Pros: Stylish, Roomy, Build Quality
Cons: Cruise Control, Agility
After demanding a replacement of my one week rental of a Suzuki Grand Vitari (see: http://www.epinions.com/content_6479515268 ) I was given the keys to a 2001 Ford Taurus Wagon. It was very nostalgic, since I haven't driven a large wagon since the days of my childhood when I was the passenger in my Mom's Oldsmobile Cutlass Wagon. How she loved that monster of a machine, with V8 power, huge cargo carrying capabilities and power everything. I admit, I was a bit nervous at first driving such a large vehicle and after six days with this car that feeling stayed with me.
The Taurus Wagon doesn't let you forget how big it is. The turning radius is big, and being used to an Escort Wagon, I had to reverse and re-try parking on more than one occasion. Just looking into the rear view mirror will be enough of a reminder for most - it's like a giant cocoon back there.
On the highway it is a very smooth and quiet ride. Standard road bumps are not noticeable and speaking to someone is as easy as in your living room. Being a rental vehicle I always hit the speed bumps hard to test out the suspension (think twice before buying a rental car!), and it handled these big nuisances very gracefully. I never felt out of control with this vehicle even if I was never comfortable with its size.
Vast. I could almost stop right there, this is a big car. While the exterior dimensions aren't as big as a Cutlass Wagon, I'm confident the interior is bigger. Three adults could easily fit in the rear seat, throw two small children in the jumper seat and two adults up front - do you even need a minivan? Actually, yes, because the jumper seat isn't designed for a total weight exceeding about 160 lbs, and a rear-end accident would do some pretty serious harm to anyone in that seat. But I digress, this is a nice sized vehicle and will meet most family needs.
All the controls had a nice feel, not that cheap plastic I was used to from my Escort and the Grand Vitari, so I commend anyone responsible for designing them and picking out the plastic that was used. I also thought they were in the right locations, easy to find and well labeled.
My love affair with the Taurus Wagon ends right there. First off, the speedometer is real annoying. You see the markings for 0, 20, 40, 60, 80, 100. My Pontiac Grand Am (which my wife drives) has taught me that all speedometers should have a dash for each mile per hour, but this Taurus only had markings at the fives. Not that its hard to find where 55 should be, but its just so cheap looking.
The shift lever being on the steering column is a true throwback to the Cutlass Wagon days. With a bench up front where should they put it? I don't know, but it just didn't feel right seeing it there and twice while driving I tried to use it to make a directional change.
Cruise control - don't get me started. There are simple ON/OFF buttons on the steering wheel. I clicked on, hit the Set button and I was done. The next day I got on the highway and when I reached 60mph I hit set and nothing happened. I soon realized that every time I started the car I had to hit the ON button. I know its minor, but real annoying.
Dropping the rear seats down was a snap and I thought the console was pretty neat, easily converting to an arm rest and back into a large cup holder/CD holder.
If music means anything to you, as it does me, don't spend a penny on anything above the basic AM/FM radio. The sound out of this thing was no better than a $50 boom box, but the list price for a CD Radio is nearly $400. You can do a lot better with an after-market unit and speakers.
This engine is good for most purposes, but it isn't as powerful it needs to be for a car this heavy. Passing isn't the easiest thing in this car, but for around-the-town travel the engine is adequate. The engine is quiet and doesn't make too much noise when pushed hard.
Ford coupled this engine with a very capable transmission. It never took more than a second for the transmission to find the right gear and it never searched more than once for the gear it needed(unlike the Grand Vitari which would downshift, then downshift again, then upshift).
One week with a car can tell you nothing about its long-term build quality, but it can tell you about its overall build quality. Everything in this vehicle felt first rate. From the sound of the doors shutting, to the control knobs to the quietness of the ride. I would expect this vehicle will easily surpass 150,000 miles as long as people like me don't keep taking it over speed bumps at 30mph.
At around $20K, this is probably the best wagon for the money. My cousin just bought a Passat Wagon, but that cost 40% more (ie: $24K) and it wasn't as big, though it did handle much better. While I'm no wagon expert, I must say it fascinates me that every other car maker in the world seems to offer a wagon, except the biggest one General Motors.
This wagon is versatile, affordable, well-designed, comfortable, quiet and did I mention BIG. It's no Cutlass Wagon, it's much, much better.