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Rental Review: 2015 Ford Taurus Limited

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The plan: to drive nine hundred and seventy-two miles between 8PM Friday night and 1AM Sunday morning. The purpose: for me and my music partner Patrick, familiar to my blog readers from our indefensible habit of trying to arrange, learn, and perform new songs in a two-hour window, to spend Saturday afternoon at Wooten Woods, a “Bass (pronounced “base”) and Nature Camp” sixty miles west of Nashville, TN, jamming with Victor Wooten. The loadout: two six-foot-two men, five guitars, two bass guitars, a Two-Rock Gain Master 35 amplifier, plus clothing and accessories. The available rental candidates: Chrysler 200, VW Passat, Ford Taurus.

Well, duh.

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I’d have chosen the Taurus on the basis of the trunk alone; even after the 2010-model-year restyling, Ford’s biggest sedan retained a truly impressive amount of trunk space. There are very few cars on the market where you can put guitar cases in as shown above, and that includes my old Lincoln Town Car. But the Taurus has more to offer than a spacious trunk. Nearly six years ago, I attended the press preview for this car and was impressed at how quiet and composed the Taurus was on the freeway. “Ninety-five percent of the Lincoln MKS experience for about sixty percent of the price” was my verdict. As a car with which to burn serious freeway mileage in a short amount of time, the Taurus truly excels.

The problem, if there was going to be one, would be in what has traditionally happened to the Taurus during the mid-cycle refresh. The 1986 Taurus impressed everybody from the buff books to the buyers with its materials and quality — but in 1992, Ford took a hatchet to the thing and cut costs everywhere from the dashboard to the deletion of the center rear armrest. The new-for-1996 model was stylish and expensive-looking, but Ford cut features just eighteen months after its introduction. (Halfway through 1996, Ford introduced the “Taurus G”, a bare-bones, low-price stopgap to get Taurus base prices under nineteen grand. I was a Ford salesman at the time and I suggested to customers that the Taurus G was the “choice of discriminating, or discriminated-against, gangsters.”) The 2000 Taurus was an even more egregiously poverty-spec approach to the 1996 platform, featuring drum brakes and interior fabric that would have shamed an ’82 Escort.

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The possibility was distinct, therefore, that when the teenaged Enterprise “manager” brought my 2015 Taurus Limited around I would find it to be a de-contented shadow of its former self. The fact that Ford has struggled to maintain sales volume for the model ever since 2011 did not reassure me on the subject.

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First impressions were good. The 2013 facelift was both minor and tasteful. As is always the case with Ford D-platform automobiles, I’m never really aware of just how large the Taurus is until it’s parked next to something else. It’s 202 inches long on a 112-inch wheelbase and it’s nearly 61 inches high against a width of 76 inches; closer to an S-Class than an E-class in the overall scheme of things. The odd proportions and high seating position are mostly to blame here. It’s just not shaped the same way that most sedans are.

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In creating this car from the bones of the old Five Hundred, Ford rolled the dice on a fashion-forward interior design that was rendered even more impressive by the mid-cycle refresh. No costs cut in here; to the contrary, everything from the center console to the door-mounted window switches feels distinctly premium and a clear cut above what Honda and Toyota have to offer in this price range. The difficulty is that the Taurus isn’t any more spacious than an Accord. To the contrary, the wide center console and sloping dashboard combine with the low roof to produce the distinct feeling that you, the driver, are being lowered into an extremely long and narrow cockpit. Like it’s an F-104 Starfighter or something. It definitely feels like you’re sitting on top of the Taurus, rather than in it, a feeling that is not helped by the relatively low beltline compared to the high-mounted seats. Very different from everything else in this class; the closest non-CUV analogy that comes to mind is the Rolls-Royce Ghost, which offers a similar ergonomic layout. One minor annoyance, shared with the rest of the Ford D-platform cars, is the Tetris-shaped footwell. I’m sure it’s very good for safety — these are cars that do remarkably well in crash tests — but it can be annoying because there are very few places to just rest one’s foot during long drives.

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As with Lincolns of recent memory, there’s the strange combination of a capacitance-touch center console and the pressure-touch MyFordTouch control screen. The Navigator I tested last year had pressure-switch buttons in place of the old capacitance pads so I’d look for the next Taurus to do the same. Not that there will be a “next Taurus” in the United States, mind you. [Note: We’ve heard that it’s on, then it’s off, then on again. Anyone from the Blue Oval care to chime in? -DK]

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The current generation of MyFordTouch is fast, accurate, and far superior to competing systems in my semi-unbiased opinion. It certainly handles phone integration better than my 2014 Accord does. The re configurable dashboard is nice but without the Track Apps you get in the Mustang it feels very neutered and workaday. The standard-equipment Limited stereo is adequate but not sparkling. There’s an optional Sony system, but if you want stellar sound in this vehicle you’ll need to get the version that says MKS on the trunk.

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The Taurus easily passes the sit-behind-myself test. It’s more spacious for rear-seat passengers than the people up front, because the center console doesn’t intrude. It’s probably very comfortable for criminals; one in six Taurus sales is a Police Interceptor.

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The 288-horsepower 3.5L Duratec is unspectacular but effective in this application and shifts from the 6-speed D-platform automatic are both quiet and unobtrusive. Choosing “S” enables limited and dilatory control of the transmission from a rocker switch on the shifter, but if you need to get ahead of traffic summoning the kickdown will blur the scenery in satisfactory fashion. There’s a two-liter EcoBoost available in the Limited for a little more money but it’s a ridiculous choice unless you’re obsessed with highway fuel economy. Not that you’d buy a Taurus for fuel economy, even with the two-liter. This car weighs over two tons and has the frontal area of an Imperial Star Destroyer. I observed 24.5 average MPG running 80mph through Kentucky and Tennessee and about 22 driving around town. My manual-transmission Accord coupe does better on both counts, as does the Avalon V6.

While handling and braking are both entirely acceptable in the modern Euro-influenced Ford fashion, where this Taurus truly shines is in long-distance driving. I’ve made the Columbus-to-Nashville trip two dozen times in the past four years in machinery ranging from my Porsche 993 to a Chrysler Town&Country, and this Taurus has the whole field beat for comfort and low fatigue. It’s exceptionally quiet, crosswinds don’t bother it, and it tracks exceptionally well on low-quality pavement. It’s easily equal or superior to the mid-luxury Japanese offerings in that respect. It’s much better than my Accord, most notably in the quality and quantity of interior noise.

The Friday night trip from Ohio to Tennessee seemed to fly by. The next day, Patrick and I spent seven hours in a variety of jam sessions. Victor took an interest in me and gave me three important pieces of feedback:

“That’s some good… singing.” (Referring to a song in which I both sang and played guitar.)

“Don’t leave your guitar cases on the table, it’s keeping people from eating their lunch.”

“Do you hear how loud your amp is? I shouldn’t have to tell you to turn down, man. Respect the other musicians.”

He also signed my Fodera YYS, to my immense delight. I think we’re still friends. At one point he nodded approvingly at a Wes-Montgomery-style octave line I played. I think that was because I had my amp turned really low and he wanted to encourage that behavior. I think I’m allowed to come back, although that’s because I negotiated the issue with Victor’s wife and not Victor himself. You have to know where your strengths lie in this world.

Leaving Wooten Woods at 8PM Ohio time, after a day of playing my heart out, didn’t exactly fill me with cheer. Yet the Taurus was a worthy companion on the way back. Few cars are less tiring to operate on long drives. No, it’s not fast and it’s not terribly modern in its packaging but compared to a car that can deserve both of those accolades (like, say, a BMW M4) I’d take this Taurus for a long trip in a heartbeat.

Equipping a 2015 Limited to the standard of our rental car would cost $32,230. For that money you get a reasonably complete equipment package including front seats that are both heated and cooled, but you really want a few options on top of that: the moonroof and the auto-dim driver’s mirror. Another few grand gets you the Sony stereo and laser cruise control but at that point you could also start thinking about a Lincoln MKS. Best to keep the sticker under $35k and shoot for a transaction price of thirty flat. At that price, this is a good car and a good value.

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