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2010 Ford Taurus: Loving that butt, and most everything else

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  October 28, 2009 03:50 PM

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(All photos except interior: Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com)

The Taurus poses in Litchfield, Conn. on a recent autumn weekend.

What a rump on this one. And, I can't deny, I like how big it is on Ford's new Taurus.

Rear-end sizes don't come up often in car reviews, and when they do, they're usually not complimentary. BMW, which deflected rant after scathing rant of its "Bangle Butt" design on the previous-generation 7 Series, knows that pretty well. Critics, of course, make a living by complaining, and their ideal car doesn't exist.

In hip-hop music, rear-end references are as frequent as boasts of self-wealth (and maybe even more popular than breasts, but that's another debate). Ever since Sir Mix-A-Lot, rappers have made healthy livings by paying tribute to equally healthy behinds in song. Drake, in a line from the modern love ballad "Every Girl," brags about how his ideal lady "took her half an hour just to get that belt to fasten."

The 2010 Taurus has an abnormally huge rear for a full-size sedan, so big it took me several fearsome minutes to squeeze into my parents' garage, which swallows my mom's Volvo S80 without a hitch. I swore the garage door would bend and swell from the Ford's bulbous back end. With some disbelief, it closed.

The trunk lid — covering 20 cubic feet of storage with a four-inch wide blue oval stamped in the center — towers nearly 4 feet off the ground and cuts a sharp angle toward the oversize bumper, giving the impression of a thick beef slab. The raked rear glass is farther away still as it flows to slim side glass openings, expansive B-pillars, and a chest-high shoulder line. The 19-inch wheels — could they be anything less? — complete the car's heavy, substantial stature.

While looking like it may burst a few inseams and buttons, the Taurus is physically impressive and thoroughly imposing, just what a flagship sedan should be.

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Four years ago, Chrysler achieved overnight success with the blocky 300 sedan, a startling design that average families and rappers soaked up to pretend they were pushing Rolls-Royce Phantoms. It's hard to picture T.I. in a Taurus — maybe the twin-turbo SHO and not our mid-pack SEL — but this Ford's style should stay hip for years to come.

The 2009 Taurus and the Five Hundred it "replaced" had James Taylor swagger — mellow, predictable, and simple. It was a competent car (save for the early CVT-equipped models) doomed by utter boredom in and out.

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Not so with this 2010. LED marker lights flush out a more sophisticated, wraparound front end and creases define body surfaces instead of leaving them flat. Inside, a reclined center stack puts all buttons and knobs within easy reach, allowing the driver to rest an arm on the gear selector while making adjustments. Dashboard arcs sweep over the instrument panel and metal-look trim on the passenger side. When starting up, the gauge tick marks are first illuminated, then the numbers, and finally the red needle tips.

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LED accent lighting makes all four footwells, front doors, and cupholder slots glow in a choice of seven colors, and it's blended too well to be considered tacky. The only downside to the Taurus interior is hard plastic on the edges of the center stack, a glaring cutback in the abundance of padded, soft-touch rubber and leather.

Our car's $595 massaging front seats performed welcome rubdowns for both butt and back on a 240-mile round-trip to Connecticut, and weren't spine-tingling like the driver-only massage seat on the BMW 750Li. Combine that with Ford's superb voice-activated Sync phone and music system — still the only system to comb through an entire iPod without any button scrolling — and you've got plenty of toys for a long drive. A quiet and controlled ride, nicely weighted steering, and firm brakes top off the Taurus.

This isn't a sporty sedan of the Acura or BMW realm, however. This is a heavy cruiser that reacts slowly in quick turns and lacks the low-end grunt served by its alter ego SHO. Toggling the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters does nothing unless you first move the shifter into "M," making them useless when you want to shift immediately.

The 263 horsepower, 3.5 liter V-6 makes a decent push through a crisp-shifting 6-speed automatic, and forward momentum is easily sustained, but not achieved, by the car's 3,930 pounds. Optional all-wheel drive tips the Taurus past two tons.

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The chopped-roof silhouette, sexy as it is, results in poor visibility to the side and rear. The wide B-pillar makes over-the-shoulder peeks into the left lane difficult, and the back window is but a vignette of what's behind you — blame the small opening and big headrests that don't fold down. It's more of a challenge to park this rig than most cars its size. What's disappointing is why Ford didn't include a backup camera display integrated into the rearview mirror, as it does on Fusion models without navigation. Parking sensors can't give that kind of precise confidence.

It's too bad, also, that Ford's blind-spot detection system, adaptive cruise control, and navigation system are only on the Limited trim and can't be cherry-picked on the SEL and base SE. I'd harp, too, on how Ford's five-digit keypad complicates the ease of locking and unlocking a car equipped with keyless ignition, but it rescued me in seconds after leaving the fob inside. No call to OnStar required.

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Yet without those options or a moonroof, the $32,485 price tag is reasonable next to a Toyota Avalon XLS or Subaru Legacy 3.6R. An Acura TL will offer more performance, but if that's where your heart is set, the 365 horsepower SHO deserves serious attention.

This Taurus is exactly the kind of dramatic, full-featured car Ford needs to keep building and marketing to win back American buyers. The valet at Boston's Eastern Standard restaurant said my Taurus received more attention from his manager than anything in the lot, a BMW M6 included. A Ford sedan over an extreme V-10 coupe.

Sure, he could have just been working me for a tip. But with that kind of butt sitting on Commonwealth Avenue, who was I kidding? It was the total truth.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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