Taurus LX/Sable LS trim levels usually have different side trims than the lower trim levels. They are usually the same color as the bumper and it fills up the lower portions of the doors and the rocker panels. Some models even have body colored trim and bumpers.
Sedans had a storage bin located in center of the rear package shelf. The Taurus had smaller headrests for the backseat while the Sable had larger ones that resembled the headrests on the front seats. (Pictures)
Wagons used the same sheetmetal from the A-Pillar back. They were based off the Sable's design as noted by the design of the rear wheel arch. The only way to tell them apart from the rear of the vehicle was the badging. Sable wagons had a black strip near the bottom of the liftgate with "Sable", trim designation, and "Mercury" printed on it. Taurus wagons had the "Taurus" badge and Ford blue oval badge on the liftgate.
If equipped with a full-size spare tire, the wagons had a nifty storage bin where the space saving spare tire (donut) would go.
Some 1986 models had lap belts instead of the three-point seatbelts in the rear.
Taurus L/GL and Sable GS sedans were available with the HSC 2.5L I4 as the standard engine. The Vulcan 3.0L V6 was optional on on the Taurus L/GL and Sable GS sedans. The V6 was standard on the Taurus L/GL wagons, Taurus LX (sedans and wagons), and other Sables. The 4-cylinder was coupled to a 3-speed automatic transaxle and the V6 was coupled to a 4-speed automatic transaxle (AXOD). The Sable never had the manual transaxle as an option.
MT5 was a special trim level for the Taurus sedan (dropped in 1989) and wagon (dropped in 1988). It came with the HSC 2.5L I4 coupled to a 5-speed manual transaxle. The instrument cluster was from the Sable (which has the tachometer). The only way to tell if it is a MT5 from the exterior is by the subtle badging on the side trim near the front doors.
The headlights on '86-'88 models are slightly bigger than '89-'91 models. Also, inner parking light on the Taurus curves while later models are straighter. The headlight switch was different for both cars. The Taurus had a rotary switch near the upper left corner of the dash and the Sable had a rocker switch on the lower left coner of the dash.
Wagon taillights were the same on both models. Red overall with a few red bars on the white reverse light.
Taurus sedans got two different taillights. One has an amber turn signal between the outer brake/parking light and the reverse light and horizontal stripes running across the lense. The other light has no amber turn signal (it uses a monochromatic red combination light) and it has thin red vertical stripes on the reverse light portion. The latter was used on the "L" trim level.
The Sable's lightbar (aka "lighted grille" or "inner parking light assembly" or "Laser Lamp") has two bulbs lighting each side of the middle Mercury logo. The middle Mercury logo does not light up on these models.
The interior door panels were subtlety different between the Taurus and Sable with the pull handle extended all the way across on the Sable. The Taurus had chrome trim on the door panels as an option for 1989 only. The Sable's door panel also had a light above the power window switches for illumination. Both the Taurus and Sable also gained metallic door handles on all trim levels.
The seatbelt latch changed from having the button on the side to having the button on the top. The buckle also changed to match the new latches.
The front fascia (grille, fenders, bumper, and headlights) was updated on all models.
The Taurus front inner parking lights now met the grille at a straighter angle. The headlights and grille were also slimmer than the previous year.
The Taurus front bumper changed slightly for 1989. The lower grille changed from an eggcrate design to a row of slots. The license plate bracket is now positioned on the chrome trim instead of below it. The lower valence panel now runs straight across instead of having a slot for the air dam.
The Taurus sedan taillights lost the amber turn signal. It was replaced by a red reflector. The outer red lights now acted as a taillight, brake light, and turn signal. The horizontal red stripes remained. The wagon taillights lost several red bars on the reverse light. Only one red bar remains.
The turn signals on the Sable were now integrated into the headlight assembly (it was previously integrated into the side marker) and the side marker lost the huge orange reflector to make way for a cornering light.
The steering wheel was redesigned so that the airbag (now standard equipment) was a rectangular pad in the center with the cruise to the left and right side of it. The horn was activated by one of two buttons on the upper spokes.
Anti-lock brakes (with four-wheel disc brakes) and a in-dash CD player were now optional equipment.
The Essex 3.8L V6 was revised slightly from multi-point fuel injection to sequential electronic fuel injection with a MAF (Mass Air Flow) sensing system.
Variable-assist power steering was now standard with the Essex 3.8L V6.
The 1990 SHO's Basketweaves were slightly revised. It had duller finish and had a special "SHO" center cap. Some even had the wheel painted black with a polished aluminum outer rim. White cars could be ordered with white wheels.
This was the year the Police Package Taurus was introduced. This model was basically a low level Taurus with a few extra goodies and upgrades. The most major upgrade would be the high output 3.8L with dual exhaust pipes peaking out under the rear bumper. The suspension was basically taken from the Taurus SHO. The police package came with a 140 MPH "Certified Calibration" speedometer and some even got the dogdishes (14" steel wheels with center cap). It also received a new grille with several cooling slots on both sides of the Ford oval. 1990 was the only year the police package was governed. The speed governer was set at 110 MPH, and the rev limiter was set at 5500 RPMs. 1990 models also used the AXOD transaxle, which was unable to shift into overdrive at wide open throttle.
The police package included:
SHO steering rack
Power steering cooler
Heavy-duty transmission cooler (tube-in-fin design, like a radiator)
Exterior and interior stayed the same as the previous year.
Changes under the hood for 1991 included a redesigned HSC 2.5L I4 and Vulcan 3.0L V6 that used sequential electronic fuel injection (previously used throttle body injection in the 2.5L and multi-point injection in the 3.0L) with a MAF (Mass Air Flow) sensing system. The Essex 3.8L V6 became standard on the Taurus LX wagon.
Another "Plus" version offered in 1991 was the "L-Plus" trim level. It came with air conditioning, rear window defroster, power locks, and automatic transaxle. It was basically a GL with a different trim designation.
There were also a few changes for the police package. The new AXOD-E (AX4S) allowed shifting into overdrive. The speed governer was also removed so the top speed was drag limited to about 129 MPH (with lightbar and other accessories added).
Sable station wagons gained the moonroof and 4-wheel anti-lock brake system options.