The setting is a brightly sunny day in Southern California with a new 2013 Ford Taurus SEL. The Taurus has a tilted center screen and bright instrument panel applique in front of the passenger seat. Additionally, there is a bright “racetrack” around the instrument cluster in front of the driver. Frankly, in high ambient light load conditions, this is a disaster of veiling glare. This is when the interior materials reflect the sunlight and either distract the driver or temporarily blind them.
Ford’s MyFordTouch system uses a touchscreen center screen. This is good, but it shows finger prints and with the way the screen is situated in the Taurus it is particularly objectionable. When reversing and trying to use the back-up camera, the sun washed out the backup image and the fingerprints further obscured the view.
In Googling “Veiling Glare”, I found an SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) paper titled “Fundamental Issues of Automotive Veiling Glare” written by Ford Engineers in conjunction with the University of Florida back in 1997. Clearly, they understand the issue, but did not use their own institutional knowledge when launching this model of the Taurus SEL.
Veiling glare is a situation mostly missed by European manufacturers developing cars in gloomy, overcast conditions. American manufacturers, even those developing their products in the Mid-West, usually don’t miss this.
Smaller EcoBoost 4-Cylinder Transforms Taurus into a Much More Nimble Product While glare is more than a nitpick issue with the SEL, the car powered by the 2.0L gasoline direct injection turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with EcoBoost giving 240HP and 270 lb-ft of torque was very nimble. Much moreso than the Taurus with the 3.5L V6 – even in 3.5L V6 EcoBoost form. The car still suffers from an interior too small for the exterior size of the car, but it is good looking and well-appointed.
The prior-generation Ford Taurus was no stranger to AutoPacific’s VSA due to its elevated seating position and cavernous interior. If there was any nit to pick, it was its milquetoast styling. Ford answered with the expressively styled 2010 Taurus, which may boast a bit less room but adds a big dose of appeal. Owners of the 2010 Taurus tell us that it was probably the right trade-off.
Big Victory in Segment. The new Taurus was rated highest in segment in an impressive 32 of 48 attributes, including driver’s seat comfort, cargo space, exterior and interior styling, handling and innovative technology. Clearly, Ford has another winner on its hands with the latest edition of this venerable nameplate.
For a complete list of winners and description of the Awards, click here.
“Ford Taurus’ win of AutoPacific’s 2009 Ideal Vehicle Award shows that Ford has designed a Large Car that is ideal for its buyers. Ford clearly understands what these buyers want and have delivered,” said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, Inc. “In a product segment where buyers value ease of use, generous passenger size and great visibility, Taurus excels.” Those areas in which the Taurus comes closest to ideal include:
* Ease of getting in and out
The Ford Taurus SHO returns after a decade’s absence from the American auto scene. Formerly Yamaha engines provided the power for the SHO, but today Ford’s new EcoBoost powertrain technology provides the power. EcoBoost in Taurus form includes twin turbochargers and gasoline direct injection. Still with a heavily beefed up 3.5L V6, EcoBoost bumps up power from 263-horsepower to 365-horsepower in the SHO. Torque grows from 249 lb-ft to 350 lb-ft. And rated fuel economy stays the same.
I guarantee that EcoBoost will never meet its rated fuel economy. It’s just too much fun to stay on the throttle.
Resurrecting Ford’s Tarnished Taurus Name Ford’s front wheel drive large and mid-size entries have been in disarray since 1996 when Ford introduced the third generation Taurus. The “monocle” Taurus with its round backlite violated the truisms it established itself ten years earlier.
Listening to the criticisms of journalists at the evolutionary change from the 1st generation to the 2nd generation Taurus, Ford decided to break the mold and go bold with the DN101 – its 3rd Generation car. Even if the styling had been accepted, Ford reduced the size of its rear seat and trunk. These were characteristics Taurus had excelled in when it was the top selling car in America for a few years.
With retail buyers rejecting Taurus, Ford relegated it to rental and commercial fleet service where it languished. Taurus’ sales volume and image deteriorated as Japanese automakers kept their Accords, Camrys, Altimas fresh and more exciting. By the middle of the first decade of the 21st Century, Ford had decided to drop the Taurus and throw the nameplate in the trash bin.
Ford has not solved the equation of the Ford Taurus (nee Ford Five Hundred from 2005 through 2007). Launched in late 2004 as a 2005 model, the Ford Five Hundred lacked the head-turning style and powertrain selection of the Chrysler 300 introduced at about the same time. Where the 300 is a risky styling tour-de-force, the Five Hundred erred on the side of milquetoast conservatism. Here, it is evident that even the mature large car market rewards expressive stylign much more than styling that blends in.
Five Hundred Was Basically a Good Car – Timing/Competition was Unfortunate
Not that the Five Hundred was a bad car. It wasn’t bad, it was just boring. In AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award research the Five Hundred (along its stablemate Mercury Montego [now the Mercury Sable]) scored near theh top of the industry because of its outstanding seating package, visibility, cargo room and ergonomics. While its powertrain did not set any records, the anemic 203HP 3.0L V6 was adequate for the gray-haired buyers selecting a Five Hundred or Montego.
Launch and Leave Marketing Did Five Hundred No Favors
Adding insult to injury, Ford’s marketing strategy left the Five Hundred high and dry after its introduction period. Launch and leave advertising for an all new car launched into a hotly contested market has proven to be the kiss of death. And for Five Hundred it practically was. Ford watched as Chrysler garnered kudos with its 300/Magnum/Charger while the Five Hundred/Montego/Freestyle struggled to keep Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant working on two shifts.
Major Change After Three Years – Five Hundred Becomes Taurus
Resource constraints prevented Ford from rushing forward changes it knew were necessary. It was decided to adopt a major freshening after three years on the market. Five Hundred gets fresh front end styling adopting Ford’s three bar grille theme. The engine is now a 3.5L V6 getting 260HP mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The interior is upgraded and chassis is much more sporting. Oh, yeah, and the name has been changed from Five Hundred to Taurus. This decision was quickly reached by Alan Mulally when he concluded Taurus was too valuable a name to send to the scrap heap. (Frankly, it should have been Taurus 500 to bring the relationship closer together. Maybe the badges were too expensive).
Could it Be Taurus is Now Great?
In fact, during a conversation with a crusty old journalist at a competitor’s press event, he claimed the best car he had driven for the 2008 season was the new Ford Taurus. Jaws dropped, but he would not back down. He claims the Taurus is right up there with the best.
Well, unfortunately, freshening the styling, upgrading the powertrain and chassis and throwing Ford’s not insubstantial marketing muscle at the Taurus (stressing Taurus 5-Star safety ratings) has not resulted in greatly improved sales. In fact, compared with September 2006 sales of the Five Hundred, Taurus sales for 2008 are down by about 40%. Of course, if you include a few hundred left over 2007 models the number approaches down 30% or so.
So, something drastic is happening. And drastic is NOT GOOD. To date, Ford’s product and marketing have not taken off. Taurus is a much better car than the Five Hundred of a few months ago. Maybe Ford has moved too late with too little in a marketplace that no longer has room for error?
Today at the Chicago Motor Show, Ford Motor Company announced that it would rename the slow selling Five Hundred sedan “Taurus” for the 2008 model year. At the same time Ford will rename the Mercury Montego sedan “Sable” and the Freestyle Crossover SUV the “Taurus X”.
The Mercury Montego was first in AutoPacific’s 2006 Ideal Vehicle Awards. The Ford Five Hundred was third with the Ford Crown Victoria sandwiched in between. AutoPacific’s IVA measures the practical aspects of a vehicle and those that score closest to what their buyers were expecting got the highest ratings. Based on AutoPacific’s research and reviewing Montego, Five Hundred (and Freestyle) at length, VehicleVoice staffers concluded that these vehicles have not sold very well because of their bland styling and anemic powertrains. With a 2008 facelift and changing the names to more familiar monikers maybe Ford can generate stronger sales for these good vehicles.
2008 Model Year Freshening Provides Opportunity to Rename Five Hundred
The Taurus name comes back concurrent with an appearance freshening on the Five Hundred. We have reported previously that the Five Hundred is getting a facelift for the 2008 model year and also getting Ford’s excellent 3.5L V6 engine with over 260HP. So, with the appearance and powertrain changes, the 2008 model year provides an opportunity for Ford to rename the Five Hundred as the Taurus.
Taurus X Naming Will Prove to be a Blunder
The Ford Freestyle is an excellent Crossover SUV that nobody knows about. Plagued with a crummy name, bland styling and anemic engine from launch, Freestyle’s excellent package, seating environment and ergonomics could not pull it out of the doldrums. Now with the market beginning to recognize the term “Crossover SUV”, Ford renames the Freestyle “Taurus X”. This will immediately identify the vehicle as a station wagon, not a Crossover SUV.