By Frank S. Washington
DETROIT – It is amazing. Ford has moved so swiftly at turning its product line around that the Taurus is now the oldest car, from a design standpoint, on its showroom floors. And the full-size sedan will remain that way reportedly until 2015.
Now don’t get it twisted; the Taurus does not look old. Well, not until you park it alongside a Ford Fiesta, or a Ford Focus or a Ford Fusion. Then it starts showing its age. So what is Ford to do? Tweak the outside and make major improvements to the internal operating system. That’s what.
The sheet metal of the Taurus has been burnished with some new lines and the grille has been modified to look like the new face of Ford. But you’ve got to know what’s under the sheet metal to appreciate the Taurus.
It was the first car in Ford’s North American lineup to receive the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. This four-cylinder direct injected turbocharged engine generated 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm.
This translated into power that moved the almost full-size front-wheel-drive Taurus that weighed almost two-tons smartly. During a week-long test drive there was never any indication that the engine was laboring. It moved the Taurus where it needed to be when it needed to be there effortlessly.
Although it is certainly high tech, and it is the optional powerplant, in the Taurus the 2.0-liter EcoBoost is certainly a meat and potatoes engine. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission it was rated at 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.
The Taurus had a 19 gallon capacity fuel tank; simple multiplication said the car had a highway range of 608 miles. That’s the kind of pragmatic application that is expected of a Ford.
The car can be equipped with a normally aspirated V6 that makes a bit more horsepower (48) but has less pound-ft. of torque (16). And it can be equipped with all-wheel-drive.
A MacPherson strut front suspension with rear facing L-Shaped lower control arms and an independent multilink with coil-over shock absorbers in the rear provided a ride that was uneventful. The Taurus didn’t float down the road; neither did the ride seem overly firm.
Handling was great. The full-size Taurus had electric power assisted rack and pinion steering and a 2.65 steering wheel lock-to-lock turns. For a sizable car, the Taurus was pretty nimble. It handled more like a mid-size sedan.
The Taurus was equipped with SYNC and MyFord Touch. The interior still seemed a little close. The bottom of the dash sort of tilted out toward the occupants which took up space. Undoubtedly, this will be changed in the next iteration of Ford’s flagship sedan.
But that was the only quibble with the car’s interior. The heated and cooled front seats were comfortable. The dash featured Ford’s touch pad controls, there were very few buttons. The system’s voice commands can be used to personalize the information screen.
Voice controls could also be used for vehicle function, Bluetooth devices and MP3 players and other external media. The driver’s instrument panel was laden with TFT screens on either side of the speedometer that are now common in most Fords.
The Taurus is billed as a five passenger sedan and surprisingly it can carry five people. Even the “hump” in the back seat was relatively comfortable and without a sunroof there was enough head space.
The test car was modestly equipped, even though there was no sunroof, or massaging front seats or lane departure alert. Still, among the creature comforts were dual climate controls, satellite radio, and power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, rear park assist, rain sensing windshield wipers, adjustable pedals, a smart key with push button start and a power rear sun screen.
At $40,675 as tested, the 2013 Ford Taurus was not lacking.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com
2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith
By Frank S. Washington
PHOENIX – No cars, no dealers, no factory, no nothing. It is a convoluted story but that’s what BMW started with when it acquired the full rights to Rolls-Royce in 1998.
The first car on BMW’s watch didn’t roll off the newly built assembly line at Goodwood, England, until 2003. But since the introduction of the Roll-Royce Phantom, the company added five more models in eight years. What’s more, the top of the line Phantom Series model line was updated in 2013.
But don’t let the numbers fool you, the additional models have not diluted the brand, the Phantom, the Extended Wheelbase Phantom, the Phantom Drophead Coupe (that is a convertible), the Ghost and the Ghost Extended Wheelbase have concentrated the strength of Rolls-Royce and reestablished it as the premier uber-luxury brand in the world.
Enter the all-new 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith, unlike any other Rolls-Royce built in the 109-year history of the company. It is a fastback that Rolls-Royce said is in the tradition of European GT or gran turismo cars.
The four-seat Wraith is a coupe with coach doors. In the vernacular, they are called suicide doors. And these doors are now a hallmark of Roll Royce, every model it produces is equipped with coach doors
And the steeply sloping roof of the Wraith does not hinder back seat occupants. Four full-size people can travel in this Rolls-Royce coupe in extreme comfort for very long distances. A 16.6 cubic-foot cargo space assures that every last one of them can take enough stuff to last a couple of weeks.
It took five years to develop the Wraith and as one Rolls-Royce staffer said it is the logical next step for the brand. Although the company is not quite sure who they are, it expects the Wraith to attract younger buyers as well as more women.
One thing is certain, buyers of the Wraith, as with every Rolls-Royce, will not be affluent, they will be wealthy. The base price of the 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith is $284,900. The car we test drove was priced at $370,651.
For the money, customers get legendary treatment and cutting edge workmanship. The Wraith is, like every Rolls-Royce, hand crafted. Its manufacturing plant has no conveyor belts, no robots and very little machinery.
In the Wraith, skilled hands have constructed the most powerful Roll-Royce ever. A twin turbocharged V12 generates 624 horsepower that can move the 5,380 lb. coupe from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. Coupled to an eight speed transmission, the Wraith is relatively fuel efficient. It gets 13 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, not that the customer base even cares about mileage numbers.
But the secret to the effortless movement of every Rolls-Royce has been low-end torque. The Wraith’s V12 generates 590 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 RPMs. However, this car was not a brute. Handling was ballerina-like, the Wraith responded quickly to driver input. The micro-second adjusting suspension was soft without a spongy feel and firm without being harsh and power was subtle – until it was needed.
We chose to pass a vehicle on a two-lane but swiftly moving local highway. From 75 MPH, we gave the car some gas, swung out, moved passed the vehicle and ducked back into our lane. It could not have taken more than five seconds. A quick check of the speedometer told us that we had approached 115 mph and the engine never worked hard to get there. The Wraith’s top speed is “governed,” read electronically limited, to 155 mph.
The Wraith also houses the industry’s first satellite aided transmission. The system uses the car’s GPS data to ascertain where it is, look at the road ahead and then preselect the next gear. The technique also includes a more direct steering response to help in cornering and what Rolls-Royce called more dynamic spring and damper settings.
There are no paddle shifters or ride modes to select. The Wraith does everything for the driver, unobtrusively. “Step inside Wraith’s coach doors and there is the feeling of going aboard a luxury yacht. It is a serene space for four occupants, who will be cocooned in a striking and contemporary interior furnished in beautiful materials, surrounded by tactile Phantom-grade leathers,” said the press materials.
Indeed, the Wraith’s interior was other-worldly. An open wood grain “Canadel Panelling” debuts in the car. And it is not veneer, it is 55-degree mounted wood paneling covering the inside of the front doors and it also lines the back seat passenger area and strategic spots throughout the car.
The Wraith can be equipped with a glass roof with leather sun screen or with what Rolls-Royce called its “Starlight Headliner,” simulating a star studded night sky by hand weaving 1,340 fiber optic lights into the head liner.
Black chrome dials were framed by a black horseshoe sweep. Blood orange tips to gauge indicators paid homage to the marque’s aviation heritage whilst the steering-wheel is thicker rimmed to build dynamic intent. The interior was plush, instruments were intuitive and the creature comforts were impressive.
In addition to the wood paneling and starlight headliner, our test vehicle had lamb’s wool floor mats, 21-inch forged alloy wheels (20-inch wheels are standard), a 18-speaker, 1,300 watt audio system, RR monogrammed on the headrests and color matched boot, read trunk, trim.
Mammoth amounts of engineering go into every Rolls-Royce like infrared night vision that will identify specific hazards in the road up to 218 yards ahead. But it is the little stuff that really sets the brand apart.
Like every Roll-Royce for the last 102 years, the Spirit of Ecstasy figure sits atop the grille frame of the 2014 Wraith. Set on automatic, it will retract beneath the frame when the Wraith is locked or rise when it is open. The figurine can also be lowered or raised manually by an electronic switch on the car’s infotainment screen.
But in this time of scallywags who revere nothing, if someone tries to wrench the fabled hood ornament from its mounting, it will automatically retract beneath the Wraith’s grille frame. Every Rolls-Royce has this feature. It is the sort of thing that would make Henry Royce, arguably the foremost automotive engineer of his day, exhale a deep breath of satisfaction, knowing that the company he and Stewart Rolls founded is in good hands.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.