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1998 Ford Taurus

1996-99

Ford Taurus / Mercury Sable

Form Over Function

The first restyle of Ford's bold and innovative 1986 Taurus had come and gone with a yawn. Introduced in 1992, it was promptly criticized. Too mild, the critics said. Too boring, the enthusiast rags chimed in. Ford is losing it's edge, they all chorused. Never mind the fact that the boring restyle sold better than ever, even capturing the sales crown throughout its four year run.

The criticism must have stung, for when Ford trotted out the newly redesigned Taurus for '96, there was no way anyone could claim that Ford had gotten timid again.

The new Taurus was everything the last version wasn't: fresh, bold, and distinctive.  Naturally, those same detractors of the mild version now criticized the Taurus for being a little bit too bold, distinctive and unorthodox!  Sometimes you just can't beat those Monday morning quarterbacks. Regardless about how you feel about the styling, which after all is a subjective matter anyway, you've got to hand it to Ford for having the chutzpah to engineer such a radical change on the nation's best selling car.

That first year, 1996, was a continuation of the last, and the Taurus took the sales crown again. The public, however, never fully warmed to the redesign, and it was handicapped initially by Ford's attempt to increase standard equipment -- and price -- and move the model upmarket a bit. The sales crown was captured through the introduction of a slightly decontented and cheaper base model and some very healthy dealer and customer incentives. The huge number of sales to rental fleets, including Ford's captive Hertz Rental Car, didn't hurt either. In 1997 Ford decided to stop the heavy subsidies, and the Taurus lost the sales race to the Toyota Camry. It hasn't reclaimed it since.

Strengths Weaknesses
  • Ride/handling
  • Price/value
  • Styling
  • Service/maintenance costs
  • Base powertrain
  • Interior noise w/base engine
  • Styling

 

What's Available

Both the Taurus and Sable are available in two body styles -- a four door sedan and four door station wagon. Initially, both were available in two trim levels. The base Taurus carried the GL moniker, while the base Sable was called the GS. The upmarket versions carried LX and LS badges, respectively. Shortly into the production run, a G model became the base model, forgoing things like cruise control, power locks, and a folding rear seat. For the '98 model year the Taurus GL was dropped, the LX became the entry model, and an SE occupied the top slot.

In most cases, the top trim levels came with more standard equipment, fancier trim, and a new 3.0L 200hp DOHC V6 (called Duratec by the marketing guys). Beginning in 1998, this engine was technically moved to the option list for the SE and LS, but most came with some sort of premium package that included this engine. The base models made do with the old, 3.0L OHV V6 generating 145hp. A 4-speed automatic was the only transmission choice.

Along the way, various regional and Touring Editions where marketed with special equipment packages, so don't be surprised to see a Sable or Taurus labeled as something other than the above designations.

Running Changes

1996 New model; SHO added late in year

1997 No major changes

1998 Duratec (DOHC) equipped models get new final drive ratio for better acceleration

1999 Sable gets interior faux wood treatment

 

Exterior Design

Automotive journalists are forever complaining about the generic styling in the automotive world. Japanese and GM cars seem to get the most complaints, but all manufacturers have been fair game. As a rule, that seems to be changing now, but "soulless" styling was running rampart when this version of the Taurus/Sable debuted so the design was impossible to confuse with any other family sedan available.

That may have not been a wise strategy. From most angles we like the design very much. The front, front 3/4, and side views present a crisp, taut profile. Despite being larger than the model it replaced, it actually looks smaller. But then you look at the rear and rear 3/4 views. It looks like the stylists ran out of time and just grafted on a rear end. Both the Taurus and the Sable just don't pull those views off. Sometimes the little flares along the door sill (for aerodynamic purposes) appear ungainly, other times they don't.

The big differences between the two are the roofline and trunklid. On the Taurus, there is a six-window treatment on the C-pillar, while the Sable gets a more traditional four window treatment with thicker C-pillars. The Taurus' decklid slopes down, while the Sables extends a couple more inches to the rear and retreats into the rear bumper more abruptly. The Taurus gets a unique, and rather odd, oval rear window that carries over the oval design theme throughout the car.

Due to these design differences, the Sable gets a slightly larger trunk; the Taurus boasts a lower drag coefficient (.30 vs. .33) and slightly more rear seat headroom.

The wagon avoids most of these problems. The rear hatch is still oval, but it manages to look pretty good on the wagon. Of the two body styles, the wagon is the easy winner when it comes to design harmony.

Interior Design

Here again, Ford chose to break from traditional interior design cues to forge its new oval look. There isn't a rectangle to be found. And identical dash with a full set of gauges adorns the Taurus and Sable, with a choice of bucket seats with full console and transmission on the floor or bench seat with a unique and very useful fold down center seat cushion that can hold all kinds of drinks, change and stuff. When so equipped the transmission selector resides on the steering column.

When entering the cabin, the first object your eye is likely to fall on is the large oval in the center of the dash. It contains an unusual arrangement of radio and HVAC controls. Many reviewers gave it poor marks for ergonomics, but we think is works very well once you know your way around. It's hard to fault the rest of the controls, too.

Fabrics and colors are well coordinated, although the door panels have a very utilitarian look to them. The dash is covered with an anti-glare texture that does reduce glare but it hard to clean.

Room and Comfort

With a caveat, four people will be as comfortable in a Taurus as in another other mainstream sedan. The only objection we have is the driving position. It's too low. Get the power seat, and your problems are solved.

As we mentioned earlier, the Taurus/Sable twins are available as 5- and 6-passenger sedans. The wagons can be configured to hold anywhere from 5 to 8, with the optional rear seat that folds into the cargo floor.

The seats are well designed with just the right amount of firmness. While the two outboard passengers will be quite comfortable, we wouldn't recommend sitting in the middle front for very long. It's not comfortable at all. The middle rear seat passenger will deal with the usual hard cushion, but they'll be ok for a while. The rear seatback folds down to create a pass through into the trunk. The 3rd seat in the wagon is thinly padded and suitable only for kids.

Legroom is sufficient front and rear, but headroom gets a bit tight for tall rear seat passengers. The sharply raked C-pillar on the Sable and wagons force you to scrunch over when entering or exiting the rear. Both are a result of function following form.

Two of the examples we drove exhibited excessive wind noise at highway speeds. With triple sealed doors, this shouldn't happen. To be fair, we should also mention that we took a wagon for a weekend getaway, and there was no wind noise at all -- even at 80mph.

It's SHO time!

Since 1989, there has always been a very different, very special Taurus. It's called SHO. It's mission is decidedly more sporting than a standard Taurus. A firmer suspension, more aggressive wheels and tires, tighter steering and unique design cues adorn every SHO. And let's not forget the engine. As with previous SHO's, it was a joint project between Ford and Yamaha. Eight cylinders, 3.4 liters and 235hp motivate the SHO with authority.

Handling is much improved over other Taurus', with some loss of ride comfort. Top speed is electronically limited to 138mph. Interestingly, although quick, in most situations it's not all that much quicker than the Taurus' DOHC V6, and measurably slower than the previous SHO, which had only six cylinders and 15 less horsepower.

This is also the first SHO that cannot be had with a manual transmission, a blow for SHO fans. It's also smoother, quieter and more refined than past editions, an effort on Ford's part to position the car more as an executive express than a four door sports car.

Ride/Handling/Performance

When comparing the new Taurus to the old, a few things are immediately apparent. The body is noticeably stiffer, it's quieter inside, and the steering is more responsive. And when pushed hard, the new Taurus behaves much better than the old one and though you won't confuse it for a BMW, it handles very well for a mainstream sedan. You'll get the usual front-drive understeer (the front end wants to keep going straight under high-speed cornering), but it's very predictable, not as pronounced as most, and body roll is within acceptable bounds.

In almost all circumstances, the Taurus rides very smoothly. Body motions always feel well controlled. The suspension feels a little harsh over sudden, large disturbances in the road, but it is never upset by them.

The Taurus/Sable duo are available with two different engines. The base engine, a 3.0 liter pushrod V6 generating 145hp, is adequate. It's reasonably responsive and unobtrusive most of the time. But it is not as quiet as most other cars in this category and gets downright noisy when pushed. With a fully loaded vehicle, it begins to feel overtaxed. The other engine, the DOHC 3.0 liter V6, is a jewel. It's very quiet and smooth, and moves the Taurus/Sable briskly. And unlike the base motor, it makes some wonderful noises when pushed hard.

The transmission works smoothly and seamlessly, particularly when mated to the more powerful engine. We would still have to rate it a notch below the best from Japan and GM however.

Braking chores are handled by a front disc/rear drum setup on the Taurus and Sable sedans. All wagons were equipped with four-wheel disc brakes. An anti-lock brake system (ABS) was optional which included four wheel discs. Both systems work well, with ABS giving an extra measure of control in slippery conditions.

Safety

On a car that was introduced only four years ago, you would expect that a full complement of safety items accompanies every Taurus/Sable. Dual front air bags and adjustable seatbelts are standard fare, along with child safety locks.

ABS braking was originally intended to be standard equipment, but for cost reasons was made optional.

Government crash testing of the Taurus resulted in an very good (4-stars) score for the '96-'98 models, and an excellent (5-stars) for the 1999 model. The Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Taurus the highest rating of any midsize sedan.

Reliability

The latest generation Taurus/Sable has amassed a good, but not exceptional, reliability record when compared to the best in this class, the Toyota Camry. Major components rarely fail, but we have had occasional reports of electrical gremlins and transmission troubles through our customer helpline.

All were backed by a 3yr - 36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty, so there will be plenty of models out there with the original warranty still in effect.

Service

If your Taurus does need a trip to the shop, chances are that it won't lighten your wallet too much, at least when compared to it's import competition.

Maintenance intervals are somewhat below average, too . First coolant change isn't specified until 50,000 miles (every 30,000 miles after that), and the spark plugs are good for 100,000 miles. Even the DOHC motor doesn't require timing belt service, since it uses a chain. That usually ranges anywhere from $250 to $700 on it's Japanese rivals.

Recommendations

We've always felt that the Taurus represents a terrific value as a used car. It does not have the resale value of an Accord or Camry, so you can pick up good examples for remarkably little money. And over the long haul, your pocket book will appreciate the relatively low service and maintenance costs.

Our choice would be a loaded LX or LS version with the sweet twin-cam engine. You'll be getting a sophisticated, quick and comfortable sedan for the price of a new economy car.

 

What They Said When New

"The new Ford Taurus feels better than last year's model in many ways, but its scores in our tests haven't improved significantly" ...... Consumer Reports, 1996

"There's much to like--the structure is notably solid, handling is without bad habits, fin of interior parts is very good"..... Car & Driver, 1995

"Maybe the best family car ever made."...........Automobile 1996

..."Ford indulges rear passengers with limo-like legroom: 3.4 inches more than the Camry and over 4.5 more that the Accord.".......Motor Trend 1997

"In it's upper range, this Duratec engine is exhilarating"..... Road & Track 1996

"Styling excesses taint an otherwise excellent design."...... Consumer Reports, 1997

 

  General Specifications  
General

Trim Levels:

G, GL, LX, SE (Taurus), G, GS, LS (Sable)

Body Styles:

4dr Sedan, 4dr Wagon

Dimensions & Capacities

Weight: 3400lbs

Length: Sdn 197.5"; Cpe 199.6"

Wheelbase: Sdn 108.5"

Width: 73"

Height: Sdn 55.1"; Wgn 57.6"

EPA Class: Mid-size

Interior Vol: Sdn 101, Wgn 104.1 cu ft

Trunk Vol : Sdn 15.8; Wgn 38 cu. ft.

Fuel: 16 gallons

Mechanical

Layout: Front-engine, Front-wheel drive

Engines: 3.0L (6cyl-145hp) 3.0L (6cyl-200hp)

Transmission: 4-speed automatic w/overdrive

Brakes: Front disc/rear disc Front disc/rear disc w/ABS optional

Performance (145/200hp)

0-60mph: 10.8/8.5 seconds 1/4 mile: 18.2/16.4 seconds Top Speed: 110/112mph Electronically limited

EPA Mileage: (city/hwy) 20/28 (sedan) 19/27 (wagon)

 

Safety

ABS Brakes: Standard

Air Bags: Dual standard

NHTSA Safety Rating:

Driver ***** Passenger *****

Key:

Best: ***** No or minor injuries probable

Worst: * Serious injury probable

IIHS 40 mph Crash Rating:

Good

Original Warranty:

3yr/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper 5yr/unlimited miles corrosion

 

 

Safety Recalls

NHTSA Number: 96V166000

Model Year: 1996-97; Year of Recall: '96

Summary: The park pawl abutment bracket has a sharp edge which can cause the parking pawl to hand up and no engage the park gear. This would allow the vehicle to move even though the gear shift indicator shows that the vehicle is in park. Dealers will inspect and, if necessary, replace the park pawl abutment bracket.

NHTSA Number: 96V176000

Model Year: 1996; Year of Recall: '96

Summary: The automatic transmission park pawl shaft may not be free to rotate as intended. If the park pawl shaft does not rotate, it would prevent the park pawl from engaging the park gear when the shift lever is in the park position. This condition could result in the vehicle rolling as if in neutral with the shift lever in the park position. Dealers will inspect the park pawl shaft rotation and those shafts with restricted rotation will be replaced with a shorter shaft that will not restrict rotation.

NHTSA Number: 97V097000

Model Year: 1997; Year of Recall: '97

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger vehicles equipped with AX4S automatic transaxles. The low/intermediate servo cover can separate from the transaxle while the vehicle is being driven. If this occurs, transmission fluid will leak contacting the catalytic converter. The catalytic converter temperature may be hot enough to ignite the transmission fluid and cause a vehicle fire. Dealers will inspect the transmission and replace these servo covers.

NHTSA Number: 98V028002

Year: 1997-98; Year of Recall: '98

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger vehicles. The text and/or graphics for the vehicle headlamp aiming instructions provided in the owner guides are not sufficiently clear. This does not meet the requirements of FMVSS No. 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment." If the headlamp assemblies are replaced, customers may be confused by the aiming instructions provided in the owner guides causing the headlamps to be improperly aimed. Owner guides containing revised aiming instructions will be mailed to owners of these vehicles. Owner notification is expected to begin April 6, 1998.

NHTSA Number: 98V067000

Model Year: 1998; Year of Recall: '98

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger vehicles previously serviced under Ford Service Bulletin 97-17-9. These vehicles were inadvertenly equipped with an 18-gallon fuel tank rather than the 16-gallon as specified. The 18-gallon tank has a second valve location where a shipping plug should be installed. If this shipping plug is displaced, fuel leakage can result. Fuel leakage in the presence of an ignition source could potentially result in a fire. Dealers will install the correct fuel tank.

NHTSA Number: 98V198000

Model Year: 1998-99; Year of Recall: '98

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger vehicles equipped with manual seat tracks. The front seat belt buckle attaching stud may have been improperly heat treated. This heat treatment may have resulted in cracks developing in the stud. If the stud is cracked, in the event of a vehicle crash, the occupant may not be properly restrained, increasing the risk of personal injury. Dealers will replace the seat belt buckle mounting bracket and stud assembly.

NHTSA Number: 98V204000

Model Year: 1999; Year of Recall: '98

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger vehicles. A dash insulator retainer clip was not fully assembled to the accelerator cable dash fitting. The clip can disengage from the accelerator cable and fall into the accelerator pedal arm pivot area. If this condition occurs, the engine may not fully return to idle. Also, the insulator may not stay in the intended location and could interfere with the accelerator cable. Dealers will inspect these vehicles to ensure proper installation of the accelerator cable clip, and re-install if needed.

NHTSA Number: 98V288000

Model Year: 1999; Year of Recall: '98

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger vehicles equpped with the "California" emissions package. An incorrect transmission oil cooler line was installed. The line contacts the anti-lock braking system module support bracket and over time, can wear and develop a leak. Transmission fluid leakage onto the exhaust manifold or catalytic converter can result in a fire. Dealers will install the appropriate transmission oil cooler line.

NHTSA Number: 96V016000

Model year: 1996; Year of Recall: '96

Summary: The brake system fluid level indicator lamp switch can malfunction. This does not comply with FMVSS NO. 105, "Hyrdraulic brake systems." Consequence of non-compliance: If the switch malfunctions, the brake system warning lamp will either remain illuminated continuously or fail to light as intended when the fluid level falls to a certain level. In either case, the operator wouldn' be warned of a low brake fluid level condition. Dealers will replace the brake system fluid level indicator lamp switches.

NHTSA Number: 96V086000

Model year: 1996; Year of Recall: '96

Summary: The park pawl shaft was improperly positioned when the roll pin that retains it was installed during transmission assembly. If the shaft was not properly positioned, the roll pin may not have lined up with the groove int the shaft and have been crushed at assembly. Also, a burr could have been raised on the shaft. This could result in the park pawl occasionally not engaging when the transmission selector lever is placed in the park position. This could result in the vehicle rolling if the operator does not apply the parking brake. Dealers will inspect the park pawl shaft roll pin. If the roll pin is damaged, both the roll pin and the park pawl shaft will be replaced. In addition, owners will be reminded to fully apply the parking brake in addition to placing the transmission in park.

NHTSA Number: 96V151000

Model Year: 1996; Year of Recall: '96

Summary: The fuel pressure regulator located on the fuel rail in the engine manifold plenum through the vacuum line resulting in either release of fuel from the compartment has a vacuum diaphragm that was damaged during manufacture of the regulator. If the diaphragm tears or ruptures, liquid fuel could enter the intake air cleaner assembly or the exhaust system. Fuel release in the presence of an ignition source could potentially result in a fire. Dealers will inspect the fuel pressure regulator. Those regulators produced during the suspect time period will be replaced.

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