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Second-Hand: Ford Taurus

Underscoring its newfound infatuation with aerodynamic styling, Ford unveiled the all-new 1986 Taurus on the MGM soundstage where Gone With the Wind was filmed.

  • The image of cars in a showroom

Underscoring its newfound infatuation with aerodynamic styling, Ford unveiled the all-new 1986 Taurus on the MGM soundstage where Gone With the Wind was filmed.

As it turned out, America gave a damn.

It was a $3-billion (U.S.), jellybean-shaped gamble that could have flopped.

Instead, the front-drive Taurus (and Mercury Sable stablemate) was hailed as the reincarnation of the American sedan.

It generated huge sales — Taurus was America’s best-selling car from 1992 through 1996 — but with success came complacency. Ford was content to recycle a stale platform while its competitors reinvented themselves. “There was a time when Accords and Camrys were fighting to catch up to the Taurus — now they’re not in the same class,” read one blog.

This fall, Ford will bolt together its last Taurus, drawing the curtain on a successful 21-year production run that saw 7 million sedans and wagons roll out onto North American streets.

Let’s consider the final, fourth-generation (2000-’06) Taurus as a used-car buy.


CONFIGURATION

The 2000 Taurus wasn’t so much a new generation as a partial renovation. Gone was the fish-faced, ovoid styling of the 1996-’99 cars, replaced by a more conservative but handsome treatment.

The year also marked the demise of the V8-powered Taurus SHO, while the Sable was deep-sixed with the retirement of the Mercury brand in Canada.

Exterior dimensions barely changed, yet designers were able to scoop out more noggin space inside, adding 2 cm of headroom for front-seat passengers and nearly 5 cm in back. With a taller deck lid, trunk space grew marginally, too.

Stylists reverted to a traditional dashboard layout and incorporated one of Ford’s better ideas: power-adjustable pedals that help prevent shorter drivers from sitting too close to the airbag (itself a dual-stage design for safer deployment).

As before, the Taurus was available as a base or higher-trimmed four-door sedan and five-door wagon. Base models had a three-seat convertible front bench for six-passenger capacity, while deluxe models featured two buckets.

The wagon once again offered a two-place, third-row kiddie seat in the nausea-inducing, rear-facing configuration.

Available were two 3.0-litre V6 engines: the old iron Vulcan pushrod made 155 hp and 185 lb.-ft. of torque, and the optional all-aluminum, DOHC Duratec produced 200 hp and 200 lb.-ft. of grunt. Both came with a four-speed automatic transmission.

Traction control and front side airbags were new options, while 16-inch wheels became standard fare. At the same time, Ford pinched pennies by deleting previously available rear disc brakes and kept anti-lock brakes optional.

Minor changes marked subsequent model years, most noteworthy being an enlarged fuel tank for 2001.

The car was mildly refreshed for 2004 with revised front and rear fascias, a redesigned steering wheel and instrument cluster, and powertrain tweaks that enhanced smoothness and efficiency. After that, the Taurus soldiered on with fewer trim choices and more fleet sales, while Ford quietly made funeral arrangements.


ON THE ROAD

“The 155 hp Vulcan engine is underpowered, but does get you moving and is adequate,” says the owner of a 2000 model.

For the record, a Taurus with the base V6 could hit 96 km/h in 10 seconds, while the Duratec-equipped cars could do it in 8.9 seconds. Okay numbers, but the Chevrolet Impala was quicker.

On paper it seemed that the 2000 Taurus hadn’t changed much mechanically from the previous generation, yet it drove considerably better.

Despite somewhat numb steering, the car performed well on the curves without degrading ride quality. Roadholding was mediocre at 0.75 g, but the Taurus felt more sorted out than the numbers suggested.

Brake feel was good, but the stopping distance was longish, requiring 67 metres to haul down from a speed of 112 km/h.

Drivers looking for relief from high fuel costs may be disappointed. Owners reported getting around 14 L/100 km in mixed driving.


WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

If fictional salesman Willy Loman was around today, chances are he’d be working out of a company Taurus.

“I finally turned it in 225,000 km later,” blogged a travelling sales rep, having replaced three sets of front brakes, tires, a water pump and a battery on his ’01 model.

“It did its job.”

Hardly an impassioned testimonial, but like that of many owners, his Taurus meekly went about its business and asked little in return.

It wasn’t always this way. Responding to quality issues in the 1990s, Ford snuffed the 3.8-litre V6 with its chronic head-gasket failures and exorcised the demons from its four-speed automatic, prone to self-destruction.

Still, the 2000-’06 models can induce headaches.

Owners took issue with the car’s tendency to warp brake rotors. A few suggested switching to aftermarket rotors, even expensive cross-drilled discs that dissipate heat better.

The Taurus also seems to have weak front suspension and steering gear, with many owners complaining about frequent tie-rod, link and strut replacements. The front coil springs sometimes broke (a recall item), due to corrosion associated with winter road salt.

Others noticed a mysterious vibration at highway speeds, prompting all kinds of fixes.

“After new struts, new balanced top-of-the-line tires, new tie-rods, new CV joints and new ceramic top-of-the-line brakes and vented rotors, (it’s) still vibrating,” reported the owner of an ’02 model.

“Guess what it was: motor mounts.”

Other problems included recalcitrant transmissions (test drive carefully), bad fuel pumps and EGR valves, leaky coolant reservoirs, faulty steering racks and assorted sensor failures.

Not a great record, but there’s good news for shoppers: Taurus suffers from steep depreciation.

That, and a bit of luck, may make for a used-car experience worth a damn.


We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Suzuki XL-7, Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Infiniti G35. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

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