Photo: Travis Okulski / Business Insider
Full disclosure: Ford flew me to rainy/snowy Portland, OR to drive the new 2013 Ford Flex, Taurus, and Mustang, and covered all expenses. While I was there I also ate the greatest doughnut of my life.When you think of handling and performance, the Ford Taurus and Ford Flex are probably not the first cars that come to mind.
Maybe they should be.
For 2013, Ford is injecting more performance and style into its family haulers. With the full range of models to choose from at a recent first-drive event in Portland, we instantly gravitated to the most performance-oriented cars available: the legendary Taurus SHO and Flex Limited EcoBoost.
With 365 horsepower and 350 pound feet of torque on tap, these cars are surprisingly quick. And both models have all-wheel drive, which is intended to reduce torque steer and inspire confidence in less-than-ideal conditions.
Ford gave us a route on public roads that demonstrated the ride and handling of the cars. There were plenty of twisty, deserted roads for us to use our lead foot as it was intended.
Photo: Travis Okulski / Business Insider
The weather was a bit less cooperative. The forecast for the rest of the month predicted rain everyday.But the weather for our test was actually very unpredictable.
In our 50-mile drives in each car, we experienced rain, sleet, slush, and what was possibly a blizzard. We never even got to drive the cars on a dry road or in sunlight.
But those are real world conditions, so we took advantage of them instead of letting them get us down.
Unsurprisingly, the powerful turbocharged V6 in the SHO and Flex makes these cars capable straightline performers.
Want to be shocked? Throw the new SHO or Flex into a corner.
Now, they are not Lotus Elises, but for large, heavy cars, they are absolutely sublime. As with all production cars, the suspensions are tuned more towards understeer, and it is noticeable under aggressive cornering. Still, the lighter Taurus had mounds of grip, even in the slick conditions we were faced with on the drive.
Now, we expected the Taurus to handle well, but the seven-passenger Flex amazed us. It was settled through high-speed bends and composed through tight hairpins.
On the backroads that Ford used for the test, it was far too easy to drive both cars very quickly.
It got to the point that we totally forgot we could fit an additional five people in the back. If there was a dog in the back, it certainly could get sick very easily in this car.
The automatic transmissions have paddle shifters, but they will not hold a gear if you accelerate to red line. But we do understand why. These are family cars, not Ferraris.
Last year, the Taurus SHO had very little in the way of styling cues to differentiate it from the more plebeian versions on hand.
That is changing for 2013. A pentagonal honeycomb grill replaces the three bar design, there are larger wheels, LED running lamps, and a revised rear fascia.
The quietly more aggressive car looks very nice.
Ford put an entirely new front fascia on the Flex. At first glance, we didn't like it. But after spending a lot of time around the car, we found it attractive, aggressive, and even a bit sinister.
The funky appearance really differentiates it from every other car on the road. The design reminds us of a customised, 1950s/60s station wagon. When Ford told us almost 20 per cent of sales of the Flex were in California, we weren't surprised. It's the perfect surf wagon.
The Taurus and Flex both share high quality interiors with soft-touch plastics and leather surfaces.
Our SHO tester had suede inserts in the leather seats that were a nice a touch. The side bolsters were not the largest, so under heavy cornering we appreciated the grippy seat inserts.
The Sony sound system was excellent and the SYNC voice commands worked very nicely.
Ford has really stepped up the quality of its interiors over the last few years, these were on par with leaders in class.
One thing we found interesting in the Taurus was the placement of the trunk button. It was right on the centre stack next to the controls for the sound system. We were very tempted to touch it while driving, but we ended up restraining ourselves.
While the interiors were very nice, we did have a few small complaints.
The latches for the centre console and glove box sounded a bit cheap when being opened or closed. They did not have the authoritative sound of premium models in the class.
Both cars were also equipped with the freshly updated MyFordTouch. We had no issues with the interface, but the large touch screen was recessed into the dash. That made it tougher to touch the parts of the bottom of the screen without looking.
That kind of negates the entire purpose of the system.
Oh, and you could either view the tachometer or the trip computer, but not both at the same time. That was a small frustration that could be easily remedied with a further software update.
These cars definitely had a lot more to like than dislike.
Driving them was a pleasure. They are deceptively fast and inspire a ton of confidence. My copilot, IndyCar driver Alex Lloyd, and I were both able to attack corners at speeds much higher than we thought the cars would be capable of.
We tried to get the cars to break loose in the corners, but the all-wheel drive kept the tail in check and the shiny side up.
The sleeper appearance of both was also a boon. People expect a premium German sedan to be fast, but they would never expect a Ford Taurus or Flex to fly off the line and then outcorner a number of cars costing far more money.
The Taurus SHO and Flex Limited with EcoBoost are not cheap cars. Both of our testers had MSRPs in the $45,000 range.
Ford told us that people are cross shopping the Taurus SHO with the BMW 528i. We think the Taurus has a definite leg up in the value department. A bone stock 528i with all-wheel drive starts at $49,200 and it is closing in on $60,000 for one equipped similarly to the Taurus.
If you are obsessed with a badge, the BMW is the better buy. The smart buyer will go for the Taurus.
The Flex is one unique car that we really like. You can buy a regular crossover, but the Flex really stands out. And any seven-passenger vehicle that can corner like the Flex does is a huge success in our book.
Now, you're probably thinking 'Hey Travis, didn't you say you drove the 2013 Mustang too?'
Indeed I did. But I'm not allowed to tell you about it quite yet.
Much like the tech world, there are these little things called embargoes on new car drives. We'll be able to give you our impressions at 12:01 AM EST this Monday. Set your alarm clocks.
For the time being, you'll just have to enjoy this picture of the white GT coupe that we spent the day with.
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