(first posted 11/13/2012) As part of my post-Sandy survey of the (non-)damage to my hometown, I was assigned to Older Relative Patrol by my Dad. (In truth, that was mostly my own doing; I wanted to see my somehow still-alive childhood cat, who’s being cared for by a family member.) I ended up at the home of my Great Aunt, whom I’d completely forgotten has owned a second-generation Taurus for many years.
By the time the second-generation Taurus arrived, the bull’s reputation (and that of its Sable cousin) had been thoroughly established. Sales were climbing to eye-popping levels, and Ford was clearly on a roll as the Malaise Era had pretty much become a thing of the past.
“Wow!” Is there really any better way to sum up what Ford did for 1992? Dick Landgraff had been charged with overseeing that very successful face lift, which was so liked by the Ford brass that they handed him the keys to the DN101 project–AKA the 1996 redesign.
Exactly how did Ford justify stirring the pot at this point? After all, the second-generation Taurus was the most successful so far, selling just under 410,000 units in its first year. That is a huge figure. No, it didn’t crush its number-two competitor, the Accord, but it didn’t matter: It was still the best- selling passenger car in the United States.
There were some changes, though.
As a cost-cutting measure, the black molding used on earlier models was dropped in favor of a monochromatic scheme (which happens to look better, in the humble opinion of your author).
The wagon received very few changes. Aside from sharing its front end with the new model, it retained exactly the same specifications from the B-pillar rearward; again, not such a bad thing.
Our featured Taurus has been around quite a while, as my cousin always bought her Fords brand new. Her love for the thing withstood its constantly being in the shop for warranty repair. Why was it? Well…
Blame the dreaded Essex V6. Why the hell Ford couldn’t figure out its kinks after 10 years of production is a mystery to me. Still, the time it spent at the dealership during the Clinton administration paid off; despite being so old, it’s been pretty good to my Grandma’s sister. I remember that once, at the age of 17, the keys were handed to me for a quick jaunt to fetch her mail at the entrance to her mobile home complex. At the time, I had my ’89 Taurus with the Vulcan V6. As I put the newer car through its paces, I kept asking myself where the 3.8’s added grunt was. I wonder if buyers were thinking the same thing.
Now, lets take a more in-depth look at the redesign then, shall we?
They kept the wraparound dash and added a passenger side airbag, something I believe was ahead of its time. That top line above the SRS logo looks like something out of the Enterprise-D.
And here we have the semi-cockpit dash, which was kept as well. It was designed to be user-friendly, but the controls above the vents seem like they would be a pain to reach. I think the reason they were pushed northward was to accommodate a CD player in the upper trim levels in place of the lint rollers. Also, that steering wheel is the same as in the third generation; I have it in my Sable. Curiously, mine is worn down a bit more, despite the fact that my CC has fewer miles than this one. Maybe my palms are too sweaty.
Back to the engine bay: Once again, we can see one legacy of Team Taurus directly in front of us, in clearly-labeled compartments that remain very visible even after all these years. For comparison purposes, only the cap of the windshield reservoir in my 1997 Sable is visible–from the stem down, the entire rest of the damn thing is hidden. Overfilling is a very common occurrence.
You didn’t think I’d leave without pulling my own ride alongside, now would you? Shame on you who did. Anyway, part of me wishes that my car also was a Taurus, which would provide a more proper comparison. Still, I think this suits our purposes quite nicely. I can now truly understand the head scratching that must have occurred when loyal Ford owners pulled into dealerships in 1996 and saw this new oval contraption next to the 95’s.
And in case you were wondering, that is my Great Aunt at the left side, wondering what the hell I was doing. “Go on your computer and check out my articles, Aunt Flo!” , I responded enthusiastically. “I haven’t gone on that damn thing in years!” she replied, taking another puff from her cigarette. Sigh.
Now here comes the harder part: could the third-generation design have been saved by more- rectangular headlamps? Or is that whole front end just dowdy and not as confidence-inspiring as the 95’s? Maybe my eyes are playing tricks on me as I look at those crystalline lenses, which certainly have held up well over the years.
With that out of the way, let’s examine the the second-generation Taurus in its proper historical context.
The 1992 Camry would be ripped apart repeatedly by the DN101 team in order to figure out what made it so special. In terms of styling, clearly Toyota had cribbed notes from the ’86 Taurus, but this design was still a bit, well, bulky, and it didn’t have the flow of the 1995 Taurus.
When the fifth-generation Accord debuted in 1994, it made clear that Honda also was paying attention. Again, though, it wasn’t exactly an eye catcher: To my eyes, that rear end has always seemed a bit chopped-off. And what did the competition do next?
Virtually without exception, they dived headfirst into something close to copyright infringement. It seemed that all these automakers just took a second-generation Taurus and said “lets do it.” And it worked. Even when they didn’t involve a blue-oval vehicle, the midsize sedan wars of the 1990’s really were all about the Taurus–and you’ve got to believe that pretty much everyone involved was plenty entertained.