With the introduction of the new Five Hundred midsized sedan and the pending arrival of the 2006 Fusion, the aging Taurus stands on increasingly shaky ground, and receives only minor changes for 2005. (Its U.S.-only clone, the Mercury Sable, has already been discontinued mid-way into its 2005 production year due to poor sales.)

Changes include the elimination of the base LX, leaving only two trim lines; two new exterior colours; wood trim on the steering wheel and console on the SEL; and a Safety and Security package (traction control and side air bags on SEL, with additional ABS on SE) optional on both lines.

Unlike the Five Hundred, the Taurus is offered in two body styles, a four-door sedan and four-door station wagon. A 153 hp, 12-valve Vulcan V6 is standard equipment; on the SEL line, it can be optioned up to a 200 hp, 24-valve DOHC Duratec V6.

The SE now becomes the base model. On the sedan, it includes a three-passenger front bench seat with column-mounted shifter, fixed rear seat, air conditioning, disc/drum brakes, 16-inch steel wheels, power mirrors, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, variable intermittent wipers, AM/FM with cassette, and cruise control – in short, the basic rental car that makes up much of the Taurus’ sales.

The SE wagon comes with a standard third-row, rear-facing bench seat, allowing for eight passengers to be squeezed in. It also features four-wheel disc brakes, roof rack, cargo cover and rear washer/wiper.

The upper-line SEL sedan and wagon add ABS, 16-inch aluminum wheels, front bucket seats with floor-mounted shifter, 60/40 folding rear seat, power heated mirrors, driver’s door entry keypad, CD player, Homelink garage door opener, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power sunroof, leather-wrapped wheel and six-way power driver’s seat.

The Taurus won’t set any hearts on fire; this is transportation for the masses. Still, it’s a comfortable ride, it’s roomy, and if you need to move six or even eight people and don’t want a minivan or SUV, there aren’t many other choices.

The Vulcan engine is a bit rough; the more powerful optional Duratec is a quieter and smoother engine, but it’s an extra $1,475. The suspension tends to transmit a lot of road noise, and fit and finish isn’t always up to the standard on most other new Ford products. On the plus side, all the controls are very simple and straightforward – you want to tweak the stereo or change the clock, you just push a button.

There aren’t many wagons available in the Taurus’ size and price range, and definitely not in its people-carrying capacity. The rear-wheel-drive Dodge Magnum is exactly the same length (although it looks bigger) and can offer a comparable deal, if you’re only going to be hauling five people at most. Its base 2.7-litre version is 190 hp to Taurus SE’s 153 hp and is $1,650 more; but if you put the $1,475 200 hp into the Taurus SEL wagon, the 3.5-litre V6 Dodge offers 50 more horses for only $375 more.

The Taurus is built in Atlanta, Georgia.

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