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New Ford Taurus X scores on its wagon style points





Ford Motor's Taurus X is a worthy contender in the brutally competitive crossover SUV market. That's saying something because it's not a new design, yet in features and function it holds up well against recently launched models.

Taurus X hit the market as a 2005 model, under the name Freestyle. For '08, Ford mechanically modified the vehicle, cosmetically tweaked it and renamed it Taurus X because the boss, CEO Alan Mulally, thinks people will warm to a vehicle with the Taurus name as they didn't quite to the Freestyle.

The X in the name is supposed to suggest a four-wheel-drive, SUV version of the Taurus sedan.

The X is based on the Volvo XC90 SUV, though it uses a wholly Ford powertrain. Ford owns Volvo.

Test vehicles were two well-equipped preproduction vehicles and one regular-production model priced about $38,000. Driving mainly was in the suburbs.

Taurus X has a hunkered-down wagon stance that distinguishes it from the tall silhouette of other crossovers, which is the designation for SUVs built on car chassis instead of truck frames. Crossovers usually are lighter and more fuel efficient than truck-based SUVs, and ride and handle better. X's wagon look evokes the safe and solid family feel that came with Ford, Chevrolet, Olds, Buick and Rambler wagons of the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

Here's what stood out after several hundred miles:

Nice drivetrain. The '08's 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic are shared with the Taurus sedan. No more noisy sluggishness trying to get up steam as was the case in the old 3-liter Freestyle with CVT (continuously variable automatic transmission).

The transmission usually shifted quite well but gave a little shudder or shake now and then at low speeds, suggesting that more tuning would be useful.

The optional all-wheel-drive system can predict when it should switch out of fuel-saving front-drive mode and begin sending power to the back, Ford says. No waiting for the front wheels to spin.

No snow or ice to check it, but on rain-slick roads it worked well, never allowing more than a blink's worth of wheelspin in front, and it never seemed to suddenly cut power to the wheels in the kind of desperate attempt at control that some systems use.

Classy touches. Ford nailed the execution of the dashboard, instrument panel and interior, except for the absurd rings around the air vents. They are bright plastic, instead of chrome-plated metal, and they contribute nothing to function or esthetics and reflect distractingly in the windows.

The optional leather upholstery has been upgraded.

Roomy second row. Generous legroom back there, an attribute frequently compromised as automakers try to cram three rows into SUVs. X is big enough for three comfortable rows of seats.

The second row slides fore and aft to help tailor the mix of people space and cargo room. The second row also lets riders adjust the seat-back angle for comfort. And the second row has a higher seating position than some rivals, making it more comfy for adults.

The mechanism that folds the second-row seats to provide an aisle to the third row was awkward to operate on the regular-production test car. Too much heaving and slamming required. At least the aisle it opens to the third row is wide enough for easy access.

In the third row, you must sit with your lower body swiveled slightly inward to find toe space.

The third row rotates backward and tucks quickly and easily under the floor to enlarge the cargo area.

Initially, X is a charmer. The elevated seating, good-looking dashboard, nearly perfect size and shape of the leathered steering wheel put a grin on your face. And overall, it's easy to drive the X smoothly, a nice feature on days when you still have a ton of schlepping to do and don't want any trouble from your car.

But don't sign that contract just yet. Watch out for:

Front seats. Hard, lumpy and uncomfy enough to be a deal-breaker. Especially aggravating because Volvo seats are so good. They're mainly carryover items from the previous model, and fewer than two people in 100 have complained, Ford says.

Handling. Nice enough at poke-around speed, it quickly turns disturbing. If you hit an exit ramp too fast, or arrive at a corner more briskly than intended, X exhibits a disquieting amount of body lean. It hangs on in the corner, but not gracefully or reassuringly.

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Nice to finally read positive reviews from the folks at USA Today on Ford Products.

The Taurus X is a very good car and does what it is designed to do well. There is still a market for those that want the wagon, after all...the Volvo XC70/V70 still sell well. Though, I did miss the unique novelty of the original Freestyle Concept...but it wouldn't be practical, look at the now dead GMC Envoy XUV.

All in all though, I am rather impressed and am glad to see good reviews coming to Ford again.
 
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