Taurus, Flex Get Early Renovations

Ford Review

Ford Flex, haystack, cloud

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2013 Ford Flex and 2013 Ford Taurus Review:

The completely redone Ford Fusion won’t reach showrooms until late summer, but its flashy restyling has been the talk of the auto show circuit. In fact, it may be the reason Ford created an all-new Taurus ahead of its time.

The 2013 Taurus is a car for all reasons for those who need, or want, a large car. And it also is a car for all seasons with available all-wheel-drive, for those living in the snow-belt, or, a the introduction session proved, for those living in non-snow regions that occasionally might get blindsided by a blizzard.

When the midsize Fusion was shown at the Detroit Auto Show, one cynic suggested that if the rear seat-room was adequate, there would be no need to continue building the larger Taurus. The new Fusion’s rave reviews made the new-for-2010, and still new-looking, Taurus seem outdated before its time.

The considerable expense of rebuilding a next-generation car is what causes automakers to build a model to last five or more years, perhaps with only a mid-term cosmetic refreshing, but Ford went against conventional planning. As Ford’s flagship, the Taurus meets the demands for a large sedan to take on the armada of General Motors large cars, as well as Chrysler, European, and now Asian big cars. So even though the current Taurus was only going into its third model year, Ford introduced another entirely new Taurus as a 2013 model. It was a brilliant move.

2013 Ford Taurus SHO, rain

Ford Taurus revisions for 2013 include new grille, lower stance.

The new Taurus smoothes out a few of the contours that looked so fresh just two years ago, and the car takes on a lower and sleeker look with a cousin-like resemblance to the upcoming Fusion. Taurus adopts a Fusion-shaped grille, which apparently will establish it as a new corporate signature. The top-of-the-line Taurus again will be the SHO model, which is loaded with performance features and begins at a lofty $39,200. The one we drove was loaded up to an even loftier $44,485 with voice-activated navigation and 20-inch painted aluminum wheels.

A subtle benefit of short-shifting the renewal is that the current Taurus, which is a very good and handsome sedan, so the renovation didn’t require tossing out everything and starting with a clean sheet. In the Taurus’s case, Ford designers and engineers could work with an already-impressive vehicle, and small alterations or tweaks were aimed at smoothing out features, polishing the interior, and making the Taurus go, handle and ride better and more quietly. The finished product improves the appearance, and is filled with upgrades inside and out.

That wasn’t Ford’s only recent maneuver; the company is revising the look of the stylishly square Flex as well. Ford introduced both the Taurus and Flex for 2013 to the automotive media in Portland, Oregon, in mid-March. That plan made sense at planning time, because back at Ford’s home, Detroit, and throughout the rest of the Upper Midwest, early March is normally still in the grip of winter, while Portland promises moderate temperatures despite a little rain.

Ah, but 2012 began with the Upper Midwest’s “non-winter,” and while Minnesota, for example, was recording a couple of weeks of record lamb-like warm temperatures — 60s and 70s even — Portland’s weather was remarkably the opposite and lionish. We drove from downtown Portland in a steady, day-long rainstorm and headed toward the Pacific Coast. Driving up some suburban foothills, we found that the steady rain turned to snow, hanging heavily in white majesty from the fir trees as we went to higher elevation.

It was perfect timing, because both the new Taurus and Flex make all-wheel drive available. The Tauruses we test-drove were, in fact, the hot-performing SHO models. Newer Ford folks say “Show,” in referring to the SHO, while more veteran observers recall the original came out in 1989 and the name was the initials for “Super High Output,” for the gem of a V6 engine that was built specifically for the car by Yamaha. Later

The new SHO also has a V6, but no longer a V8. Ford’s latest technology has been to mount turbochargers on its 3.5 V6 and create more power and performance than a larger V8, while also improving fuel economy. The Taurus will have three engines available, starting with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder EcoBoost, then the normally-aspirated 3.5 V6, and topped by the EcoBoost 3.5 V6. The power range shows the 2.0 EcoBoost is turbocharged up to 240 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque, while still boasting an EPA estimate of 31 highway miles per gallon. The normal 3.5 V6 has 288 horsepower and 254 foot-pounds of torque, and a range of 19 mpg city and 29 highway.

Blue SHO in snow

Taurus SHO traction aids conquered Oregon’s rare Midwest-like March blizzard.

If you select the SHO, you get the EcoBoost, which has two turbochargers and direct injection, and the power takes a quantum leap to 365 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque, with fuel economy estimates of 17 city, 25 highway. Not sensational fuel economy, but very good consider that the SHO has a lot of power for a V8, and startling potency for a V6.

Perfect to direct through all-wheel drive, which came in handy during our morning trek. There were several of us in a chain as we splashed out of Portland heading west, and as we started climbing the residential foothill, we found snow falling. By the time we crested that hill, we found heavy snow on the road and in the trees. We also came upon a delivery van sideways in the road ahead, where it was stationed after it had gone off the road and needed someone with a backhoe to pull it out.

We stopped to wait, where the road itself was almost level, but tilted down to our right, toward a deep ravine. I shifted to park, hopped out to shoot a few photos of the Taurus SHO in action, then climbed back behind the wheel. As we waited, suddenly I could feel the SHO start to slide sideways, to our right, where only the ravine waited.

We were helpless to stop the slide, and while I assumed the sideways skid would stop as soon as we reached the right shoulder, I also was aware the shoulder was dangerously narrow, and I was unwilling to sit there and trust anything natural to overcome the forces of gravity teamed up with glare ice. So I shifted into reverse and thankfully, I was able to coax the Taurus to creep backwards without slipping. So I pulled ahead again and stopped, only to have it start to slide sideways again, causing me to repeat my instinctive solution, and it worked again.

Finally the van got underway, and we did too, with full realization that the heavy snow was falling on top of some serious ice. It was impressive that the special Michelin tires Ford collaborated on, plus the car’s traction control, could keep us going without incident and dominate even that unruly setting.

The SHO, and the garden-variety Taurus, are totally improved beyond the power and ability to go, handle and stop. Frank Davis, Ford’s executive director of North American engineering, said, “We’ve made the best even better,” explaining that Ford had bench-marked the Audi A6 sedan for its driving dynamics and features, inside and out.

Comparing the new Taurus with such a proven large-platform winner as the A6 might have seemed audacious a few years ago, but Ford has made such impressive strides over the last five years, it’s evident from scrutinizing the exterior design to the interior fabrics and quality workmanship that the big Ford is truly competitive.

Flex tail in snow

LED taillights helped make the Flex visible, even when snow limited view.

The Taurus shows an improved stance, making the existing model seems a bit tall in comparison. Proportions fit better into an overall appearance, starting with a sculptured hood that now wraps around into the grille. Under the skin, strong attention to improving NVH — noise, vibration and harshness — benefit from a significantly stiffer platform and improved suspension and steering.

That leads to better body control and quietness while driving, which blends with the revised interior with its soft-touch materials, some unique fabrics, and even better feel to the switchgear. Ah, switchgear.

The renovated Flex is improved, too, if less extensively. Ford seems surprised that the first Flex has sold so well (45 percent) to women, although it might make sense to learn that 20 percent of all Flexes have been sold in California. Unusual as its styling is, the Flex coordinates all the best attributes of a large SUV, minivan, and station wagon into a well-appointed vehicle. The Flex we drove was so well-appointed its base price of $43,850 was optioned up to $52,055 with a panoramic vista roof, Titanium package, autofold rear seasons, refrigerated rear console, and 20-inch aluminum wheels.

The Flex has new front end trim to make a more bold impression, including its name “F-L-E-X” in giant letters on the leading edge of the hood. It shares the EcoBoost 3.5 V6 powertrain with the SHO, tuned for 350 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque. Fuel estimates are 16 city, 23 highway for the heavier Flex, which weighs 4,828 pounds in all-wheel-drive trim. The Taurus weighs 4,015 in front-wheel drive and 4,224 pounds with all-wheel drive.

SHO trail, snow

All-wheel drive proved major benefit as Taurus SHO breezed through snow.

After driving the Taurus SHO in the morning, we switched to a Flex for the afternoon, and we again found an all-wheel drive model for the return, just in case. Sure enough, shortly after leaving the rain-swept coast area, we found another more, and even heavier, snow on our return trip. The AWD Flex breezed through the storm with ease, although heavy snow tends to make you ignore some new features, such as the rear-seat console, which now houses a cooler.

The Flex and SHO share another new Ford idea, which is “non-latching” directional signals, and I know from bothering engineer Don Ufford about it that Ford has has labored over it. Some manufacturers misidentify “different” as being “better,” and someone at Ford apparently decided it would be both to have the turn signal stalk return immediately to its neutral position after being engaged, while the blinker continues blinking.

I’ve always been comfortable pushing the turn signal stalk down for left and up for right, knowing the stalk will stay in those locations until you make the turn and the stalk springs back to its neutral setting. After a few billion turns in thousands of test cars as well as my own vehicles, my brain combines the audible, visual and fingertip-touch senses into well-established instincts. When I drive new Fords, up to and including trucks, I push down, let’s say, to turn the left blinker on, and as I’m sitting there in the turn lane, my eyes may see the indicator on the dash blinking, and my ears detect not-obtrusive clicking that corresponds to each blink, but my fingertip notices that the stalk is in its neutral position. Instinctively, my brain infuses doubt into the scenario, that maybe I only hit the stalk hard enough to activate the 3-blink, lane-change signal, so I’d better push it down again to make sure it’s set. Trouble is, pushing the stalk down a second time cancels the turn signal.

Drivers who don’t signal their turns bother me, and have increased since the cell-phone phenomenon. So I never fail to signal a turn. In fact, the only time in 50 years of driving that I have failed to signal a turn have come in the I’m aware of turning without signaling in the last two years is when I’m driving a new Ford! I signal, approach the intersection, go through my virtual backchecks, hit the switch a second time to make sure it’s on, thinking I’m reinforcing it being on, thus turning it off, which I usually notice as I’m halfway around the turn.

It can be dangerous, as well as annoying, when you try to hustle around a turn ahead of oncoming traffic, because you seem inordinately rude for turning without a signal, while also surprising any following traffic behind you.

My good friends Ufford and Davis at Ford are probably weary of me saying: “Ford has invented a cure for which there is no known disease,” but neither can advise us of what possible drawback there would be to eliminate such confusion by having the stalk latch up or down.

Maybe it’s a European-style trick, but if so, it proves that despite the new-era plan of global designs, that sometimes when Ford has a “better idea,” it comes from the good, ol’ U.S. of A.

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