakes are standard, with side air bags and traction control together a $565 option. The cloth-covered front bucket seats are comfortable, rear-seat room is adequate, and the trunk is among the largest in the class. And regarding the styling, I think this is a very handsome car, the best-looking Taurus yet.
But as Ford sends the Taurus into the future with baby steps, the competition leaps. The 2003 Accord V-6 has 40 more horsepower, a five-speed automatic transmission instead of the Taurus' four-speed, and plenty of additional features, at a list price about the same as our $24,300 Taurus. How will Ford keep the Taurus moving? By discounting -- there's a $2,500 rebate on the 2002 Taurus, and already, a $1,000 rebate on the 2003 model.
That's fine. But wouldn't it be more satisfying and profitable to do what Ford did in 1986? To simply build a car that's better, or at least dramatically different, than what everyone else was selling?
Easier said than done, I know. But Ford has done it before.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....