Date posted: 04-18-2003
Every so often, an automobile company brings out a car that wins them new respect (or respect, period). When Ford introduced the Taurus (and fraternal twin Mercury Sable) in 1985 as a 1986 model, it hit one out of the park and won over thousands of new fans. Suddenly, Honda and Toyota had someone in their rearviews.
Taking a cue from Audi, who had introduced its aerodynamically sound and visually stunning 5000 a few years prior, Ford enveloped the Taurus with a smooth, jellybean-like body. The futuristic shape had no grille, just a body-color panel where the Ford oval resided between the headlights. The Sable went one better (or worse, depending on one's taste in car styling) by having a full-width light bar in place of the Taurus' panel. The Mercury's light panel was mostly a styling gimmick as the lamps contained in it were of low wattage. Both cars had large glass areas with slim pillars, which granted excellent visibility. The Sable went for a more futuristic look in this area with all but the A-pillars blacked out, giving the glass a near wrap-around appearance. With an aerodynamic drag coefficient of only 0.29, the Sable was one of the slickest cars in the world.
The front-wheel-drive, midsize Taurus (and Sable) was available in either a four-door sedan or station wagon body style. The car weighed in at around 3,200 pounds and rode on a 106-inch wheelbase. Unlike its Japanese competition, the Taurus could seat six (or even up to eight in the wagon) as it was available with either a bench seat or bucket seats up front, as opposed to the strictly bucket arrangements in the Accord and Camry.
Four trim levels of the Taurus were available, L, MT-5, GL and LX. L and MT-5 versions were fairly basic, the chief difference between these two being the transmission that was hooked up to the four-cylinder engine; the L had an automatic and the MT-5 had a manual five-speed, hence that car's corny name. A GL came with a few upgrades, such as dual visor mirrors, cargo net and, in the sedan, rear headrests and a rear seat fold-down center armrest. The LX was loaded with features such as A/C, power windows/locks/driver's seat, stereo cassette and cruise control, among others.
The base engine for all except the LX was a four cylinder of 2.5 liters and 90 horsepower. As this was not really enough to propel a midsize car, most buyers went with the optional 3.0-liter V6 that put out a more respectful 140 horses. Transmission choices for the four banger were either a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic. The V6 came only with a four-speed automatic gearbox.
As Mercury has always been considered a step above its Ford relative, the Sable was marketed as a more upscale car than the Taurus. For this reason, the Sable came in just two versions, the GS and the more luxurious LS. Aside from a late-year run of four-cylinder/automatic Sable GSs (quite rare, and for good reason) both came with the V6 and four-speed automatic powerteam. The Sable LS was similar to the Taurus LX in terms of being fitted with numerous luxury features.
Pricing for the '86 Taurus ranged from $10,050 for an L Sedan to $14,300 for an LX Wagon. Sable prices ranged from $10,700 for a GS (four-cylinder) Sedan to $13,068 for an LS Wagon.
For 1987 air conditioning was made standard on the Sable LS and all Sables were V6 powered. No changes occurred for the Ford Taurus as sales continued to rocket upward for the hot-selling duo.
A larger (3.8-liter) V6 engine became optional for all Tauruses, except the L and MT-5 versions, and all Sables for 1988. Although rated at the same horsepower (140) as the standard 3.0-liter V6, the bigger engine produced more torque, and thus better off-the-line response, than the smaller engine. The Taurus MT-5 Wagon was axed, and the Taurus L got more standard features, such as power mirrors and split front seats with dual armrests and recliners. Likewise, the Sable GS received numerous standard equipment upgrades such as air conditioning, split front seats, and intermittent wipers.
Driving enthusiasts received a treat for 1989 when Ford brought out the Taurus SHO. Sporting a 220-horsepower, 24-valve, 3.0-liter Yamaha engine, along with a sport suspension package, the SHO (Super High Output) gave certain car companies a run for their Deutchmarks. The interior continued the serious, performance-oriented theme of the car with a 140-mph speedometer, an 8,000-rpm tach with a 7,000-rpm redline, aggressive side bolsters on the front bucket seats and a console from which sprouted only a five-speed manual gearshift, as no automatic tranny was available for the SHO.
Performance figures proved that this SHO had plenty of go; zero-to-60 mph took only around seven seconds and the car had no problem pegging the needle on the speedo. Four-wheel disc brakes were fitted and handling was competent as well, with a firmer ride indicating the SHO's sporting demeanor. There was no Sable equivalent to the Taurus SHO.
Along with the introduction of the high-performance SHO, 1989 also saw the extinction of the low-performance (a manual transmission alone does not a sporty car make) MT-5. Slight revisions to the grilles, headlights and taillights summed up the changes for the rest of the Taurus family as well as the Sable.
1990 saw the addition of a driver's side airbag and a revised instrument panel. Newly optional were antilock brakes (on sedans only) and a compact disc player. A four-speed automatic replaced the three-speed unit formerly fitted to the 3.0-liter V6. The Sable's changes for this year mirrored those of the Taurus.
LX Sedans and Wagons came with ABS (antilock brakes) as standard for 1991. The four-cylinder engine (the standard powerplant for the L and GL Sedans) got a much-needed boost in power, from the prior 90 horsepower to 115 horses. The 3.0-liter V6 got sequential fuel injection but no increase in its output and LX Wagons now came with the torquey 3.8-liter V6. A new option package, dubbed the "L-Plus," became available for the Taurus L and bundled A/C, automatic transmission and power door locks.
The SHO received some refinements this year as well. Larger (16-inch) tires and wheels replaced the former 15-inchers, and the manual gearbox and clutch were modified for smoother operation.
Alterations to the Sable line consisted of the fuel-injection system upgrade to the 3.0 V6 and two new options for the wagons; antilock brakes and a power moonroof.
After the first generation's six-year run, Ford revamped the Taurus (and the Mercury Sable) for 1992. The restyle of the body was evolutionary; the overall shape was the same, yet many of the body panels were new. Updates consisted of slimmer headlight (and in the Sable's case, lightbar) treatments, revised taillights and smoothed-out bodysides. Dimensions remained the same except overall length, which went up almost 4 inches, to 192 inches. Interiors were freshened with a less angular dash, illuminated power window switches, and new seat and door trim designs. Gauges were larger and a passenger's side airbag was made optional.
Trim levels remained at L, GL, LX and SHO for the Taurus and GS and LS for the Sable. The four-cylinder engine was history as Ford realized that most, if not all, buyers shopping in this class demanded the power and smoothness of V6 motivation. The Taurus' popularity was ever more on the rise, as it nipped at the heels of Honda's Accord for the title of best-selling car in America.
In spite of the revamp one year earlier, the 1993 Taurus lineup underwent some changes. The L trim level was dropped, GLs got new seat trim and LX models acquired some new color choices as well as a new center console. The biggest news was that the SHO now had the option of an automatic transmission, for which shiftless enthusiasts (who no doubt had to deal with rush-hour traffic) had been waiting.
A larger (3.2-liter) version of the DOHC V6 came with automatic SHOs, and though peak horsepower was the same (220 ponies) as the 3.0 motor, more torque down low offset the fitment of the auto gearbox. In fact, according to one major car magazine, zero-to-60 mph times of the manual versus automatic SHOs differed by only a tenth of a second. Other enhancements to the SHO included a decklid spoiler with integrated stop lamp and chrome dual exhaust outlets.
The Sable had a few more standard features added for this year, including a center console with floor shift, dual illuminated visor mirrors and a passenger's side airbag. The last item was still optional on the Taurus. New seat fabrics completed the changes.
The addition of a passenger's side airbag to the standard features list was the lone change for the Taurus in 1994. The Sable likewise had a former option made standard, the rear window wiper/washer for the station wagons.
1995, the last year of the second-generation Taurus/Sable, saw the debut of the Taurus SE. This was essentially a sporty Taurus Sedan that featured alloy wheels, bucket seats and a console. More standard equipment, in the form of air conditioning and a rear window defroster, was added to lower-line models to make the Taurus even more competitive in the tough family car market segment. Evidently, Ford knew what they were doing, as the Taurus took the title of "Best-Selling Car in America" every year (albeit including fleet sales) from 1992 through 1995.
In the Mercury stable, the new Sable LTS joined the family. This was a sporty Sable similar to the Taurus SE but more upscale with a leather interior and power adjustment for the driver's bucket seat.
Holy ellipses! For 1996 Ford went overboard on ovals with the design of the third-generation Taurus and Sable. Evidently some big cheese in the design center had a thing for ovals. Maybe Ford's own logo was the inspiration -- who knows, but the result was the overly ovoid '96 Taurus. The grille opening, rear window, greenhouse and the taillights all had the elliptical influence. The new Taurus lineup included the new base-level version G, high-volume GL, luxury LX and high-performance SHO.
Inside the car, the dash continued this styling misadventure with oval shapes for the instrument-cluster housing and center panel for the climate and stereo controls.
Many changes took place underhood, as a new "Duratec" 24-valve, DOHC V6 with 200 horsepower debuted and was standard on the LX. The workhorse 3.0-liter V6 gained 5 horsepower, for a total of 145 horses. And the SHO now had V8 power, a Yamaha-engineered, 3.4-liter, 32-valve unit that pumped out 235 horsepower to the front wheels. There was no longer a manual gearbox available on the SHO; as with all the other Tauruses an electronically controlled, four-speed automatic tranny handled gear changes. And the SHO had some additional questionable design elements, such as a small, misshapen rear spoiler stuck on the decklid that was so much narrower than the Taurus that it looked like it belonged on a much smaller car.
In spite of this year's controversial redesign, the Taurus continued its "Best-Selling Car in America" streak, keeping the honor for another year.
The Sable was also reborn for 1996 and had the same basic shape as the Taurus, albeit with a more conventional rear window and taillight design. Inside, however, the Sable was identical to the Taurus, save for upholstery fabrics. Mechanical changes were the same as for the Ford, and the Sable LS featured the 200-horsepower Duratec V6 as standard. The "G thang" continued with the Sable as it was offered as a new base-level "G" Sedan as well as GS and LS Sedans and Wagons.
Engine engineering was the hot topic for 1997 as a multitude of changes occurred for the 3.0-liter V6. This motor was modified to run cleaner and received California's low-emission vehicle (LEV) status as a result. Also, in addition to the standard gasoline-fueled version, the 3.0 offered two "flexible fuel" options, one that allowed the engine to run on mostly methanol and the other that allowed it to run on mostly ethanol.
After topping the best-selling list for five years running, the Taurus slipped to third place, behind Toyota's Camry and Honda's Accord.
Unlike Ford with the Taurus, Mercury didn't offer the flex-fuel engines in the Sable lineup. 1997 instead saw a beefed-up option list for the GS models that included some features previously available only on the LS, such as a power moonroof, CD changer and leather interior.
Streamlining the Taurus model lineup for 1998, Ford did away with the G and GL trim levels and reintroduced the SE, now available as a wagon in addition to the sedan. The LX (which became the value and volume leader) and SHO models remained mostly unchanged. The 145-horsepower V6 was again the standard engine for the LX and SE models. An optional Sport group for the SE put the 200-horsepower Duratec V6 into the car's engine bay and a spoiler (that actually fit the car) onto the trunk lid. The Duratec engine was also available on the SE as a stand-alone option.
Other changes involved minor revisions to the grille (a horizontal bar inserted into the "mouth") and taillights (clear lenses replaced orange ones). On the safety front, second-generation (reduced force) airbags, which were designed to reduce the chance of airbag related injuries, debuted on the 1998 models.
Mercury pared down the Sable lineup as both the G Sedan and GS Wagon were nixed. Buyers now had a choice of a GS Sedan, LS Sedan or LS Wagon. And although the Duratec V6 was formerly standard on the LS versions, it was now optional for both LS and GS trim levels. As with the Taurus, the grille was facelifted (although the Sable's taillights remained the same as before) and second-generation airbags came on line.
Safety was the big selling point for 1999, as the Taurus and Sable received the govern-ment's highest rating for frontal crash tests. Both the sedan and wagon body styles garnered five stars for driver and passenger sides in the frontal impact test.
Oddly, the Duratec V6 was made available only in the Taurus SE for this year, denying the buyers of '99 LX models the satisfying thrust of 200 horsepower. As if to make up for the lack of a sporty engine, Ford fitted bucket seats and a console to the LX, although one could still get the three-passenger front bench at no additional cost.
The Sable GS Wagon was brought back from the dead. And interiors on both the Taurus and Sable were updated with new fabrics, larger door-release levers and hard map pockets (which replaced the former net pockets) in the doors. A few new colors became available and price cuts ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 attempted to stir up some more sales action for Ford's former success-story twins.
Ford did away with the overly ovoid style of the Taurus for 2000 by adopting a less thematic but more attractive body style. A pair of 3.0-liter V6 engines remain as the source of propulsion: the base version with 155 horsepower and a higher-output 24-valve twincam unit kicking out 200 ponies. Either way, a four-speed automatic sends the power to the front wheels.
Trim levels were revised, as well, as Ford dropped the slow-selling V8 SHO and by 2001 added a couple of more luxurious Tauri to the base LX and mid-level SE models, dubbed SES and SEL. Springing for the latter means the 200-horse V6, an in-dash six-disc CD player and automatic climate control are all standard features. A few other updates include optional side-impact airbags and power-adjustable pedals.
The Mercury Sable is likewise revised, but keeps the trim levels at base GS and upscale LS.
In an effort to keep the Taurus on consumers' shopping lists, Ford offered a slew of no-cost options for 2002. These free goodies varied according to trim level, and included a power driver seat and CD player for the SE, a choice of a power moonroof or leather seating for the SES and both of the latter for the SEL, which also gained power-adjustable pedals as standard. A new SEL wagon joined the lineup as did a couple of option packages for the SES and SEL that added features such as side airbags, traction control and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with built-in compass. All but the base (LX) model got security approach lamps.
Once again, Mercury kept things simple with the Sable, adding a few niceties such as the auto-dimming mirror with compass and the security approach lamps.
Changes for 2003 were minimal; the SEL versions attempted to up the luxury quotient with a unique, satin-finished instrument cluster, "Imola" leather seating surfaces and dark wood trim. A real wood- and leather-trimmed steering wheel option furthered this effort, and even base Taurus models now came with power windows and door locks.
Mercury followed suit by offering a Platinum Edition package (optional only on the LS Premium trim) that featured the obligatory special wheels, perforated leather seating and identifying badges.
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