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Ford’s 263-hp Large Car…the Taurus

The 2008 Taurus is NOT simply a grille and nameplate change on the 2007 Five Hundred. True, the new Taurus still uses the Five Hundred’s exterior sheet metal, rolling chassis, interior and trunk. The new Taurus remains based on the outstanding Volvo P2 platform, designed by Volvo before the Ford purchase of the company in 1999. This platform is used on the Volvo V70, S80 and XC90. The Ford version of this is the D3 platform. This is used by the Taurus and Taurus-X and is significant enough to be the platform for the future Ford Flex and Explorer America.

The biggest area where the Taurus is NOT a Five Hundred is the powertrain. The Five Hundred used a 203-hp 3.0L V-6, and the early models used a Constantly Variable Transmission. The Taurus uses a 263-hp, 3.5L V-6 and an excellent 6-speed auto overdrive trans.

The 2008 Ford Taurus was introduced at the 2007 Chicago Auto Show. This location makes sense. Unlike the three primary police sedans, the Taurus is made in America, assembled at the Torrance Avenue Assembly Plant in south Chicago. While this assembly plant is Ford’s oldest continually operating auto manufacturing plant, it has also been repeatedly credited as the most efficient auto factory in North America. The 3.5L V-6 engine and 6-speed trans are also made in the U.S. in Lima, OH and Livonia, MI, respectively.

Similar to Old Taurus? Not.

Depending on whom you ask, the old style Taurus was replaced by either the slightly smaller Fusion or the slightly larger Five Hundred, which is now the new Taurus. The Taurus name recognition may give retail customers a warm and fuzzy feeling. However, that name may send the wrong image to police fleet managers since the new Taurus is not one bit like the old Taurus.

First and most important, the old Taurus was a mid-size car, and the new Taurus is a large car. Compared to the old Taurus, the new Taurus is much larger and more comfortable sedan with a much better chassis and much larger trunk, and it has a much bigger engine and better transmission, all of which comes at a much different price point. Based on interior volume and trunk volume, the new Taurus is even larger than the Ford Crown Victoria.

Many police fleet managers have run the 2005-2007 Five Hundred as an admin car in place of the old Taurus. As a rule, they have been very happy with the car. Plainclothes officers and admin staff have found the Five Hundred comfortable and roomy. Some of the first driving impressions were that the Five Hundred could use more power. However, those perceptions quickly faded in nearly all the fleets. According to the stopwatch, the 203-hp Five Hundred was actually a little faster than the 250-hp Ford CVPI up to pursuit speeds. Even still, the new Taurus has now slam dunked that initial driving impression with its 263-hp engine.

263-hp, 3.5L V-6

The 3.5L DOHC V-6 is one of Ford’s most important new engines. In the next four model years, this engine is expected to power 20% of all new Ford products. The new 3.5L V-6 is an all-aluminum engine with double overhead cams (DOHC) and four valves per cylinder. The new 3.5L engine produces 263 hp, compared to 203 hp in the 3.0L engine. The new Taurus engine also produces 249 lb-ft of torque compared to 207 lb-ft for the Five Hundred.

The new engine is more powerful than the Ford CVPI (250 hp), Charger V-6 (250 hp) and Impala (240 hp). In fact, it is more powerful than any police engine except Dodge’s 5.7L HEMI®. This 3.5L V-6 made its debut on the 2007 Lincoln MKZ.

The Duratec-series of DOHC 6-cylinder engines was introduced in 1993 and includes three different displacements in the V-6 line: 2.5L, 3.0L and the new 3.5L V-6. These exact engines are also used by other brands owned by Ford, i.e., Mazda, Mercury, Lincoln, Land Rover and Jaguar. The Duratec V-6 engines use aluminum blocks and aluminum heads. The primary engineering for the engine came from Porsche, and the cylinder heads were developed by Cosworth.

The 3.5L engine uses variable valve timing on the intake side, a feature that Ford calls that intake Variable Cam Timing (iVCT). New to the 3.5L engine are reshaped combustion chambers, one of the keys to its ULEV-II compliance and likely PZEV compliance. The 3.5L engine also uses a dual-stage, variable length intake manifold, centrally located spark plugs and a 10.3:1 compression ratio. The 3.5L uses the Direct-Acting Mechanical Bucket (DAMB) tappets, first used on the Lincoln LS and Jaguar engines. The 3.5L engine produces 263 hp on regular (87 octane) gasoline.

The good news for police fleet managers is two-fold. First, the basic Duratec DOHC V-6 is not new or unproven. It has been around since 1993. Second, the new 3.5L engine has spent a year in the Lincoln MKZ before being used in the Taurus. The Ford 3.5L DOHC V-6 was chosen as one of the Ten Best Engines by the insider magazine, Ward’s Auto World.

Awesome 6-speed Auto

The early-model FWD Five Hundred and the late-model AWD Five Hundred used a Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT). However, most late-model Five Hundreds and all versions of the new Taurus use the 6-speed auto, a joint-venture between Ford and GM. The CVT was a marvel of mechanical and electrical engineering, but the European-made link belt was becoming prohibitively expensive. And now, 263 hp is a bit more than the CVT could handle.

One advantage of the new 6-speed, of course, is two different overdrive ratios for the best fuel economy. The 3.5L Taurus will get the same average gas mileage as the 3.9L Impala and 3.5L Charger, but it will deliver much quicker acceleration. Another advantage is the wide selection of gears to pick from, depending on the amount of acceleration needed.

During light to moderate acceleration from a stop, the 6-speed is not in a big hurry to upshift. The 6-speed remains in each gear until the engine rpm climb to where the DOHC engine is at its best. The result is excellent throttle response as the driver changes how much acceleration he wants.

With downshifts at lighter throttle positions, the 6-speed definitely lingers in the higher gears. If you only give the Taurus a little gas, you may not get a downshift at all, or perhaps just one gear down. However, with moderate to heavy throttle, the 6-speed downshifts right away to the seemingly perfect gear ratio for the engine. And that is the profound advantage of a 6-speed.

The maintenance history so far on the 6-speed auto in the Five Hundred has been excellent. And these admin cars have been in service for enough model years and with enough miles to find trans problems if they exist.


The new Taurus is a real hot-rod. The 263-hp Taurus accelerates MUCH faster than the 240-hp Impala, 250-hp Charger and 250-hp Ford CVPI. In fact, the 3.5L Taurus actually splits the difference in acceleration between the 4.6L Ford CVPI and the 5.7L HEMI® Charger. The 3.5L Taurus is 1.5 seconds faster to 60 mph than the 4.6L Ford CVPI, 3.9L Impala and 3.5L Charger. It is just a half-second slower to 60 mph than the 5.7L Charger! The 3.5L Taurus gets to 100 mph about 4 seconds faster than the CVPI, V-6 Charger and Impala, and about 3 seconds slower than the HEMI Charger.

The Taurus hits the 112-mph top speed limiter so fast, we were caught off guard the first few times during traffic enforcement. We clocked the 30-over speeder, made the turnaround and began the overtake, concentrating on other traffic and the violator’s vehicle. For no apparent reason, the Taurus just stopped accelerating. The gas gauge showed half-full. However, another gauge identified the problem. The speedometer read a constant 112 mph. The Taurus did not feel like it was going that fast, and it got there a lot quicker than we were accustom to in the 4.6L CVPI.

Smooth, Comfortable, Quiet

The Taurus has a comfortable and quiet ride with a very low noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) rating. The four-wheel independent suspension capably handles rough roads, broken pavement and railroad tracks. The steering has none of the vibration associated with the drivetrain on most FWD vehicles—that constant vibration of the front-wheel drive transferred from input shaft through the wheels, up the steering shaft to the steering wheel. The Taurus has none of that.

Part of this smoothness is the new engine and transmission mounting. In the Five Hundred, the powertrain sits on a subframe that also carries the front suspension and brakes. In the Taurus, the powertrain bolts directly to the body through hydraulic mounts, which reduces interior vibration. This change also allowed the shock towers to be revised to increase the front suspension travel by 10%.
Interior Room

The interior of the Taurus grows as you move from the front firewall to the trunk. In the driver’s area, the overall roominess is comparable to the Impala and Charger. However, the space is divided up very differently.

The footwell on the Taurus is a little tight. It has a left foot dead pedal, which is well placed and very functional. However, there is not much room between the brake pedal and the left wheel well to stretch your left leg forward on longer drives. Get used to driving with the left foot on the dead pedal. The awkward legroom is okay for short calls for service but tedious for extended periods in the Taurus. Power-adjustable pedals are an option.

Beyond that, the comfort news is all good. Compared to the Impala and Charger, the Taurus has spacious knee, hip, shoulder and headroom. In fact, the Taurus rivals the Ford CVPI in most of these areas. With the gun belt on, with pistol to the right and portable radio and TASER to the left, we had plenty of hip room and could easily fasten the seat belt.

The Taurus uses the Euro-style friction-lock tilt wheel adjustment. The lock lever is poorly located on the bottom side of the steering column. This is not quick to grasp to rapidly exit the vehicle. In fact, for officers who have had one donut too many, or who have an overcrowded gun belt, or both, this tilt release is a real concern. On the other hand, some officers may find they can set the tilt wheel where it needs to be for proper driving and exit the vehicle without releasing the tilt lock. In this case, as it was with us, the tilt lock is a non-issue. This is the same lock method as used by the Charger. The Ford CVPI and Impala use the faster and more convenient side column lever.

The Taurus is ONLY available with a floor shifter mounted in a permanent center console. Ford Fleet is well aware that the center console needs to go and that the gear shifter needs to move to the dash or steering column to free up the space between the seats. The SEL trim level is made for police use...cloth seats and vinyl door panels and trim.

The Taurus has an unusual in-dash storage compartment right in the center of the dash pad. The initial reaction of, “What is that for?” changes after about an hour to, “That is sure handy!” Don’t worry, your upfitter will figure out what piece of admin gear to put in it. Speaking of which, the Taurus has all kinds of compartments to put police stuff: center console, glove compartment, in-dash compartment and under seat storage.

The Taurus has outstanding visibility from the driver’s seat. The seating position is a bit more upright than the other police sedans. The mirrors are large, giving excellent coverage but not so large as to cause a visual obstruction at the A-pillar. The windshield is less raked and the side windows are very tall. With a turn of the head, it is easy to see past the B-pillar on both sides and through the rear glass.

In the rear seat, the Taurus clearly has more room than any other police sedan, including the Ford CVPI. With the front seat back enough for a 6-foot, 4-inch officer, that same 6-foot, 4-inch officer could sit in the rear seat with 4 inches of knee room to spare. The rear seat has real adult headroom. Four well-fed officers drove around in the Taurus in real, spacious comfort. Actually, the back-seat guys had more room to move around than the front-seat officers.

Continuing rearward, the Taurus has the largest trunk of any sedan made in North America. Not only is it much larger than the Impala and Charger, the Taurus trunk is actually larger than the Ford CVPI.

America’s Safest Sedan

The Taurus is a six-airbag sedan for the maximum occupant safety: two front airbags, two side-seat (thorax) airbags and two side-curtain (roof-rail) airbags. No other police-oriented sedan has that kind of complete coverage.

The Taurus is billed as America’s safest full-size car based on NHTSA and IIHS crash results. This claim, however, is based on the Taurus having the optional electronic stability control. Regardless of SEL or Limited trim level, and FWD or AWD powertrain, stability control remains an option on the Taurus. Traction control, something entirely different, is standard on all Taurus sedans. ABS is also standard.

AdvanceTrac®, Ford’s version of electronic stability control, is a $695 option. The “Safety and Security Package” required to get AdvanceTrac also includes power, heated side-view mirrors, anti-theft perimeter alarm with security approach lamps and remote perimeter lighting.

Performance Suspension? Not.

The steering response is acceptable, but it seems like a lot of steering wheel input is needed for the amount of turning you get. In this regard, the Ford CVPI, Charger and Impala all feel more responsive. The Taurus is not exactly nimble. It has a turning circle, curb-to-curb, of 40.0 feet. This is comparable to the Ford CVPI (40.3 ft) but wider than the Impala (38.0 ft) and the Charger (38.9 ft).

The Taurus is lacking one significant thing. Its vehicle dynamics during emergency driving are not confidence inspiring. For the record, this is a pure retail car, period. As a result, the Taurus suspension is very soft. The Taurus does not have an optional “Sport” or “Towing” suspension. This is not a concern in most driving. In fact, it is one reason the ride is so very comfortable.

A quick steering input, however, is a whole another thing. The Taurus has a great deal of body roll and wallow. It is a handful during evasive maneuvers (sudden lane change then sudden change back) and during emergency lane change (sudden move over). The Taurus uses a MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link, coil-over-shock rear suspension. This is an extremely capable combination. It has front and rear anti-sway bars, but these need to be MUCH stiffer for police use.

The AWD Taurus, our test vehicle, sits about 1 inch taller than the FWD Taurus. We wanted to see if the higher roll center of the AWD was the cause. A quick trip around the block in a FWD Taurus proved it was not. The Taurus sedan, in FWD and AWD alike, could use a LOT more roll stiffness. And this fix is a relatively easy one, and the improved suspension can be marketed to the retail buyers alike.

With 12-inch vented discs in the front and 11.6-inch solid discs in the rear, the Volvo-based Taurus has plenty of raw braking capacity. During our traffic enforcement activities in the 2005 Five Hundred and 2008 Taurus, we did not begin to tax the brakes. While both were used on emergency response runs, neither was used in pursuit. Semi-metallic pads will almost certainly be needed for severe police use.

Special Service Tires

The retail Taurus comes with one of two very different all-season tires, either the excellent Pirelli P6 Four Seasons or the outdated Continental ContiTouringContact. To put these in perspective, the 9C1 police Impala comes with the same Pirelli P6. On the other hand, the ContiTouringContact was made obsolete by the ContiProContact three model years ago. The police Charger comes with the ContiProContact. Make the use of the Pirelli P6 a condition of the sale, even if the local dealer has to swap the tires before you take delivery. The differences between the Pirelli P6 and the ContiTouringContact (even in special service use) are that significant.

Gas Mileage

Using the EPA’s new and (supposedly) more realistic test protocol, the 3.5L Taurus FWD has an 18 mpg City / 29 mpg Highway rating. In comparison, the 3.5L Charger is 17 mpg/24 mpg and the 3.9L Impala is 18 mpg/28 mpg. In AWD, the Taurus has a 17 mpg/24 mpg rating. Using the EPA numbers, these three V-6 sedans are all comparable.

In a combination of interstate travel, traffic enforcement, acceleration tests, top speed tests and lots of idling, we averaged 16.7 mpg. During interstate driving at speeds between 70 and 75 mph, the Taurus averaged 19.5 mpg. This is not typical of the driving done by most investigators and admin. During more routine traffic enforcement and calls for service with only moderate idle time, the Taurus averaged 18.4 mpg. That is probably the most realistic expectation for admin and special service use.

Police Package Speculation

Speculation about its future role in the police fleet has surrounded the Five Hundred since the 2005 intro of this large car. And now with a much more powerful engine, the speculation continues with the Taurus. So, what would it take to make the Taurus a credible police package car? Some are obvious, while some are company policy. Some are quick and easy, while some are expensive and time consuming.

Ford already knows about the center console delete, which is both a difficult and expensive change. Even more difficult and challenging is the Ford corporate requirement to design and build its police package rated vehicles based on 75-mph rear crashes. No one else does that. The less expensive but time-consuming changes include the probable need for a 200-amp alternator and high-output battery.

It will take quite a few trips to Grattan Raceway and the Pomona Fairplex to get the correct combination of stiffer springs, stiffer anti-sway bars and properly dampened shock valving. But a heavy-duty suspension is definitely needed. The use of Pirelli P6 tires and upgraded, semi-metallic brake pads are relatively easy changes. The Taurus will need heavy-duty seat fabric, another relatively easy change.

Does the Taurus really need steel wheels for police service? All of the police Camaros and the later versions of the police Mustang used alloy wheels. And steel raises heat dissipation issues due both to less venting and less heat conductive material. And, steel wheels are certainly not without their own durability issues.

Fleet Pricing

So, what is the fleet price for the Taurus SEL? First, check your state bid. Second, obviously, the local dealer sets the price. Third, manufacturer discounts vary state-to-state. That said, expect a zero option FWD Taurus SEL to run between $20K and $21K. That is the Ford CVPI range. Expect the AWD Taurus SEL to go between $21.8K and $22.7K. This makes AWD about an $1,800 upgrade.

The new Taurus is a powerful and fuel-efficient large sedan. It has front-seat room similar to the Impala and Charger. It has more rear-seat room and a larger trunk than the Ford CVPI, Impala and Charger. It is faster than the Ford CVPI V-8, Impala and Charger V-6 and has Volvo-class brakes. It promises to give the same on-duty, in-service gas mileage as the other V-6 police sedans. Electronic stability control and AWD are both available. It’s a shame to limit the new Taurus to just admin duty…

All-Wheel Drive Versus 4-Wheel Drive

The AWD drive system on the Ford Taurus is completely different from the 4x4 system on the Ford F-150. Three basic types of AWD/4x4 systems exist, regardless of whether they are based on FWD or RWD vehicles. These are part-time, center differential and on-demand.

Part-time systems are what most people think of as 4x4. This is what the F-150 uses. These systems have a simple lock-unlock mechanism that locks the front wheels to the rear wheels by the flip of a switch, push of a button or throw of a lever. The part-time systems are inexpensive and rugged but not designed for everyday driving. With a part-time system, the front wheels track through a wider arc than the rear wheels when turning or going around corners. Because the front and rear are locked together, this can cause the drivetrain to bind up.

The second type, the center differential system, constantly splits the torque 40% to the front wheels and 60% to the rear wheels. Because the wheels turn at different speeds, the binding from locked part-time systems when cornering is eliminated. These systems use some sort of clutch or limited-slip mechanism to control slip. Traction control, which selectively applies the brake, can also serve as the clutch to transfer power away from the slipping tire.

The third type, the on-demand system, is always driving one axle. On the Ford Taurus, Fusion and Edge, the primary drive axle is the front. On the Ford Explorer and Expedition, the primary drive axle is the rear. Instantly, as conditions demand, torque is shifted (all or part) to the other axle. These on-demand AWD systems smoothly, quickly and seamlessly transfer torque and do not require the driver to actively engage anything. No buttons to push, no levers to pull, no visor instructions to read.

On-Demand AWD Systems

The on-demand AWD system uses an electromagnetic activation of the clutch pack that transfers power to the rear wheels. That is, the force from an electromagnet pushes the clutch plates together, and that sends some or all of the power to the rear. The on-demand AWD system can even activate in a pre-emptive manner to prevent this slip from happening in the first place.

Under normal conditions, both the FWD and the AWD Taurus are driven by the front wheels. The AWD Taurus acts exactly like the FWD Taurus unless the traction with the front tires changes. If the front wheels lose traction, even on dry pavement, the AWD system reacts within 0.1 seconds to distribute up to 100% of the torque to any one wheel or combination of wheels. The AWD paired with traction control can distribute up to 100% of the available torque to the wheel with the most traction.

In an FWD-priority system, if both rear wheels are deemed to have the same traction, AWD will distribute the available power evenly between the rear wheels. If the AWD detects that only one rear wheel has traction, all the rear torque will go to that wheel. If one rear wheel has more traction than the other rear wheel, the AWD will determine the right amount of torque to split between each wheel.

The AWD may distribute up to 100% of the torque to any one wheel, front or rear, left or right. For example, the left front tire may be the only one of the four with traction, so it will get all of the torque. Or it may be the right rear.

It is important that the on-demand AWD systems also improve driving dynamics. Only stability control will limit understeer (or throttle-off oversteer) as you enter a corner or cross a median strip. However, both throttle-on understeer and throttle-on oversteer are greatly reduced by AWD. The AWD system continuously monitors vehicle speed, throttle position, steering wheel angle and wheel slip to seamlessly deliver torque to the appropriate wheel.

This helps to eliminate torque steer from the 263-hp engine, and to balance the Taurus when cornering. In a curve, the front wheels steer and propel the vehicle. Under aggressive driving, the two tasks expected of the front wheels (steer, propel) cause a certain amount of tire slip, even if the driver does not realize it. When that happens, the AWD system sends power to the rear tires, allowing the rear wheels to help propel the vehicle. This, in turn, allows the front tires to apply more of their traction to steer the vehicle.

Under aggressive driving or low- traction road conditions, all four wheels will have some amount of power sent to them. Under heavy throttle around a right-hand turn, the left front tire will be running at the greatest slip angle, followed by the left rear tire, also at a significant slip angle. The right front tire will be unloaded during body roll, as will the right rear tire, and both are likely to spin if given too much power. In this example, all four tires will receive different amount of torque...updated 10 times a second. Eventually, all the torque will transfer back to the front wheels.

A downside to all on-demand AWD systems, including Taurus, Explorer and Expedition, is the need for identical tires on all four wheels. Specifically, the tires must all have the same tread depth. Even one tire with a few 32nds of an inch difference in tread depth from the others can send the wrong signal to the AWD computer, which will allocate power to, or away from, the different tire. The same goes for maintaining proper tire pressure in all four tires. The need to rotate the tires on a periodic basis (every oil change) is clear. If you have to replace one tire, you have to replace four.

Snow Sports

During our 1,000-mile, one-week review period, we were lucky enough to get a couple inches of snow, just what we needed to test the AWD. With mere OE all-season tires—and the lame ContiTouringContact tires—the traction was still totally unlike anything in any police sedan.

And yes, some of these snow sport activities included a stop light grand prix or two against 4x4 SUVs and 4x4 pickups. Fresh snow, packed snow, slushy snow…the result was the same. The 263-hp found the tire(s) with the most grip, and the Taurus was launched. The AWD Taurus has so much traction during acceleration, the driver immediately needs to start thinking about prudent braking distances on slippery roads.

A previously flooded parking lot showed the AWD system at its extreme best. The lot had large sections of glare ice, some sections of snow-covered ice and intermittent patches of dry pavement. With the front wheels on ice and the rear wheels on snow, the Taurus shifted torque to the rear and just took off. When the front wheels made it to dry pavement, putting the rear wheels now on ice, the torque shift to the front, and we lunged ahead even more.

With the left side on dry pavement and the right side on ice, the Taurus jumped forward just as if all four tires were on dry pavement. Even when power braking the 263-hp engine, the front wheels do not spin on takeoff. All you get is a lunge forward. We can’t praise this AWD system enough.

The extra 1 inch of ground clearance came in handy as we crossed medians with eroded washes at the bottom. Before the snowfall, the AWD was used when crossing medians with frozen grass inclines on both sides. After the snowfall, we went back and did it all over again. Even though the AWD Taurus sits 1 inch higher than the FWD Taurus, the ground clearance is still not in the SUV class. Like all AWD and 4x4 vehicles, the AWD Taurus has enough traction to get REALLY stuck. Don’t let the AWD write a check the ground clearance can’t cash. And, no. We didn’t.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jul/Aug 2008

Rating : 5.0

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