2013 Ford Taurus Driving Impressions

Taurus SE, SEL and Limited are satisfying family sedans with ample power from the 3.5-liter engine. For daily driving, the Taurus more than holds its own, including out where the roads weave and wind, as it handles with alertness and stability. It is not a sports sedan. The ride is comfortable, as the suspension skillfully soaks up bumps.

The standard 3.5-liter V6 engine gets an EPA-estimated 19/29 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive, 18/26 mpg with all-wheel drive. The 3.5-liter V6 with Ti-VCT makes 288 horsepower.

Power is smooth and progressive, with no awkward gas pedal tip-in that many cars with electronic throttles have nowadays. The TI-VCT V6 is even exhaust-tuned to deliver a satisfying little growl under acceleration. The 6-speed automatic SelectShift transmission is seamless and well-programmed. Even in the SE, there's a Sport mode, with manual control using a thumb button on the side of the shift lever.

Taurus SHO has a different character, featuring the twin-turbocharged, 365-horsepower EcoBoost engine, which continues to prove itself, pounding a spike in the coffin of the V8. The EcoBoost V6 has the acceleration and torque of a V8. It may not have the full V8 rumble, but the V6 exhaust note through twin pipes does growl. If you drive a steady 65 mph, you'll get 25 mpg. We got 17.6 mpg during three hours of spirited, hammer-dropping driving through the forgotten forests between Portland and the Oregon Coast.

To counter the SHO's go, there's a new brake system with a larger master cylinder, revised booster tuning for improved brake feel, and upgraded friction material for additional resistance to fade. We used the brakes hard, and they felt wonderful, strong but not too sensitive, with a progressive feel to the pedal. Even the ABS felt smooth, without much vibration in the pedal, when we did a panic stop to test them.

The 2013 Taurus comes with a new electronic power steering system, with a quicker steering ratio in the SHO. In the curves and switchbacks, the steering sometimes feels behind the car, like it's just guiding the wheels, not forcing them. The handling can feel a bit floaty, even with the SHO's sport tuning of the suspension. Which by the way is jouncy, dancing around when we drove it hard over the undulating and twisty two-lane. Once we hit a bump while turning and one front wheel lost traction.

Over patchy pavement in town we found the ride was not harsh or uncomfortable in the SHO.

We loved the smoothness of the 6-speed automatic transmission, which in the SHO is beefier than in the other models, in order to handle the horsepower. And we loved the perfectly designed paddle shifters, especially compared to the awkward non-ergonomic button on the shift lever of the others. But the programming in Sport Manual mode was intrusive, and baffling. It not only shifted itself, but at the wrong times.

We came racing up to a curve at 4000-5000 rpm in second gear, and lifted the throttle to use engine compression to slow down, but the transmission upshifted to third so we needed to use the brakes to slow the car. Another time, we revved to redline 6500 in 2nd gear and upshifted to 3rd gear; then, still at full throttle, it almost immediately short-shifted itself into 4th gear at a lower engine speed than we wanted.

This is the kind of thing that turns a sports sedan driver off, and makes him or her not want to bother with a car. It's not your car, to drive how you want, it's some transmission programmer's. And frankly you know better than he or she does.

By the way, the rev limiter is not intrusive. No abrupt cutout of spark, the engine doesn't fall suddenly on its face, it just hangs there at 6500 and revs no higher, limited by fuel.

We don't mean to question Ford's dyno numbers, but still: the EcoBoost twin turbo V6 makes 350 foot-pounds of torque at 1500 rpm, all the way up to 5000 rpm, according to the stats. So we floored it in 6th gear at 1500 rpm, with the transmission in Sport Manual mode, and it kicked down on its own, all the way down to 3rd gear. If it's got all that torque at 1500 rpm, all the way to 5000 rpm, what's that surge we feel at 4000 rpm? Not that the surge is bad, we're just asking.

Finally, there's Torque Vectoring Control, which uses the electronic stability control module to monitor the dynamics of the car 100 times per second; when the front inside wheel starts to slip in a corner, brake is applied to that wheel, balancing the grip with the left front wheel and reducing understeer.

Torque Vectoring works with Curve Control, which is like electronic stability control, only quicker; it senses when a vehicle is entering a curve too fast, and cuts power and/or applies braking to individual wheels to reduce speed by up to 10 mph in one second. Think freeway on-ramps or off-ramps, especially in the wet.

Like the Taurus, the 2013 Ford Flex comes standard with Torque Vectoring and Curve Control; we drove the Flex over these same twisty roads on the previous day, and didn't feel Torque Vectoring in action. But we tried harder with the SHO, especially to make it oversteer (tail out) and understeer (plow), but we couldn't do it, because of something magical and invisible keeping us aligned, which we presume to be Torque Vectoring and Curve Control working as it was brilliantly intended.

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