Looking to distance itself from the unpopular Freestyle, Ford decided to make a clean break, opting for a new name, new look and significant improvements. Although a practical seven-passenger vehicle, the car-based Freestyle never attracted much attention from car shoppers. It slid anonymously out of the Ford lineup after three years, replaced by the 2008 Taurus X, another crossover wagon.
Of course, the new name should be recognizable. The Taurus enjoyed an auspicious debut in 1985 as an innovatively designed sedan. It immediately attracted the car-buying public and by 1992 was the top-selling American car.
But instead of improving the Taurus, Ford aggressively went after the truck segment. That was successful, but the Taurus died a slow death. It eventually left the Ford lineup and emerged in 2006 as the Five Hundred.
The name might not represent the number of vehicles sold, yet the Five Hundred never caught on. When Roger Mulally became Ford’s CEO last September he wanted the recognizable Taurus name revitalized, hence the Taurus X unveiling and elimination of the Five Hundred.
While the Freestyle was criticized for being a smallish V6 that lacked appropriate safety features for a family vehicle, the Taurus X arrived as a welcome change, addressing both problems. Sales are reportedly up 25 percent over the 2007 Freestyle.
The biggest change is a more powerful V6 engine paired with an all-new, six-speed automatic transmission. The X, which can seat seven passengers, is an energetic 3.5-liter V6 with 263 horsepower that can adequately compete with crossover wagons and mid-size sport utility vehicles.
Stability control is standard across the line, available in the SEL, Eddie Bauer and Limited trims. Other safety features include antiskid system and curtain side airbags with rollover deployment. Additional niceties include one-touch fold-and-flip second-row seating and a new optional power liftgate to ease loading.
The Taurus X offers a solid mix of ride and handling. It drives more like a car than a truck, maneuvering around corners with confidence, providing solid braking and a firmness that provides comfort over rough surfaces.
Third-row seating is family friendly. Even the third row in the front-wheel drive Taurus X (all-wheel drive is an option) provides acceptable comfort, a rarity among rivals. Families will be able to pack this wagon for sizable road trips without hindering performance. Large consoles between the first two rows are a storage plus, and the cupholders are plentiful. Maximum towing capacity is 2,000 pounds.
The Taurus is a solid upgrade from the Freestyle, but not all is rosy. Too much hard plastic cheapens the interior, there’s engine noise when the vehicle runs at higher speeds, and gas mileage is only 16-24 mpg.
Ford offers a new “Sync system” for hands-free access to audio and phone functions, and it’s a good option to consider.
FAST FACTS: 2008 Ford Taurus
Power — 3.5-liter, V6, 263 horsepower; Mileage Estimates — 16 mpg (city), 24 mpg (highway); Standard Features — Traction control, antiskid system, roof rack, 6-way power driver seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, reverse sensing system, heated front seats, keyless entry, power windows, doors, mirrors; privacy glass for second and third seating; Warranty — Powertrain 5 years/60,000 miles; Bumper-to-bumper 3 years/36,000 miles; Corrosion 5 years/unlimited miles; Free roadside assistance — 5 years/60,000 miles.