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2004 Chrysler Pacifica by TCC Team (3/10/2003)
Expanding the crossover/wagon/SUV argument one niche at a time.
Spring break this year? In my case, I'm sorry to say, "Not." This family's custom is for Dad — that's me — to peck three daughters and The Wife on the cheek, see that they're safely seatbelted into the car, and watch tearfully as they head to the beach for a week. Those are tears of joy at prospects of a week's solitary bliss, I hasten to point out.
Well, not this year. No high-school senior of mine is headed off for her own week's solitary bliss as a novice in the Caribbean, I'm here to tell you. So that meant The Wife and Number One went one direction, while I boodled down to the Florida Panhandle with Numbers Two and Three, dejected over the idea of a beach week with a Dad whose storied Spring Break tradition is seven consecutive evenings of spaghetti and Ragu for dinner.
Resigned to the fate of my Spring Break Solitaire having been so unceremoniously scuttled, it occurred to me that there might be a professional opportunity in all this. Might the seven-and-a-half hour drive to Florida be possible, in this Age of the Highway Dinosaur, in something other than a saurian SUV? With hopes of transporting a temporary office with me, with knowledge of a guest joining us for the southbound leg of the trip, with the distinct possibility looming that numerous seatbelts might be necessary for day trips full of sixth-graders, were an overbuilt SUV or a frumpy minivan my only long-distance driving options?
I'm happy to report — most defiantly, in fact — "No!" For Spring Break 2003, the Ford Taurus Wagon in SE Deluxe trappings provided transportation and manifold other utility services in ways that absolutely belied its unassuming persona.
The blank-sheet-of-paper characterization is simple enough: The Taurus Wagon wears a 3.0-liter twin-cam "Duratec" V-6 underhood. It makes 200 horsepower, 200 pound-feet of torque, and manages 19/26 mpg, city/highway . With anti-lock brakes, traction control and front-side airbags as the only options, the 2003 sticker for my evaluation vehicle was $24,845. That latter figure, by the way, is roughly half the cost of many of the gargantuan SUVs that were sharing our parking lot in Fla.
Even with so many fleet and rental Taurus sedans and wagons crawling over the landscape, I still find the car's silhouette innovative and attractive. In the creamy shade of "gold ash clearcoat metallic" paint, our particular wagon looked like a creamy little bonbon. Just the same, it's one of the delicious ironies of life that the more examples of something that exist, the easier it is not to notice any of them individually. That's why the Taurus is, after so many years of successful proliferation, strongly associated with an invisible ubiquity.
So it was all the more surprising for me to discover how much was revealed simply by opening the doors of the latest Taurus Wagon. You can start with the fact that the vehicle is described by Ford as a seven-passenger wagon, when in reality there are eight seatbelts. The discrepancy, I think, has to do with ingenious front seating that transforms two semi-bucket seats into a three-passenger front bench with the simple flip-fold of a center console. I'm not sure what the passenger in the middle can expect by way of front-airbag protection, so I suppose Ford elects not to draw too much attention to this middle position except as temporary extra seating. The fact remains, however, that with three up front, three in the second row and two more in the rear-facing minibench in the cargo area, this humble wagon is an eight-occupant Goliath when circumstances require one — particularly for kiddie field trips.
Yet when it comes to cargo, Taurus is surprisingly proficient with that as well. Behind the second-row bench, there are 38.8 cubic feet of roomy storage; and that alone was enough to haul luggage for four, a three-laundry-basket portable office full of books, files and laptop, and a seven-day supply of pasta and Ragu. If I have a complaint about the cargo hold, it concerns the extreme slope of the "tumblehome” — what auto designers call the curve where the roof meets the rear hatch. Boxy items don't like curves, so make sure all your softest luggage goes in last, at window level.
Then again, there are 81 cu ft of stowage possible if both the second row's 60/40 seatbacks are folded flat. That's almost as much as a Ford Explorer, mind you, although occupants are whittled to a maximum of three. Another option, of course, is two folks in the way-back seats, three up front and about 42 boxy cubes between 'em. The point, however, is plain: Here's SUV-level versatility with people and cargo in an efficient, economical, attractive package with the road feel and comfort of a very competent sedan.
On the ground
The Taurus Wagon's handling is low-centered; suspension is all independent; brakes are all discs; and the twin-cam engine and four-speed auto transmission are a responsive, plucky powertrain. The column shifter discourages frequent manual downshifts out of overdrive, but most folks haven't adopted that same habit as I have. Left to its own devices, the Duratec motor accelerates briskly even with a full load of folks and stuff, and the transmission shifts crisply, up and down.
There's another pleasant quirk about the Taurus Wagon that proved especially useful for my own involuntary road trip this year. I'm gadget-addicted, as many readers know. When you un-make the three-person front bench, an elaborate center console is revealed which was ideal for my high-tech electronics infestation of handheld GPS, Sky-Fi satellite radio receiver/antenna/remote controller, and cell phone. Everything fit; all cables disappeared attractively out of sight. My Number Two, of course, just rolled her eyes. "You wouldn't want to make it easy," she huffed. But it was eminently easy, you see. Just like planning for a week's worth of spaghetti and Ragu.
Ford Taurus Wagon SE Deluxe
Base price: $23,020; as tested, $24,845
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6, 200 hp/200 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height (inches): 197.7 x 73.0 x 57.8
Wheelbase: 108.5 in
Curb weight: 3491 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 19/26 mpg
Safety equipment: Driver and passenger front and side airbags, anti-lock braking, traction control
Major standard equipment: AM/FM/CD stereo, 16-inch wheels, power windows/locks/mirrors
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles