"Fresh" and "refined" may not be the first characteristics you think of when imagining a full-size sedan that doesn't carry a luxury badge, but Ford hopes to change that with the 2013 Taurus. The once-aging rental staple already received major doses of each when it was reborn in 2010 with new sheet metal, a sophisticated interior and new engine choices, including a turbocharged V6 that propels the resurrected Taurus SHO performance model.
Three model years later, Ford is wasting little time in its effort to keep the Taurus not just current with competitors like the Chrysler 300, Toyota Avalon and Chevrolet Impala, but ahead of them.
To that end, two redesigned versions of the car were presented to media this week before they go on sale in spring, with a third - and perhaps the most interesting variant - to arrive in summer. The two previewed in Portland, Oregon, were the standard model with its naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6, now good for 288 horsepower, and the SHO performance model with its 365-horsepower twin-turbo V6.
The third variant coming later this year will have a powerful 4-cylinder under the hood, the first time a four has been used in a Taurus since the car's first-generation debut in the 1986 model year. Not surprisingly, this new 4-cylinder will be nothing like the one from a quarter-century ago. Turbocharged and direct-injected, Ford says the 2.0-liter engine will put out a V6-like rating of 240-horsepower while attaining an estimated 31 mpg.
Back on the fresh and refined front, all 2013 Ford Taurus models will receive new exterior touches front and back that convey a bolder, sleeker appearance. We're partial to the scalloped hood and LED tail lights, but less enamored with the Taurus SHO's massive silver-and-black wheels with a five-petal pattern.
Inside is where the refining portion of the equation is most evident, with Ford's engineers focusing on noise reduction and material upgrades. Soft surfaces abound, and the cabin drowns out an appreciable amount of noise, whether from the road beneath or the rock concert taking place in the car next to you. Meanwhile, the MyFord Touch system that controls everything from climate to navigation and radio tuning is simpler to use, yet still requires patience to figure out. We don't recommend your tutorial take place at 70 mph.
For our test drive, we were glad Ford opted to bring all-wheel-drive versions of the Taurus to combat Portland's inclement weather.
In the end, it was no contest.
Driving a 2013 Taurus SHO (where all-wheel-drive is standard; front-wheel-drive is standard in SE, SEL and Limited models, with AWD optional) through hundreds of miles of snow, rain and slush proved no problem, and in fact rather enjoyable. Even amid conditions that might give the Abominable Snowman reason to stay indoors, the all-wheel-drive Taurus never lost its composure.
The car's traction control system and new tech wizardry - such as a system that vectors torque to the appropriate wheels and another that imperceptibly applies small braking actions for more cornering control - were enough to give ample confidence even to drivers new to the snow. On drier ground, those same features helped turn the vehicle's ample power into a satisfying experience that gave this large, comfortable sedan the ability to carve corners while smoothly ticking up and down the gears of its six-speed automatic transmission.
While the interior of the 2013 Ford Taurus feels appreciably richer and exterior noises are noticeably muted, the cabin itself still feels a bit cramped for a car of its size. Added to that, thick B and C pillars hamper visibility, as does the car's sloping roofline.
By the time the 2013 Ford Taurus arrives for sale in spring (exact date and pricing are still to be announced), the wet and wicked conditions we negotiated will likely be replaced by sunshine and green grass. Yet it's reassuring to know the Ford Taurus appears up to the challenge of facing both bad weather and worthy rivals with a renewed refinement.