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Motoring: Ford still needs to make more strides

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | January 7th, 2008

Ladies and gentleman, what you are looking at is the improved Ford Five Hundred. Yes, I know its badge says “Taurus” but that is like if I read a book on espionage and go have my name legally changed to James Bond. While I would have a new legal title and some insight into the world of secret agents, I would still be the same person.

The story with the 2008 Ford Taurus is about the same. At the North American International Auto Show, Bill Ford walked on stage and announced that he is no longer the CEO of Ford Motor Company. He then introduced Alan Mulally as the new boss, who arrived on stage in the new Ford Five Hundred. He spoke about some of the improvements made to the car and said he loved his new company car.

Apparently he didn't love its name, because just three months later, the same car was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show, but this time carrying the Taurus badge. The changes were not just for one model. The Ford Freestyle was renamed the Taurus X, and the American market Mercury Montego became the Sable.

The reason behind the name change was because Mr. Mulally and the rest of his marketing team thought that the name was the reason the Five Hundred was not doing well in the market, and perhaps with a more recognized name it might do better.

No Mr. Mulally, the Five Hundred was not unsuccessful because of its name, it was because the car wasn't very good and it simply got walked on by the Chrysler 300C which looked better and also drove better. Plus Chrysler had a whole host of engine options, including V8's. So now, with some technical improvements, it gets the Taurus name, but it is still essentially the same old car.

Oh well, what's done is done and we have to call this current car the new 2008 Taurus. So the question I wanted answered most of all was this; Does the improvements made on this platform finally make this a good car, a car I would recommend, if not to my friends, but to my dad or uncles?

You'd think I'd be exaggerating this, but I could feel the improvements made on this car even before I had exited the Ford parking lot. It just felt better insulated and smoother.

Those feelings were further enforced as I hit the highway. The last Five Hundred I drove was a loaded Limited model, so while being a top of the line vehicle, it was less than impressive. I hated the unwillingness of the engine, I hated the CVT gearbox, the all-wheel drive system was noisy and the sound insulation was nothing what I expected it to be from a near-luxury sedan.

The new Taurus is leagues better and I can't stress that enough. If you drove the old Five Hundred and were put off, you should drive the new Taurus, you'll be impressed. For me, what impressed most was the new gearbox. Instead of the miserable old CVT box, you get a proper six-speed automatic, which is not only smoother but allows the car to be quicker too. Most of its performance boost also comes due to the new engine. Instead of the old 3.0-litre V6 making 203 hp, you now get a much more muscular 3.5-litre V6 making 263 hp. The performance upgrades are a joy and finally makes this car a lot more enjoyable to drive. Despite its better performance, its fuel-economy hasn't been hurt at all. I remember averaging 14-litres/100km with the old Five Hundred, and I averaged exactly the same with the new Taurus. Yes, such economy figures are not exactly great, but they are not bad either, especially when you consider I was again driving the fully loaded Limited model with all-wheel drive.

Remember the complaint I had before regarding the whine from the old all-wheel drive system, well thanks to some tweaking it doesn't do that anymore. I also feel the ride quality has improved and so has the handling, no longer does it go around corners like a boat.

So the Taurus is pleasant to drive, but what about the interior, is that any better?

Well, it looks exactly the same as it did in the old Five Hundred, however there have been a few improvements. Most noticeable was the addition of the new navigation system, which is a great system to use.

Apart from that the interior feels the same, and it still has those seats I don't like very much. The problem with its seats is that there is not enough thigh support, a fault I have found with most Ford vehicles (speaking of common faults, the seatbelt pretensioners are over eager on all Ford vehicles, which leads to uncomfortable situations where you feel tied down in the car. Can't tell you how many times I had to unbuckle the belt and re-engage it to get myself free).

No matter what I did about adjusting them, I still never felt fully comfortable, however after a few days I did get used to them. Apart from that, the most notable improvements came from its added sound insulation. So this interior is quieter than before, and quietness is what most buyers of this vehicle will be looking for.

As always, there is plenty of space in the cabin, front and back, and the trunk is huge too.

Even the styling has improved. Up front is the new triple-bar grille, which has become the new face of Ford cars and trucks. The side profile has gained some gills, and the car has new taillights. Overall, the look is an improvement over the old model.

In fact, the car has improved as a whole. It looks better, has a quieter interior and the performance is much improved.

So now it finally is a good enough car for me to recommend, but even then I have an issue with its price. The base price is fine, it's just $30,899 for the Taurus SEL, but a loaded Limited model like my test car was worth $45,000. That is a lot of money and there are many cars for that sort of money that are as good, if not better, than this Taurus.

The new Taurus is a good car but I just think it is $10,000 too expensive for the loaded model. Plus keeping in mind the depreciation this car is destined to experience, running one for four years will be very expensive indeed.

So thanks for fixing the issues with the car Ford, now can you please fix its price?
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