2003 Ford Taurus Reviews and Ratings

Wagon 4D SE

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2003 Ford Taurus
Ted West

Introduction
The Ford Taurus is more than practical family transportation. It is a genuinely exciting mid-size sedan. The Taurus offers good mid-market value with excellent drivetrains, good looks, plenty of creature comforts, and the added bonus of a surprising level of driving pleasure.

For 2003, the Taurus gets an interior that's updated and much quieter. New seals for the doors, windows and rearview mirrors along with new sound damping in the floor make for a quieter cabin. Illuminated cruise control switches have been added and the controls for the adjustable pedals have been moved to the instrument panel for easier access. New seven-spoke wheels add a fresh look to the 2003 models.

For 2003, more features come standard, including power windows and door locks, a tilt steering column and floor mats. Seat coverings, both leather and cloth, are improved, with lighter colors used to brighten the car's interior. 2003 also brings new dashboard treatments.

Model Lineup
The Taurus is available as a four-door sedan or a station wagon. The sedan comes in four versions: LX ($19,180), SE ($19,695), SES ($21,020) and SEL ($22,920). Optional trim packages include a new Sport package for the SES sedan. The wagon is available in SE ($21,345) and SEL ($23,170) versions. A choice of two 3.0-liter V6 engines is available. All models come with a four-speed automatic transmission.

LX is the base model, but it offers a reasonable list of standard equipment including second-generation, dual-stage airbags; air conditioning; speed-sensitive power steering, remote-controlled mirrors, power locks, protective body-side moldings, a tachometer, AM/FM radio, six-passenger seating, LATCH anchors and tethers for child's seats, two-speed intermittent windshield wipers, 16-inch wheels, even grocery bag hooks in the trunk.

SE adds cruise control, a cassette player, remote keyless entry with perimeter lighting, aluminum wheels.

Ford's Vulcan V6 provides power for the LX and SE. This 3.0-liter 12-valve V6 uses a traditional overhead-valve design. The Vulcan V6 is rated at 155 horsepower and 185 pounds-feet of torque. Our past experience with this engine has been generally positive. Although not particularly quick from a standstill, once rolling it delivers more than adequate performance, along with a nicely rorty exhaust note. A flexible fuel version of the Vulcan engine can run on E-85 ethanol, regular unleaded gasoline or any combination of the two in the same 18-gallon fuel tank.

SES is a popular choice and comes in standard and deluxe variations. SES adds an in-dash single CD player, front bucket seats with six-way power and a manual lumbar adjustment on the driver's side. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are standard. Also standard is Ford's Duratec V6, a more sophisticated engine with double overhead cams working 24 valves. This engine also displaces 3.0 liters, but revs higher and produces 200 hp and 200 lbs.-ft. of torque. The Vulcan engine is good, but take one drive with the more responsive Duratec and you may never be satisfied with less.

The Sport package ($290 on the SES Deluxe) includes monochromatic body treatment with a body-color spear in the grille and a body-color applique on the rear deck lid. It comes with five-spoke aluminum sport wheels, a rear spoiler, special fender badging, pewter brushed interior trim, two-tone black and gray sport seats and special floor mats.

SEL, available in Deluxe and Premium editions, adds seven-spoke machined aluminum wheels, a six-CD changer, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dark paledo wood-trimmed interior, automatic electronic temperature control, adjustable pedals and keyless keypad entry.

Wagons are better equipped than their sedan counterparts. For example, the SE wagon features four-wheel disc brakes (an improvement over the rear drum brakes of the SE sedan) with ABS, a rear anti-roll bar, a six-way power driver's seat, a cleverly adjustable luggage rack, and a unique bumper shape with step pads at the rear. The SEL wagon adds seven-spoke machined aluminum wheels, a six-CD changer, keypad entry and automatic climate controls.

Key options for many models include a MACH audio system ($345), anti-lock brakes ($600), Cellport communications system ($350), a power moonroof ($895), and adjustable pedals ($120).

Walkaround
The Ford Taurus is a familiar design that has been with us for a few years now. Approaching the Taurus at curbside, you'll first notice the muscular, forceful appearance that sets it apart from its blander-looking competitors. The grille is broad, aggressive, and unmistakably Ford-oval, grinning between the large cat's-eye headlamps. Its flanks undulate handsomely with crisp character lines, and its rear end bears a resemblance to the sexy stern of the Jaguar S-Type.

The sedan's trunk is of generous size and contains the mini-spare tire. The wagon has a flip-up rear window in its tailgate.

Interior
The Taurus cabin is functional and attractive, with controls that are straightforward and easy to use. The materials, switchgear and interior textures have a high-quality look and feel. For 2003, those controls are mounted in a new dashboard and console unit.

The other big interior change is the quiet, thanks to better noise, vibration and harshness controls that include better damping in the floor and measures that reduce air leakage and cabin noise, including the use of expanding foam in the windshield support pillars and various body cavities and the use of new sealing materials in weld access holes.

LX, SE and the non-Sport SES sedans seat six, thanks to a seating console between their separate front seats. SES Sport and SEL buyers get bucket seats and a center console. SEL buyers, however, can order six-seat capacity as a no-price option.

Controls and instrumentation are admirably simple, straightforward and easy to use. Ford's well-publicized adjustable pedals make a comfortable driving position possible for even very short-legged drivers. The small-diameter steering wheel has a pleasingly thick grip. Buttons for the cruise control are mounted on the steering wheel and are easy to operate.

Our SEL Premium had the five-seat layout, and the excellent front seats provided good lateral support for a family sedan, without being too tight for big guys. The cushions and seatbacks are more firm than soft, and firm is usually best on long drives.

The roomy rear compartment seats three, but is set up well for two as the seat forms two semi-buckets and has a pull-down central armrest containing two cupholders. A ventilation duct at the rear of the center console provides climate control for rear passengers. Dual baby-seat anchors are provided on each side of the rear seat. In the SE wagon and SES and SEL sedans, the rear seatback is split 60/40 and folds down, providing an enormous pass-through luggage capability for skis and other long items.

With its 60/40 split rear seats folded down, the roomy Taurus wagon has space for a maximum of 81.3 cubic feet of cargo; with six passengers aboard, there's still 38.8 cu. ft. behind them.

Driving Impressions
The Ford Taurus is a genuinely satisfying car to drive. Its Duratec V6 is as responsive as a finger snap, delivering crisp acceleration from low revs straight through to the glass-smooth full-throttle shift point. This engine not only provides good thrust, it makes an understated but nicely throaty declaration that it means business. The current SEL model reminds us a bit of the lamented high-performance Taurus SHO.

Automatic transmissions have been improving by leaps and bounds in the past five years, and the Taurus four-speed is no exception. Its shifts are positive, authoritative, and at the same time, almost impossible to feel. The kickdown response is not quite as quick as with some of the best European automatics, but it's still very, very good.

If you ever wonder just how important modern electronics have become, the Taurus with its powerful Duratec engine can quickly demonstrate the benefits of traction control: Simply switch off the traction control, nail the throttle, and the front tires will shriek as they claw for traction. Powerful front-wheel-drive cars like the Taurus SEL need traction control to reduce wheel spin and provide better control of the car.

The Taurus chassis is a good match for this forceful Duratec drivetrain. The fully independent suspension provides a smooth, impact-free ride. Taurus uses gas-pressurized shock absorbers, unusual in a family sedan; when pushed in the corners, it remains stable, nimble and ready for more. Cornered hard, its body roll is moderate, and the nicely tuned variable-ratio power rack-and-pinion steering delivers a steady stream of road information. And when the turning is done, this steering system provides improved on-center response, guiding you straight down the center of the course once more.

In an emergency lane-change demonstration set up in a parking lot, the Taurus stopped smoothly, with anti-lock brakes allowing steering control during hard braking. Braking performance was much smoother than that of a Dodge Intrepid tested at the same time.

With its excellent chassis and Duratec power, the Ford Taurus comes close to being a sports sedan for the price of a family mid-size sedan.

Summary
For several years, the Taurus has been the bowl of chocolate-chip mint in a sea of plain vanilla. While most sedans in the mid-size class seem designed to blend into the scenery, the Taurus stands out like a wildebeest in plaid pajamas.

Not only does the Taurus look like it came from the future, it drives like it came from Europe. Yet it comes with a price tag that's quite reasonable. Two engines are available, and both deliver a vigorous response, though we recommend the newer Duratec engine. Taurus rides smoothly enough for family duty, but offers crisp, sporty handling.

Model as tested
SEL Premium Sedan ($23,490)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Chicago; Atlanta
Destination charge
650
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
19180
Price as tested
25730
Options as tested
power moonroof ($895); power passenger seat ($350); leather seating surfaces (NC); Mach premium audio ($345)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Sedan: LX ($19,180); SE ($19,695); SES ($21,020); SEL ($22,920)<P>Wagon: SE ($21,345), SEL ($23,170)<P>
Safety equipment (standard)
front dual-stage airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners, dual rear child-seat anchors, emergency inside-trunk release
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
Duratec 3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Transmissions
four-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
Duratec 24-valve V6, ABS, power driver''s seat, console with floor shifter, power mirrors, doors and locks, keyless remote, electronic climate control, AM/FM/Cassette stereo with 6-disc CD changer, automatic headlamps, five-spoke machined alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seat, tilt steering, tinted glass, anti-theft, traction control, adjustable pedals, side-impact air bags

Engine & Transmission
Engine
Duratec 3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
200 @ 5650
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
20/28
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
independent
Tires
P215/60R16
Suspension, rear
independent

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
40.0/54.4/42.2
Head/hip/leg room, rear
38.1/55.7/38.9

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
17.0
Wheelbase
108.5
Length/width/height
197.6/73.0/56.1
Turning circle
39.7
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
1750
Track, front/rear
61.6/62.1
Ground clearance
5.5
Curb weight
3322


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