1994 Ford Taurus LX sedan
1994 Ford Taurus LX sedan

Every time I write this column, I begin with a thorough search of the technical service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, followed by a complete review of safety recalls issued by Transport Canada. Frankly, all the material on the 1990-95 Ford Taurus left me with one conclusion: I sure wouldn’t buy one of these used cars.

Twenty recalls and a big bunch of service bulletins will do that to you. But that’s just me. I am a true buyer beware person, therefore you will need to make your own decisions. If an older Taurus or Mercury Sable looms as a future used car purchase, then I would encourage you to get a very thorough mechanical inspection. Use the Buyer’s Alerts as your guide.

I will admit I was surprised by my research. The Taurus in the early 1990s was North America’s best selling car, after all. And back in 1991, Ford spent US$650 million upgrading the 1992 Taurus/Sable.

True, the 1992-95 cars had only minor styling changes: low-profile headlamps, a steeper rear window, much tidier integrated bumpers and a small tweak all around to the exterior panels. The result was a more refined Taurus almost five centimetres (two inches) longer, and one which cut the wind with a coefficient of drag reduced to 0.32 from 0.33.

At the time, Fritz Mayhew, who was then Ford’s North American design chief, made no apology for the extremely subtle design changes.

“One of the appeals of both Taurus and Sable is that the original design (then six years old) is so thoughtfully done,” he said.

Instead of looks, Ford’s major efforts for the 1992-95 cars were focussed on powertrains, safety, ride and handling and ergonomics. And, in fact, these cars did boast improved ergonomics and road manners.

Gone for 1992 was the old base engine, the 2.5-litre four-cylinder. The base powerplant became the 3.0-litre V6 (140 horsepower at 4,800 rpm). This engine was made smoother and more quiet. The 3.8-litre V6 of that era churns out the same horsepower as its smaller sibling (at a much lower 3,000 rpm), but has much greater torque. The only transmission choice for all Taurus/Sable models of this era was a four-speed electronically-controlled automatic.

Safety improvements for 1992 included a standard driver’s side air bag, with an optional passenger side bag made available later. To help ease driver distractions, Ford increased the size of the sound system controls–some by as much as five-fold. The latter was part of an interior design which included new fabrics and a new dashboard.

On the active safety front, Ford made anti-lock braking available with the standard power four-wheel vented disc brakes. Handling and ride were improved and noise was reduced.

Among the changes:

  • new upper strut mounts to reduce rear suspension noise;
  • retuned tire and wheel package to reduce body vibration;
  • a more rigid unibody, which allowed a reduction in rear anti-roll bar stiffness. The result is a smoother ride and equal or better handling;
  • recalibrated speed-sensitive power steering borrowed from the Continental delivers better “feel” at all speeds.

I detail these changes only to illustrate there are significant differences between the 1992 and 1991 Taurus. Of course, the 1996 car received a complete makeover, especially on the styling front.

The Taurus does, of course, date back to the fall of 1985, when it was an all-new introduction. Through the years, Ford offered a mixture of engine choices, but the 3.0-litre pushrod V6 was the overwhelming choice of buyers. Very early models came with a sluggish 2.5-litre four-cylinder that was dropped in 1991. In 1988, an optional 3.8-litre V6 was added and it gave the Taurus plenty of pep with its four-speed overdrive automatic.

In 1989, Ford began offering a Super High Output (SHO) version powered by a Yamaha-supplied 3.0-litre V6. A real sweetheart of an engine in a bargain-priced performer. Regrettably, the SHO was initially only available with a truck-like five-speed manual; an automatic came a couple of years later.

As I said, despite its best-selling status, 1986-91 Taurus models had more than their share of problems. Best to avoid cars of that vintage unless they’ve been especially well checked. From ’92 onward, the quality was much better, but not brilliant by any means.

Finally, I should say that each used car is a unique vehicle. How good it will serve its next owner will depend a great deal on how well the previous owner served the car. Look for owners, then, who have documents which demonstrate how well they’ve taken care of their Tauruses.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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