When Taurus Week was proposed, I had a sudden and less than pleasant realization – I have driven more Taurii than any other single make or model of vehicle. Further, I’ve put about 170,000 to 200,000 miles on these Taurii.
Most of these Taurii had not been graced with an easy life. Perhaps that requires some degree of consideration in this analysis as the bulk of these were fleet cars and certainly a reflection of how the Taurus name would later be perceived. The cars I’m covering will be from the first four generations.
First Generation (1986 to 1991):
Gads, these cars have permeated my life more than I initially thought. Thinking I had no experience with the first generation, upon nearly completing this article I finally remembered the originators popping into my life.
The first Taurus I ever drove was a brand new 1988 model that was provided by the Ford-Buick dealer for a driver’s education car. How that combination of makes came together is one of the great mysteries of the world, but they provided Egyptian Community Unit #5 with a new car for this purpose every 3,000 miles.
In a reflection of either the times or some of the goobers I grew up with, there was a long running debate about the shift quadrant on that Taurus. A vocal majority thought the “OD” selection would not allow use of any gear other than overdrive, so it should be put in “D” and manually placed in “OD” at speed. However, I always just laughed at the silliness of that philosophy.
A long time later, in 2004, I would become the recipient of a 1991 Taurus wagon. Equipped with a 3.8 liter V6, the transmission had consumed itself at 135,000 miles. How I came about owning this wicked chariot can be found here. With the original window sticker in the glove compartment having a price of $25,000 this is the only car I’ve ever owned and never driven.
Second Generation (1992 to 1995):
The second Taurus I drove was a green 1994 or 1995 model. Starting my career in January 1996, one of the new employee trainings I received was defensive driving. My employer had contracted with the Missouri State Highway Patrol to use their training track a few miles east of Jefferson City. Upon climbing into this Taurus, my assignment was to drive 55 mph and stay in one lane on the hilly and very curvy upper portion while navigating an obstacle course on the flat, straight portion of the lower track.
With my instructor sitting in the passenger seat chewing on a toothpick, I did as instructed. With tires howling from lateral forces, I quickly learned this generation of Taurus was a deceptively good handler, feeling much better planted to the road than any Taurus built in subsequent generations. For this reason, I have always been quite fond of this generation.
However, they were not butterflies and merriment. During this time of 1996 to early 1998 I would obtain different cars from the motor pool almost weekly, and it was inevitably a second generation Taurus from model year 1994 or 1995.
I had two memorable problems with these cars in the motor pool, one being a really loud and faulty rear wheel bearing on a 55,000 mile Taurus while another had a speedometer needle that jumped around in a 10 mph range. The folks in the garage appreciated my notifying them of the wheel bearing, as I got a nearly new car the next week.
One day I asked one of the service attendants about how problematic these Taurii were. He said over the years the pool had been filled with Dodge Dynastys, first generation Taurii, Fox-body Ford LTDs, Plymouth Volares, AMC Concords, and 1978 Plymouth Furys when he started working there. The second generation Taurus had given them nearly no drama.
Upon my being transferred to St. Joseph in 2001, I was assigned a white 1995 Taurus. Having 90,000 miles when I received it, it shifted so hard from first to second gear the front wheels would bark on dry pavement. The transaxle was replaced soon thereafter.
This same Taurus also took fits of drinking fuel, the first time I had seen such in a Taurus. One day I made a 60 mile round trip that burned nearly a half-tank of fuel. There was no black smoke, no rough running, and no fuel leaks. When the replacement transaxle lasted only 2,000 miles, the Taurus was sold before the typical end of its service life.
All were powered by the 3.0 liter V6.
Again, most of these Taurii were fleet cars having less than cushy lives….one day in early 2002 a new employee who had relocated from a much warmer climate was exposed to freezing rain for the first time. Instead of scraping the ice off, he concluded that a few good thumps on the windshield from a ball-peen hammer would quickly and easily remove the ice. The results were spectacular.
Third Generation (1996 to 1999):
With the wild redesign of the Taurus for 1996, these started showing up en masse at work during 1997. All Taurii purchased from then until 2005 would be powered by the 3.0 Flex Fuel engine.
I transferred to the office in Sikeston, in the southeast part of Missouri, in April 1998. After briefly being assigned a gray 1994 Taurus, I was assigned a white 1997 Taurus that had 20,500 miles on the odometer. By the time I departed this job in early 2001, I had added another 50,000 miles to this Taurus.
One day it took a fit of running really rough. After taking it to the garage, it ran like a champ from then on but the fuel gauge was never accurate again.
My job required me to pull off the road in unusual areas and it was in this scenario I discovered a latent talent of these Taurii – they were great at jumping 6″ curbs. They could climb these like a billy-goat, totally unlike the other cars and pickups I drove during this time.
These Taurii also had surprisingly stout suspensions. One afternoon I was driving on I-55 north of Sikeston, passing a series of eighteen-wheelers. With a large RV riding my rear bumper, one of these eighteen-wheelers decided he liked my lane better. With nowhere to go, I hit the grass median of I-55 at about 70 miles per hour. The noise was phenomenal and I nearly hit the discarded head from a tractor engine that was lying on the ground. Regaining my composure, the only damage to the Taurus was a slightly bent wheel. It still tracked straight and true.
A few years later in 2003, I was assigned a very early 2004 Dodge Stratus. A terrible car, nine months later I did some horse-trading to receive my supervisor’s white 1999 Taurus.
This Taurus was rolling evidence of Ford decontenting the crap out of their cars. While this car was the embodiment of a fleet model, the interior was full of black vinyl and cheap looking black cloth – totally different than the 1997 and 1998 models. Every black interior I have since experienced has reminded me of this cheaped out Taurus and is a distinct factor in why I do not care for black inside a car.
Twice while this car was assigned to me, the transmission acted goofy. Each time, it would need to downshift, hesitate about it, then with a loud KABOOM! it would stay in the same gear while continuing to lug up the hill. After I left this position, I learned the transmission in this car soon consumed itself. I put about 40,000 to 50,000 miles on this particular Taurus.
Fourth Generation (2000 to 2005):
When the white 1995 had committed transaxle suicide again, I was told to go pick a car from one of the six in the district motor pool. After taking each of them for a spin, I chose a silver 2000 Taurus that amazingly had the aluminum five spoke wheels.
Another quirk of these Taurii with the FFV engines was if a person actually ran 85% ethanol in them, the fuel quality killed their ability to start at ambient temperatures below about 30 degrees Fahrenheit – except for mine. Sometime after I received the silver Taurus, a cold day prompted me to loan it to two employees whose Taurus would not start. That afternoon they tangled with a half-ton Dodge pickup, mangling the front end. Nobody was hurt.
While the car should have been called a loss, it was repaired. Within two months after being repaired, I again loaned it to one of the two employees who tangoed with the Dodge. He hit a deer that day, sending it back to the body shop. The car never did drive right after the first mishap.
It was soon reassigned.
My good (pre-collision) interactions with the 2000 at work is part of what led us to buy this 2001 Taurus SES in September of 2002 as our two-door cars weren’t cutting it carrying baby related stuff. Bad decision. Whereas all the Taurii at work had been pretty decent cars, this car went from driving great upon purchasing it to being the biggest disappointment I’ve ever owned.
To clarify, the car was highly reliable and handled great, but like a rabid chihuahua, you just didn’t know how it would behave. Sometimes its 3.0 liter regular fuel V6 ran as smooth and silky as a baby’s bottom covered in mineral oil. Other times it would run okay and make barely enough power to reach highway speeds.
Fuel mileage sucked, with the best I ever obtained being 24 miles per gallon – and that happened once. The worst? 12 miles per gallon. On those occasions it surpassed 20 mpg I was ready to kiss the ground. It also had a nasty spark knock that might (or might not) go away with higher octane gasoline.
The brakes took fits of being hard to press later on during my ownership and both rear drums were out of round as the shoes wore down to the steel at the 7:00 position on the right rear and at 4:00 on the left rear with the rest of the shoe looking untouched. Its chestnut colored paint would show etch marks from bird droppings if not removed within ten minutes.
Yet my favorite happened at 57,000 miles. Still living in St. Joseph, one night we were returning from a trip to Kansas City. Being stopped by a red light, the oil light was flashing at idle speed. Upon taking off, the light ceased. Being leery, I was able to determine this would happen at idle speed if the engine had been running for an hour or longer. After dealing with two jackass infested Ford dealers, a larger dealer in Kansas City was able to diagnose excessive crankshaft bearing clearance. It seems Ford was having a rash of such problems with the 3.0 Vulcan engine. Had my health at the time not compromised my finances, this Taurus would have gone away. To their credit, the problem was effectively fixed.
Upon Mrs. Jason experiencing undiagnosable brake issues in 2009, we sold the car to someone who seemed unconcerned about that problem. We had put 75,000 miles on it.
I have driven many more Taurii than those listed here, with my estimation being somewhere around seventy-five in total. For me, the most comfortable to drive were the 1996 to 1999 models, with the 1992 to 1995 models being the best handling, and the 2000 to 2005 being the best long distance cruisers.
Without doubt there is a broad spectrum of opinions and experiences with the Ford Taurus. These were mine, good and bad.