CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — "It’s as revolutionary as Windows 95," explained Stephen Kozak, a safety manager at Ford Motor Co., speaking about the blue oval logo’s new Personal Safety System, pioneered in the upgraded 2000 Ford Taurus.
We were on a Virginia countryside ride and drive that included a stop at the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, where Taurus has received high marks in the institute's crash testing. In fact, Ford boasts the new Taurus has the highest level of crash protection ever offered in a vehicle at this price.
In addition to safety upgrades, the Dearborn, Mich.-based manufacturer's most popular car gets a thorough remake for the 2000 model-year, wearing more than 900 new parts that bring improved quality and comfort. Most important, though, might be the new parts that give it a new look — a look that Ford hopes will bring the family hauler back to the top of the sales charts.
Stylists asked to ‘cool it’
Bowing to customer demand, the avant-garde midsize sedan gets more mainstream clothes for Y2K — gone is the dramatic ovoid theme. Nose-job details include a broader grille opening and larger headlamps said to produce 25 percent more light than those on the outgoing model do. A less curvaceous roofline not only looks more at home on American roads but provides headroom gains of nearly an inch up front and 2 inches in the rear, addressing a weak point in the accommodations of the previous version.
2000 Ford Taurus interior
A rectangular rear window (offering significantly better visibility) replaces the previous oval-shaped glass. Though the 1.2 cubic-foot increase in trunk space may seem small on paper, the useability of the trunk is vastly improved due to the more conventional shape afforded by the broader, taller decklid. The only carryover body panels, in fact, are the trademark sculpted doors. Three new metallic colors are available this year; three have been deleted.
2000 Ford Taurus
Climb in, and you'll notice a vastly different interior. Whereas the old model used ovals even in the design of the audio controls, the new version presents a strikingly geometric and businesslike cockpit, more in keeping with its Japanese competitors. There are map pockets — finally — on all doors and on the backs of the front seats. Two power points are also standard on all models.
Safety is Job 1
Some of the biggest interior changes, Ford argues, are those you will likely never see. The flagship of the brand is also the company's first vehicle to include Ford’s Personal Safety System as standard equipment. This integrated approach to accident survival incorporates seat belt pre-tensioners (to instantly take up belt slack and reduce peak belt loads in a crash, seat belt usage sensors, a driver's seat position sensor, a crash severity sensor, and dual-stage inflating airbags.
With these tools, the Taurus tailors its safety response to the specific nature of the crash event, reducing the likelihood of injuries from the airbag itself. Shorter drivers (those under 5 feet 6 inches), for whom the danger of airbag injury is compounded by sitting close to the steering wheel, can choose the optional power adjustable pedals (a first in any passenger car) to allow for a safer driving position. They’re also an aid to full-sized taller drivers. Side airbags with head and thorax protection are also optional.
An interior glow-in-the-dark trunk release, child seat tethers, and safety locks on the rear doors are standard equipment, all adding to improvements in child safety.
Under the hood
Under this domestic family sedan's new skin, upgrades to the mechanicals abound. Both Taurus V-6s have been retuned for more power, driveability, and refinement. The Vulcan 3.0-liter now makes 155 horsepower at 4900 rpm (up 10 bhp from last year) and 185 pound-feet of torque at 3950 rpm (up by 15 lb-ft).
2000 Ford Taurus
As an option, the Taurus can be had with the sportier DOHC Duratec engine. Also a 3.0-liter, it cranks out 200 bhp at 5650 rpm and 200 pound-feet at 4400 rpm — both are 15-unit increases. For 2000, the Taurus SHO (a V-8-powered screamer) will not be offered. Both V-6 Fords are certified as Low Emission Vehicles.
An electronically controlled four-speed automatic is the sole transmission offering; this year it boasts smoother gear changes and a longer service life.
Roadgoing improvements this year include standard 16-inch wheels and tires (over last year's 15-inch configuration) for crisper steering response and sharper looks. Suspension settings have been revised for a better ride without sacrificing Taurus' excellent composure under duress. Directional stability is especially impressive. Brakes (disc front/drum rear on the sedan, four-wheel discs on the wagon) provide more than adequate stopping power.
The 2000 Taurus will ship in four trim configurations. Entry level LX models get AM/FM tunes, five-place seating with center console, a tilt wheel, A/C, an automatic battery saver, remote trunk release, grocery bag hooks, defogger, the Securilock passive anti-theft device, power windows and mirrors, and the new Personal Safety System. The move to the SE adds body-color exterior mirrors, alloy wheels, cassette, keyless entry, and cruise control.
Touted as Ford's best buy, the SE SVG (special value group) features unique bumpers, map/reading lights, illuminated vanity mirrors, six-passenger seating, ABS, and a power driver's seat. Top-shelf comfort models come with all of the above plus heated outside mirrors, racier wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic climate control, the Duratec engine, and keypad entry. Leather seats are an option, as is a console-mounted shifter, traction control, and a power moonroof. Wagons, which represent 10 percent of sales, will be equipped much like the SE sedan.
Taurus has fallen behind in the race to be America's best-selling car. Whether its new Clark Kent looks and upgrades will lure buyers to showrooms remains to be seen, but without a doubt, Ford has worked some magic on its newest version that should pay off. With prices from $17,695 to $21,550, Ford expects to sell some 400,000 of the 2000-year models.
|2000 Ford Taurus
Major standard equipment: