N.B. – Though not stated either way in the original version of this article, by 1995, the percentage of Taurus fleet sales had indeed reached over 50%. Source: WardsAuto, October 1, 1995
In many respects, the career of the Ford Taurus has mirrored the career path of many Hollywood actors and actresses. From breakout star and mainstream success to being typecast into the same redundant roles to a series of failed projects and almost permanent retirement. Like many of these film stars, the Taurus clawed itself back from oblivion, staging a comeback. But much like these actors and actresses, the Taurus returned a little softer and less youthful, with its return to prominence going only so far as supporting roles.
In its early career though, the Taurus was unquestionably the star of the show. Quite literally taking the industry by storm (its initial 1985 premier took place on the same soundstage where Gone With The Wind was filmed), the Taurus was a styling and packaging marvel. With futuristic “aero” looks, highly versatile interiors, and models to fit a variety of budgets, the Taurus quickly became America’s Sweetheart of the automotive industry, achieving both high praise and sales success, and cementing its place as one of the most influential cars of all time.
Not wanting to mess with success, changes were fairly limited over the first generation Taurus’ six-year run. As for this second generation, Ford largely stayed this course. Making some expected improvements and refinements, Ford elected an evolutionary approach, with very few visual alterations and almost no changes made underneath the surface.
Although the Taurus still looked more modern than most competitors, this was somewhat of a defiant move by Ford. The Taurus had been on the market for six years already, and merely tweaking its shape seemed hardly enough, when competitors like the Accord and Camry were receiving facelifts after only two or three years on the market.
For the exterior, the second generation Taurus underwent a significant nip/tuck. With the exception of the doors, every body panel was completely new, although the general appearance of the first generation was very much retained and to the untrained eye, it did indeed look like little more than a facelift of the first generation. Front and rear fascias were rounder and sleeker, with a lower nose, and slimmer headlights. Bumpers and quarter panels were rounder, giving the car an overall trimmer appearance, despite a length increase by nearly four inches.
The Taurus’ roofline was also revised, with thinner D-pillars and a slightly larger rear windshield. A redesigned trunk now featured an integrated spoiler and higher placed taillights for sportier look. New bodyside trim, wider rocker panels, and a host of new wheel designs also made for a cleaner, more contemporary appearance. For 1992 only, bumpers and lower bodyside trim were accent colored on base L and mid-level GL models, body colored the up-level LX and performance SHO. Beginning in 1993, the L model was dropped and all models now featured body colored bumpers and trim.
The interior of the car received a more substantial visual makeover, with a redesigned dashboard improving on the already good ergonomics of the previous Taurus. Door panels were also redesigned, with front door panels cutting into the dash for an aggressive cockpit look. This dashboard redesign also allowed for a passenger’s side airbag, a feature optional for 1992-1993 and made standard for 1994-1995.
Though most switchgear was carried over, all Tauruses featured new radios with redundant controls for presets, volume, and seek/scan mounted next to the instrument gauge cluster. When equipped with power windows, door mounted switches were now illuminated at night.
Seats featured new fabric choices and stitching patterns, with rear seats losing their integrated headrests for outboard passengers. Staying true to American traditoin, front bench seats with a column shifter were still standard on all models, save for the SHO, with buckets and a floor shifter a no-cost option. 1992 models equipped with buckets still used the first generation’s center floor console, with a redesigned better-integrated one appearing in 1993.
Underneath, the chassis and mechanics were mostly the same as before. In the way of improvements, there was the expected chassis stiffening that comes with most successive generations of any vehicle. Better sound deadeners were also added to the engine and exhaust system for decreased NVH. Lastly, engineers gave the Taurus a new speed-sensitive power steering system aimed at improving maneuverability and new shock absorbers aimed at increasing ride comfort.
Both engines were carryover, with the 140 horsepower, 160 lb-ft torque Vulcan V6 standard on all sedans and sub-LX model wagons. The larger 3.8L Essex V6, also making 140 horsepower but with 215 lb-ft torque) was standard on LX wagons and optional on all sedans. All models now featured a 4-speed automatic as the standard and only transmission choice. This aforementioned powertrain information of course excludes the Taurus SHO, which initially featured a “super high-output” 3.0L V6 making 220 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. Beginning in 1993, a 4-speed automatic was offered in the SHO, mated to a 3.2L V6 making identical horsepower, but 215 lb-ft torque.
As stated at the beginning of this article, Ford played it safe with its first redesign of the Taurus. It may have seemed like a good move at the time, and indeed 1992 Taurus sales did increase over the old 1991 model, even surpassing the Honda Accord to reclaim the title of Best Selling Car In America. Well that’s all fine and well, Ford’s choice in keeping the Taurus minimally changed one the outside and even more so underneath had negative long-term repercussions.
In reality, what did the first generation Taurus have that competitors didn’t. It was a front-wheel drive, midsize sedan, with pushrod I4 or V6 power, 3- or 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission, and several trim levels to suit different budgets and needs. Sure it did have a wagon and a high-performance model, but at its core, it was a workhorse family sedan that really didn’t offer much in the way of noteworthiness that couldn’t be found at a Chevy, Pontiac, Dodge, Plymouth, Honda, Toyota, etc. dealer. Except for its styling.
To say that the first generation Taurus’ styling was the key to its success is an understatement. Whereas every other sedan on the market in 1986 was boxy, straight-edged, square, and quite frankly, alike (and would continue to do so for several more years), the radical Taurus looked like nothing else around. Suddenly the family sedan became modern, stylish, and even aspirational. Everyday people (and likely a few fleets) came in droves to buy them and the Taurus soon spawned many imitators.
By the time the second generation Taurus came along and through the end of its production, it was still a somewhat competitive car, but it looked and felt very dated. In this time, most competitors predictably stepped up their game. With these competitors offering superior style, chassis, powertrain, and refinement, the Taurus quickly became blasé. No longer was it a captivating, near-class leading vehicle which everyday families aspired to. Ford’s decision not to give the Taurus more substantial upgrades and restyling lead to its fall from grace.
Sales throughout the entire second generation remained brisk, with the Taurus remaining America’s best selling car for all four years. These numbers are of course somewhat misleading, as a large percentage of them came from fleet sales (predominately rental companies, government agencies, police and security fleets). I wish I had a breakdown of private vs. fleet sales for this period, but it was clear the Taurus was becoming increasingly dependent on fleet sales during these years.
The outcome of Ford’s very evolutionary, in many ways over evolutionary approach with the second generation resulted in the company taking extreme measures for the third generation model in order to regain the captivating nature of the original, while naturally still retaining its high sales and popularity.