x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Road Test: new Ford Taurus SEL is a big car with big ambitions

The 2011 model may be North American-born, but it has European style.

Rich-Joseph Facun / The National
Rich-Joseph Facun / The National

Ford Middle East's lineup leans heavily on that of its North American parent. With the glorious exceptions of the Crown Victoria, still sold here but now sadly retired at home, and the European-bred Mondeo, the showroom experience is identical whether you are in Abu Dhabi or Arkansas.

That means you get a range of cars developed specifically for the North American market and a sprinkling of European-designed cars (the Fiesta and the Focus) that are now also considered fit-for-purpose in the US market and, by extension, in the Middle East, too.

Ford's most recent addition to that range, the fifth-generation Taurus, sits somewhere in the mid-Atlantic swell: an American-born full-size saloon that has, one suspects, been drizzled with European sensibilities to make it a little more palatable to fussy modern tastes.

Indeed, when you slip into the driver's seat, you could be fooled into thinking you'd got into something expensively European instead. Soft-touch plastics abound in a nicely furnished, wraparound cabin, while panel-fit is also wonderfully consistent. The general tone is deliberately muted and much the better for it. In fact, if it wasn't for the unnecessary and repetitive use of the word "Taurus" on the fascia  - why does any designer of car interiors ever think this is a classy touch? -  you could easily believe you were sat in that BMW you've always promised yourself, but know you can't afford.

The comparisons are apt though: this is a big car with big ambitions.

Ford America's commercial department has been aggressively marketing the Taurus with a series of head-to-head tests in which, unsurprisingly, it sees off four foreign competitors - a Lexus, an Infiniti, an Audi and an Acura - without getting unduly hot under the collar. Independent tests these are not, of course, but they are an interesting piece of positioning. This is, after all, a product that's meant to be involved in a mid-market fist fight with the likes of the Chevrolet Caprice and the Chrysler 300C, rather than mixing it with the big boys further up the food chain.

But you don't have to dig too deep to find out why Ford is so keen to measure the Taurus against its highest-rolling opponents.

The Taurus began life 25 years ago as the kind of uncomplicated cruiser that Americans used to adore, before both the Japanese and Europeans pinched valuable market share away by being better-looking and more reliable.

Ford embarked on a succession of disastrous redesigns in a vain attempt to play catch-up, which first saw the Taurus lose its looks in the mid-Nineties, then its name in the late Noughties when it briefly resurfaced as the Five Hundred. This new car, unveiled last year and updated for 2011, is meant to offer a significant correction to those mistakes.

It does, too. Ford is enjoying a confident moment right now. Of the Big Three car makers, it was least affected by the economic crisis and the first to bounce back after the worst of the storm had passed. That much is obvious when you pace around this car: the Taurus is a handsome, muscular thing - a bull in a bear market, if you will - from its attractive, faux-Land Rover mesh front grille, to the deep notch that's scored all the way along the car's side, lending it a chiselled, distinctive profile.

This is by no means an original trick, BMW's former design chief Chris Bangle gave the world "flame surfacing" some time ago, but it does lift the styling of the new Taurus significantly above previous generations. As do the addition of sleek wraparound headlights and those pretty, chrome-pierced rear-light clusters.

On the road, the standard 3.5L V6 is well behaved, with power delivered steadily to the front wheels. All-wheel drive is an option, although only further up the range than the SEL specification model on test here. The car's six-speed automatic is sure-footed in its changes. Steering wheel-mounted shift paddles are in evidence, although in truth, the car is most comfortable in automatic mode.

Surprisingly, visibility is something of a problem: thick, curtain airbag-concealing A-pillars obstruct the view up front, while a combination of bulky back-seat head restraints and a sharply sloping rear window can make it difficult to see what's going on behind you. Perhaps this explains why the Taurus is fitted with a "sensing system" that pops up a small image in the rearview mirror when reverse gear is engaged.

This is just one of a host of features - multi-speaker Sony sound system, power adjustable pedals, keyless entry, funky ambient lighting, generous rear legroom, decent fuel economy and a comfy leather interior - that make the Taurus easy to live with. As, indeed, does its price. The mid-specification car on test will set you back Dh105,950, while a base entry model is available for Dh83,950 and the top-of-the-range Limited goes for Dh140,000. The question you'd have to ask yourself is whether the additional features, which include a satellite navigation system and a blind-spot warning system on the top models, are worth the extra investment.

According to Ford, this fifth-generation car has been winning back market share in both the United States and, more recently, in the Middle East. This is not altogether surprising. The Taurus comfortably passes the car park test, being attractive enough to make you want to get back into it after a long day at the office, and is a solid performer when you do get on the road. It's fair to say that, at this price, you could do a lot worse. The question remains, could you do better?