Taurus aims to recapture success

Taurus captivated the public with its weird styling when introduced for 1986 and captured the auto sales crown from the Honda Accord.

But Ford couldn't handle success. A 1996 redesign proved too radical. Worse, a name change to Five Hundred in 2005 erased one of the most successful cars in Ford history.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally noted the lunacy and brought back the Taurus moniker for 2008; 2010 completed the turnaround with a revamp of the car, including curvy sheet metal to remind of its heritage.

Taurus, which is assembled at Ford's plant in Chicago, is offered with front- or all-wheel-drive and SE, SEL, Limited and SHO trim, a performance version missing since 1999. Taurus has a 3.5-liter V-6 that develops 263 horsepower without or 365 with twin turbochargers -- or do you say EcoBoost? Ford does.

Prices start at a respectable $25,170 to a hefty $37,170. Since it is offered with only the EcoBoost and AWD to harness the power, SHO is the one that starts within sight of $40,000.

We tested the AWD Limited. Styling is notable for bringing back curves from the '80s and '90s Taurus and its similarity to most every Japanese midsize sedan. It also has a raised "power dome" hood, and a novel grille that looks like a set of dentures chomping on the Ford oval. Ford calls it "perforated."

Styling changed, but the 3.5-liter V-6 remains the same, plus paddle shifting. It would be nice if the V-6 had a little more low-end torque to more energetically ply the passing lane. Ford says gear ratios are tweaked to deliver off-the-line movement that gets quicker with each trim level. A larger base engine or a single turbo for non-SHO models would work better.

Of course, mileage is also a concern. The 17 mpg city/28 mpg highway rating is very good for an AWD machine, and 1 mpg better city than FWD models, which run $1,850 less.

Ride is a bit firm, though Limited seats are so well cushioned you don't suffer bumps. Handling isn't as pinpoint quick or accurate as a Mustang, but AWD ensures it doesn't lumber around corners or float on straightaways.

Cabin is upscale, and fits and finish show attention to detail-or do you say quality? Cabin room is spacious front and rear, though for some reason Ford decided the roof should run low along the doors and the second row should stand on a platform for theater seating to make conversation easier. A low roof and tall rear seats means you need to duck when entering or exiting -- at least until Ford makes a helmet standard.

Trunk space is outstanding and holds more golf bags (8) than golfers (5). Rear seat backs fold, but not flat with the trunk floor.

New novelties for 2010 include standard MyKey, which allows parents to restrict audio volume and top vehicle speed (80 mph) when teens drive. Adaptive cruise control ($1,195) with collision alert applies brakes if you get too close to the vehicle ahead plus sounds a warning and flashes red lights atop the dash if an impact is pending. Braking works as advertised, but we never pushed it to get an impact warning.

New multicontour seats ($595) include a massager for seat bottom or back that tickles at first, then becomes annoying.

A $2,500 package adds blind-spot alerts that flash yellow in the sideview mirrors when a vehicle slips into your blind spot. But you'll tune out the constant blinking in heavy traffic.

A warning beep as a vehicle crosses your path when backing up is a blessing, as we found when leaving the driveway and avoided a trip to the body shop.

The package also includes heated/cooled front and heated rear seats, more practical than having your butt or back tickled, plus a power rear-window shade that keeps the cabin cool and retracts whenever in reverse.

The test car lacked power moonroof ($895) and voice-activated navigation ($1,995). The money saved by skipping multicontour seats would help defray the cost of the moonroof.

The AWD Limited starts at $33,020 with all the power seat/window/mirror/locks goodies plus climate control, AM/FM radio/CD player, side-curtain air bags, MP3 capability/USB port/auxiliary plug and SYNC communication and entertainment system.

Will Taurus rise again? For Ford's sake, it better.

2010 Ford Taurus Limited AWD

Wheelbase: 112.9 inches

Length: 202.9 inches

Engine: 3.5-liter, 263-h.p. V-6

Transmission: 6-speed automatic MPG: 17 city/28 highway

Price as tested: $37,310

The sticker: $33,020 base; $2,500 rapid spec A303 with heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, power rear-window shade, power adjustable pedals, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitor, cross-traffic alert, push-button start and Sony sound system, $1,195 adaptive cruise control with collision-warning system; $595 multicontour seats

Pluses: Restyled; AWD plus decent mileage; massive trunk; attention to detail, fits and finishes

Minuses: More potent V-6 only in SHO; low roof line hinders entry/exit; rear seats fold, but not flat; pricing rises quickly