2002 Ford Taurus Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Soccer mom with sex appeal.
Taurus is the popular mid-size sedan without the boredom factor. It's a bowl of chocolate-chip mint in a sea of plain vanilla. While most sedans in its class seem designed to blend into the scenery, the Taurus stands out like a wildebeest in plaid pajamas.
Not only does the Taurus look like it came from the future, it drives like it came over from Europe, and with something double its really quite reasonable price tag. Two engines are available, and both deliver a vigorous response. Taurus rides smoothly enough for family duty, but with crisp and sporty handling that would satisfy an aspiring Formula 1 driver.
Not only that, but the cabin is functional and attractive, with controls that are straightforward and easy to use. The materials, switchgear and interior textures have a high-quality look and feel.
In fact, the only serious downside of the Taurus is its dauntingly confusing model lineup. Already one of the most complicated we have ever seen, it has been subtly reshuffled for 2002.
LX ($18,750) is the least changed of the trim levels. This is the base model, but it offers a reasonable list of standard equipment including second-generation, dual-stage airbags; air conditioning; power windows, mirrors and door locks; speed-sensitive power steering with tilt steering wheel; and tachometer.
SE ($19,560) is the lower-mid-range model and adds cruise control, remote keyless entry, color-keyed mirrors, a cassette or CD player (no charge either way), and five-spoke aluminum wheels.
SES ($20,575) is a popular model, with ABS, six-way power driver's seat, and 'aerodynamic' bumpers, among other luxuries. SES Deluxe ($21,675) adds bucket seats, console, floor-mounted gear selector, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a rear spoiler. Backing up the Deluxe model's sportier demeanor is a switch from the standard 3.0-liter pushrod V6 to a 3.0-liter Duratec unit with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder.
SEL ($22,445) is nearing the top of the line. It also comes with 'aero' bumpers and the more powerful engine, automatic headlights, automatic climate control, power adjustable pedals, heater mirrors, a perimeter anti-theft system, machined aluminum road wheels, and both cassette and CD capability. Then, at the absolute pinnacle of Taurusitude, sits the SEL Premium ($23,105), with side-impact airbags and traction control.
Wagons come in SE, SE Deluxe, SE Premium, and SEL Deluxe trim, none of which quite correspond to the same trim levels on sedans. In general, however, Taurus wagons are slightly better equipped than their sedan counterparts. Starting at $21,495, even the SE features four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS, front and rear anti-roll bars, a six-way power driver's seat, a cleverly adjustable luggage rack, and its own unique bumper shape with step pads at the rear. You only have to step up to the $22,810 SE Premium to get the Duratec V6.
With its 60/40 split rear seats folded down, the roomy Taurus wagon has space for a maximum of 81.3 cu. ft. of cargo; or with six passengers aboard, there's still 38.8 cu. ft. behind them.
As mentioned, two engines power the Taurus. Lower-level models use a 3.0-liter ohv 12-valve V6 Ford calls the Vulcan (presumably after the god of iron working, not Earth's staunchest interplanetary ally). The Vulcan produces 155 horsepower and 185 pounds-feet of torque. Our past experience with this engine has been generally positive. Although not particularly quick from a standstill, once rolling it delivers more than adequate performance, along with a nicely rorty exhaust note.
The more sophisticated Duratec V6 displaces the same 3.0 liters, but has dual overhead cams working 24 valves. This higher-revving power plant produces 200 horsepower and 200 pounds-feet of torque. Good as the Vulcan engine is, take one drive with the more responsive Duratec, and you may never be satisfied with less.
Both engines come with a four-speed automatic transmission.
Approaching the Taurus at curbside, you'll first notice the muscular, forceful appearance that sets it apart from its blander-looking competitors. The grille is broad, aggressive, and unmistakably Ford-oval, grinning between the large cat's-eye headlamps. Taurus' flanks undulate handsomely with crisp character lines, and its rear end bears a resemblance to the sexy stern of the Jaguar S-Type.
Seating arrangements have been revised for 2002. LX and SE sedans, previously five-seaters, now nominally seat six, thanks to a seating console between their separate front seats. This is the same arrangement used on last year's SES, and that model keeps it for 2002. SES Deluxe and SEL buyers now get the bucket seats and console that used to come with lesser models, but they can have their six-seat capacity back for a $105 credit. Leather bucket seats are a no-charge option in every Taurus sedan except the LX.
All wagons have the seating console, but SEL Deluxe versions also offer leather buckets as a no-cost option.
Primary controls and instrumentation are admirably simple, straightforward and easy to use. Ford's well-publicized adjustable pedals (standard on SEL, and a $120 option on most other Tauri) make a comfortable driving position possible for even very short-legged drivers. The small-diameter, leather-wrapped steering wheel (SES Deluxe on up) has a pleasingly thick grip. Buttons for the cruise control are mounted on the steering wheel and are easy to operate. The highly legible white-on-black gauges include an analog speedometer and tachometer. A single stalk on the left of the steering column operates the washer and wipers and the bright/dim control for the headlights. The power-window automatic-down circuit operates on the driver's-side window only, and there is no automatic-up. On the dashboard just below the tachometer is an on/off switch for the optional traction control, useful when driving with chains and/or in snow.
On the other hand, the central console containing audio and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) controls is an intimidating sea of similar-looking push-buttons and toggle switches. While elsewhere the Taurus is ergonomically first-rate, operating the controls on this panel requires careful reading of the various closely spaced labels. Among the audio controls, only the volume is a rotary knob. It would be more convenient if the station-tuner were a twist-knob as well.
The removable six-CD changer/cassette is cleverly concealed in the center console at the driver's right elbow. This is far more convenient than the remote 12-CD changers commonly hidden in the trunk of other cars.
The center console is furnished with twin foldaway cupholders, though the swing arm meant to hold your cup in place is not as firm as it might be. Overhead, our SE had a tilt/slide moonroof, with a difference. With only one touch of the button, it opened automatically. Very bright idea. But to close it requires holding the button down, perhaps for safety considerations. Each of the lighted vanity mirrors in the two front sun visors features a rheostat for regulating their brightness, another novel touch.
Our SEL Premium had the five-seat layout, and the excellent front seats provided very good lateral support for a family sedan, without being too tight for the Big Guy driver. The cushions and seatbacks are more firm than soft, but firm is usually best on long drives.
The roomy rear compartment seats three, although the seat forms two semi-buckets and has a pull-down central armrest containing two cupholders. An HVAC duct at the rear of the center console provides climate control for rear passengers. Dual baby-seat anchors are provided on each side of the rear seat. In the SE wagon and SES and SEL sedans, the rear seatback is split 60/40 and folds down, providing an enormous pass-through luggage capability for skis and other long items. The trunk is of generous size and contains the Taurus' mini-spare tire.
The 2002 Ford Taurus is a genuinely satisfying car to drive. Its Duratec V6 is as responsive as a finger snap, delivering crisp acceleration from low revs straight through to the glass-smooth full-throttle shift point. This engine not only provides good thrust, it makes an understated but nicely throaty declaration that it means business. The current SEL model reminds us a bit of the high-performance Taurus SHO.
Automatic transmissions have been improving by leaps and bounds in the past five years, and the Taurus four-speed is no exception. Its shifts are positive, authoritative, and at the same time, almost impossible to feel. The kickdown response is not quite as quick as with some of the best European automatics, but it's still very, very good.
If you ever wonder just how important modern electronics have become, the Taurus with its powerful Duratec engine can quickly demonstrate the benefits of traction control: Simply switch off the traction control, nail the throttle, and the front tires will shriek as they claw for traction. With a powerful modern front-wheel drive package like the SEL's Duratec engine, traction control is almost necessary, reducing wheel spin to help you better control the car.
The Taurus chassis proves an uncommonly successful home for this forceful Duratec drivetrain. Its all-independent suspension provides a smooth, impact-free ride. Unusual in a family sedan, Taurus uses gas-pressurized shock absorbers, so that when it is pushed in the corners, it remains stable, nimble and ready for more. Cornered hard, its body roll is moderate, and the nicely tuned variable-ratio power rack-and-pinion steering delivers a steady stream of road information. And when the turning is done, this steering system provides improved on-center response, guiding you straight down the center of your course once more.
In an emergency lane-change demonstration set up in a parking lot, the Taurus stopped smoothly, with its ABS allowing steering control during hard braking. Braking performance was much smoother than that of a Dodge Intrepid tested at the same time.
With its excellent chassis and Duratec power, Taurus comes very close to being a very good sports sedan for the price of a family mid-size.
The Ford Taurus is more than practical family transportation. It is a genuinely exciting family sedan. It offers little to complain about, combined with many reasons to nod and smile appreciatively. The Taurus offers very good mid-market value with excellent drivetrains, good looks, plenty of creature comforts, and the added bonus of a surprising level of driving pleasure.
Sedan: LX ($18,750), SE ($19,560), SES ($20,575), SES Deluxe ($21,675), SEL Deluxe ($22,445), SEL Premium ($23,015) / Wagon: SE ($21,495), SE Deluxe ($22,120), SE Premium ($22,810), SEL Deluxe ($22,695).
Options As Tested
Power moonroof ($895); power passenger seat ($350); leather seating surfaces (NC); Mach premium audio ($320).
SEL Premium Sedan ($23,015).
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