I went to my local Ford dealer and test drove a shiny metallic white Limited, the top of the line. It had the Sony sound system, navigation, SYNC, push-button start, keyless entry, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot warning system.
The car is still quite large, but Ford did a good job making it look less huge. Instead of a large dome-on-a-box shape, the new Taurus looks more like a blunt wedge. The compromise here is that the interior head space is smaller than the old model, and the rearward visibility is not very good. Which may be one reason why they chose to add the blind spot warning and rear view camera as options. The trunk is still huge.
I like the re-style. It is distinctive without being outlandish (see Chrysler 300) or derivative (see Avalon). It is definitely not bland-but-functional like the Five Hundred was.
The driving experience was overall pretty good. The powertrain is smooth and quiet, and gives more than adequate power, though it is not a muscle car. Steering feel was excellent, with good on-center precision and crisp response for such a large car. The ride was somewhere in between family car soft and sports car hard, about right for that size of vehicle. I didn't feel like I was in a race car, but I did feel like I was well connected to the road.
The interior is very nice. Ford did a good job putting together an attractive interior without being too blingy (see: MKS). I was particularly impressed with the door panels, which look like they are actual stitched leather, but are in fact high fidelity moldings of stitched leather. I did feel that the center stack was a bit on the wide side, eating up some valuable driver space. There was liberal use of fake wood (which I am not a fan of), but the fake wood was good quality, and it looked a lot like actual wood.
I liked the implementation of keyless entry and start. You walk up to the car, and swipe the hidden door pillar keypad with your finger. The door unlocks. You get in, buckle in, press the brake pedal, and push the start button. The engine fires up and you go. Very quick and easy. The only issue I noticed with this is that I would personally have to re-train myself to lock the car by hitting the door button, since you don't need to hang on to the key fob.
Adaptive Cruise Control was fascinating to use, but had a few weaknesses. If the guy in front of you slams on his brakes, the system flashes a large row of red LEDs to warn you that you need to brake--apparently it is limited in how much braking it can command. Also, the system can not brake the car completely to a stop and then start rolling again, instead it disables itself if your speed drops too low (I tried). It was neat, but not worth the cost in my opinion.
My test drive car had the paddle shifters, which are pretty silly. I found myself fiddling with them because they were there, but I can't think of time when I actually would want to use them. A simple 'L' would be fine for most people, to allow engine braking down grades. I can't believe anyone is fooled into thinking the paddle shifters are "sporty". Message to Ford (and everyone else): If the car won't stall because you forgot to paddle shift, the paddle shifters aren't real.
Some annoyances: the foot-actuated parking/emergency brake was carried over from the Five Hundred as a pedal on the driver's left kick-panel. Ford should move the e-brake to the center console like most modern cars.
Another problem for me is the poor rearward visibility. Between the short rear window and intrusive rear head restraints, the rear view mirror has a poor field of view. Ford should have imitated Volvo and installed pivoting (they don't have to be powered) rear headrests. Normally if you know how to adjust your mirrors, you wouldn't need a blind spot warning system. But on the Taurus, it is helpful because of the poor corner visibility through the rearview mirror.
I was able to find a comfortable driving position, but in my favorite spot, the top buttons of the center console were hard to reach because of the steep rake. As stylish as a swoopy center stack is, I think a steeper angle would have been better for me ergonomically.
SYNC worked well and the navigation system was good looking and easy to use. However, I don't think there is a way to customize the SYNC voice, which my $150 TomTom offers. SYNC also does offer a way to dictate outbound text messages or emails, which would be very useful. The Sony branded sound system sounded good to me.
Overall, I enjoyed driving the Limited. If I bought one, I would buy a cheaper variant (MSRP ~$38,000). If I needed a larger car, or wanted something with some heft, I would definitely consider a 2010 Taurus. Consider the competition: Chevrolet Impala? Ancient platform, mushy, rental-car queen. Toyota Avalon? A big bland mushy couch on wheels. Chrysler 300? Old product, rough interior, though RWD is a plus. Buick LaCrosse? Zzzzzzz.
Stuff I Liked:
- Leather moldings
- Nice fake wood
- Huge trunk
- Steering feel and handling
- Cooled seats
- Seat comfort
- Sony sound system
- Keyless entry and start
- Capless fuel filler
- Park brake pedal
- Rear visibility, headrests
- Steep rake of center console makes reaching top buttons hard
- No speech-to-text messaging on SYNC
- Silly paddle shifters