Pros: Handles well, comfortable, adequate storage
Recently I took the family on a 10 day trip to CA. (In fact, we just got back today after a red-eye flight. Why am I writing a review instead of sleeping? Waiting on laundry so I have something to wear to work tomorrow :( ). For the duration of the trip we rented a 2001 Ford Taurus SES 4 door sedan that had about 2,000 miles on it when we picked it up.
The road test
During the 10 day trip we put over 1,000 miles on the car; I drove about 95% of those miles. We went from the congested highways of the San Francisco Bay Area, to the wide open spaces of I-5 and the Central Valley, to the Sierra Nevadas and the twisty roads of Yosemite National Park (with side trips up to Sacramento and Sebastopol). Road conditions were always dry.
Appearance, comfort, spaciousness
The appearance of the Taurus has improved greatly since the oval-mania years. Of course, this improvement now means the car is average looking rather than ugly. It may not turn any heads, but it also won't appear dated in a few years. The car displays clean lines, conservative styling with a slight racy flair. Sporty wheels (rather than wheel covers) are a nice touch.
The driver's seat is comfortable and suitable for drives of several hours. It was easy for me to find a good driving position, though I'm pretty average (5' 11", average weight more or less). My wife had no complaints about the passenger seat and I thought it was fine during my short stint there. Backseat legroom appeared average. We had the 2 car seats in the back and only once stuffed someone in the back between them...my mother. (Lest you think I have it in for my mother, she just really hates riding in the front seat). Her main complaint was the hump in the middle of the floor. (Why is that there in a front wheel drive car anyway?)
Interior storage space is adequate. I'm used to a minivan for our family travels so maybe I'm a little bit spoiled when it comes to cupholders and places to throw things. The dash does not have built in cupholders, instead they are built into the cushions in the center seating position. If there is no center passenger in the front seat, the armrest is folded up and the center seat cushion flips around to reveal 2 cupholders and a general storage area. Now revealed on the floor under the armrest are coin holders, cassette tape storage (even though we didn't have a cassette player in our car) and more general storage space. The cup holders will hold most normal sized cups but will probably not hold Big Gulps or larger. There are two cup holders for the back seat that are also modestly sized.
Trunk space met our needs with no room to spare. We stored 7 bags in the trunk, from my wife's behemoth suitcase to a carry on sized bag. We were so tight that when we took my mother for a 2 night trip, I could fit her garment bag in the trunk but her small (carry on sized) bag had to ride with the passengers.
I don't have specs (speaker count, wattage) for the stereo system. In our car we had AM/FM/CD, with separate controls for bass, treble, balance, and fade. We picked up a couple of CDs when we discovered we had a player in the car (we didn't bring any of our own not expecting this feature) and they sounded like, well, CDs. The player did its job; no skipping on bumpy roads. AM/FM reception was good. The stereo sounded clear and we enjoyed listening to it (both of our cars have premium sound systems so we're a little spoiled there too). It was loud enough to drown out the kids if necessary :)
Climate control was very good. I didn't get to use the heater, but the air conditioner works very well and doesn't seem to tax the engine at all. The front defroster clears the windshield in short order. Fan noise is average.
The key fob has buttons for door lock, unlock, trunk open, and panic (honk horn, flash lights). There were no integrated child seats. The rear windows only roll down halfway, and the doors have child switches (which prevent the door from being opened from the inside). Child seat tether anchors are easily reached as they are on the rear shelf. There was some other mount at the base of the rear seat but I don't know what that was for. Rear defogger works quickly. Windshield washer fluid is dispensed in copious amounts so the windshield gets clean fast.
Ride, handling, performance
Empty or loaded, the car rides very nicely. Even though from the outside the car appeared at full capacity (with a full trunk and full back seat) there was no noticeable change in the ride. Acceleration could be a little better; it takes a good mash of the accelerator to kick the car into passing gear and get moving. Overall, though, the power is more than enough; we zipped up mountains with all our stuff, air conditioner on.
Through the winding mountain roads the car performed nicely. It took a little while to get a feel for the car (normally I drive a Mitsubishi Eclipse) but when I did I was able to safely navigate the turns at a decent rate of speed (fast enough to make my wife tell me to slow down...at least no one rode our tail!) On the flat, droning asphalt of I-5 the car tracked steady, largely unaffected by the wind or trucks. Cruise control works as advertised, though I didn't test it on hills.
I did not track gas mileage but fuel consumption appears average (given my lead foot). From the East Bay to our destination in Yosemite, a trip of about 200 miles, the car used less than 3/4 of a tank of gas. This drive consists of solid freeway traffic, high-speed interstate driving, and a 6000 foot climb into the mountains. The car takes regular unleaded.
All in all this is very nice car to drive. I don't think I'd call it "fun", but it makes driving as painless as possible.