2013 Ford Taurus: Much more than a rental car

Blame it on decades of lackluster styling, real and perceived shortcomings on the quality front, or an ever-improving cast of highly competitive and generally more desirable competitors. Whatever the reason, years have passed since Ford’s once best-selling Taurus ruled the family-sedan roost.

Despite a host of changes, ranging from minor rhinoplasty to added luxury features and improved efficiency, the 2013 Taurus hasn’t entirely risen above the stigmatizing cloud hanging over so-called “domestic” sedans. The Taurus, like similar large models from Chevrolet, is a car people typically rent on vacation, but won’t buy when they return home. Instead, most American garages are filled with Hondas andToyotas. While those cars—especially the popular Accord and Camry—have a well-deserved reputation, shoppers who would dismiss the 2013 Ford Taurus are doing themselves a disservice.

I realized that fact during the course of one week and hundreds of miles traveled throughout New England in an all-wheel-drive SEL model. Our car was equipped with upgrades such as heated leather seats, a rearview camera, and the company’s MyFordTouch infotainment system with an eight-inch touchscreen. Factor in a $795 destination charge, and the sticker price rang up at $35,240.

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Included in the deal was the Taurus SEL’s standard 3.5-liter V-6, now boasting 288 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque. Granted, those aren’t the specs of a tire-shredding powerhouse, yet they do represent a moderate gain over the 2012 model. And, some folks may be surprised to learn that the bump in ponies is accompanied by a slight improvement in fuel economy. The all-wheel-drive Taurus is estimated to reach 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway; I averaged 23.3 mpg, but would’ve seen better results with a lighter right foot. Still, for a car that crosses the scales at more than two tons, that level of efficiency isn’t anything to complain about.

In terms of actual performance, the standardV-6 was content to deliver all the muscle I needed when attempting to merge with fast-moving northbound traffic on I-95. (A turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder is also offered, and a twin-turbo six-cylinder accompanies the Taurus SHO sport sedan.) Plant the gas pedal for full-throttle acceleration and what you’ll hear is more raucous than refined, but the smooth six-speed automatic transmission does a commendable job of finding the appropriate gear and getting you on your way without fuss. That’s important, because if you’ve seen the faces of parents battling through the evening rush hour to make it to their kid’s soccer game, you realize that impeding their homeward progress isn’t in your best interest.

Perhaps some of those stressed commuters would feel a bit more relaxed in this Taurus. The car’s comfortable driving position, with ample room and plenty of soft-touch surfaces to lay your hands and elbows on, certainly wouldn’t hurt. The same goes for the quiet cabin and the suspension’s knack for preventing the effects of bumps and potholes from reaching the driver and passengers. If not for the center touchscreen and its layers of complex menus and displays, the interior would be akin to a rolling Zen den (one that can also rattle your eardrums with, say, Aerosmith’s Mama Kin blasting on the powerful stereo). Hey, tranquil relaxation can mean different things to different people.

Of course, the market is littered with family-friendly sedans that offer laudable degrees of comfort, efficiency, and more spacious rear seats. However, few other cars can match the Ford’s 20.1 cubic-foot trunk and overall value. Furthermore, the 2013 model has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has awarded this Ford four out of five stars for its performance in crash tests. To top things off, the 2012 Taurus was named J.D. Power and Associates’Top Rated Large Car for Initial Quality. So it’s far from being a one-day rental special.

Boil it all down and you have an attractive sedan that, thanks to optional all-wheel drive, is better suited for the upcoming New England winter than many of its competitors. Yes, there’s still room for improvement, but when it comes to key car-buying criteria such as safety and affordable operation, the 2013 Ford Taurus has an appeal that extends well beyond the confines of an airport rental lot.