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Automotive Industries - Squaring Up the Taurus

Author/s: Dale Jewett
Issue: Oct, 1999

Dave Marinaro, chief program engineer for the restyled 2000 Ford Taurus, started assembling his team for the project four years ago -- not long after the radically styled 1996 Taurus debuted to angst from dealers and lukewarm press reviews.

Marinaro says his team's mission wasn't to fix the Taurus, but rather to "give customers what they wanted." The DN101 Taurus, he points out, has remained one of the country's 10 best-selling cars during its tenure.

Based on what Marinaro's team delivered, Taurus buyers wanted:

* More interior room, especially in the back seat.

* A softer ride.

* More trunk room.

But following the program chief's reasoning, the 2000 Taurus reveals what buyers didn't want: the oval styling theme, and a higher sticker price.

Nor were engineers allowed to let the Taurus' curb weight grow, even though the car carries nearly twice as much sound insulation to muffle road noise.

In what amounts to an extensive restyling after only four years, just the doors and windshield have been carried over from the 1999 model. And the only oval to be seen is the new grille.

The Taurus customer "is the quintessential good neighbor who will do the right thing," says brand manager Rick Crossland.

One of the chief complaints about the previous generation Taurus was a lack of headroom in the rear seat. So the rear of the roofline on the 2000 model was raised substantially, giving front seat passengers nearly an inch more head room, and adding almost two inches for the rear passengers.

The overall look of the redesign "had to be controlled by the doors," says chief designer Maury Colm. "My goal was to make the shape more contemporary, yet still pay homage to the original Taurus."

It's more practical, too. The rear of the deck lid stands four inches taller, adding 1.2 cubic feet of space. New tail lamps with a vertical orientation allow the trunk opening to be two inches wider. The lower lip of the trunk opening contains hooks to help keep grocery bags from rolling around.

The front is market by a larger grille that allows for better engine cooling. The rear edge of the hood was raised by 0.6 inch, and the windshield wipers park lower, which aids airflow over the car and cuts down on wind noise.

Underneath that hood, engineers shaved 30 pounds from the optional Duratec 3.0L V-6 by switching to a composite plastic intake manifold, eliminating the complicated and expensive twin-port induction system. The new manifold contains a lip that causes the intake air to tumble, accounting for a 15-hp gain, to 200 hp. Meanwhile, a close-mounted catalyst in a stainless steel exhaust manifold on one side of the engine helps it meet Low-Emission Vehicle standards. Weight and costs were saved by converting the Duratec to a single exhaust system.

The tumble port manifold also allowed engineers to reduce valve overlap in the base Vulcan 3.0L V-6, improving torque while maintaining horsepower.

While the new Taurus' look is sharper, customers wanted a softer ride. So engineers reduced front spring rates 12% and mar rotes 20%. To compensate for the loss in roll control, notes engineer Tom Morris, the sway bars were fitted with "grippers," urethane inserts that don't allow the bar to slide in its holder. "You have to turn the bar 75 to 90 degrees before you get any slip," he says. A rear sway bar is again standard, after having been deleted for the '99 model year. (For a Cars Worth Noting drive review, see p. 14.)

Morris notes that the team shaved costs by eliminating the electronic controls from the rack-and-pinion power steering. "The old system wasn't predictable enough," he says. New valving in the unit also allowed the line pressure to be lowered, reducing noise.

The new Taurus rides on 16-inch wheels, with slightly wider tires that run with 30 psi air pressure -- 3 psi less than last year.

Improving brake feel was a high priority. System engineer Patricia Seahorse noted that the previous generation Taurus was prone to some steering wheel "nibble," or slight pulsations under braking. The cause: excessive tolerances in the wheel hubs, bearings and brake rotors. So Seahorse told suppliers -- Lucas Varity for the front brakes and Robert Bosch for the rears -- that tolerances would be reduced to 5 to 10 microns.

Seahorse also led the effort to add power-adjustable pedals to the Taurus, a $120 option at first but possibly a standard feature later when supplier Teleflex is able to boost production. The feature was a late addition to the program, added just 24 months ago.

Seahorse made one enhancement form the system used on the Ford Expedition -- the rod that the pedal set travels on is angled 7 degrees downward, so that the pedals get closer to the floor pan as they move toward the driver, an aid to smaller drivers with smaller feet.

The adjustable pedals are an adjunct to the Personal Safety System, Ford's latest generation of safety systems. On the Taurus, it includes dual-stage airbag inflators, seat belt pretensioners and load limiters, driver's seat position sensor, seat belt use sensors and a new generation crash sensor.

After a four-year walk on the wild side, ovals and all, the Taurus has moved back to the mainstream.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Cahners Publishing Company
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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