So I'm taking the photos you see here, and it happened so quickly I had to check my screen when I was editing the photos ... she definitely got wheels off the ground coming over a rising right-hand corner at Ford's Dearborn Proving Grounds!
Clearly, Christina Rodriguez knows how to drive. As the Vehicle Dynamics Development Engineer of the 2010 Ford Taurus (read our preview of the all-new Taurus here), she should.
Rodriguez helped lead the development of the new Taurus's chassis, and from what we recently experienced from the passenger seat, we have good things to look forward to. The Taurus goes on sale this summer, and it is arguably the most important vehicle Ford announces this year.
2010 Ford Taurus SHO Chassis Engineer, Christina RodriguezEnlarge Photo
This thirty-something Puerto Rican is the only woman at Ford Motor Company to have achieved her status as a Vehicle Dynamics Development Engineer. The job is equal parts engineer, race driver, and vehicle psychologist. Rodriguez explains, "As an engineer, I need to make sure the car is safe. As a (race) driver I have to make sure the car handles well. And then I have to tune the car to have the right personality for being the latest Ford."
She went on to define what how cars exhibit personality, "Some cars have a more relaxed personality, so everything about the way they drive is soft and slower to react. Fords have a DNA that is sportier, more fun to drive, more responsive, more alive, so they need to feel that way."
Rodriguez told us about her background in the automotive business, "I've grown into this job because Ford's engineering group works on a model that emphasizes 'technical maturity.'" For Rodriguez, this means that because she first possessed the technical background for the job, she was then able to develop and prove her practical skills on her way to becoming one of the company's most influential engineers. She's been with Ford 12 years.
While we didn't get to drive the new Taurus, we did get an opportunity to ride in the high-performance Taurus SHO model. Pulling out onto the test track, Rodriguez explained, "In this job, your body has to become a precisely calibrated instrument that can understand what the car's mechanicals are doing. It takes a while to tune your body, but I've been working on this particular chassis for eight years, so I really know what it's capable of and how to make it respond." While the 2010 Taurus is an all-new vehicle, it is related to other Ford products (the Lincoln MKS, Ford Flex, and the outgoing Ford Five Hundred/Taurus). Rodriguez also contributed to the ride and handling on those vehicles, a task that began with the Ford Five Hundred back in 2001.
The 2010 Taurus has four distinct suspension calibrations; one each for the front-wheel-drive Taurus, the all-wheel-drive Taurus, the all-wheel-drive high-performance SHO, and the ultimate SHO fitted with the Performance Package. Rodriguez noted that each model has unique suspension calibrations that are based on the specific model's equipment and personality. We were riding shotgun in the SHO with the Performance Package.
The step up from the SHO to the SHO with the Performance Pack tightens everything including 20-percent more on the dampers (those would be struts and shock absorbers to non-engineers), then 9-percent stiffer rear springs, and a thicker rear anti-roll bar. These changes make the most performance-oriented SHO a more neutral handling car that drivers should find exceptionally agile and immediately responsive. It certainly felt that way from the passenger seat.