Test Drive: 2008 Ford Taurus X

The term ?Crossover SUV? or ?CUV? gets a lot of play these days. It means whatever you want it to mean, and it?s a hot market segment right now. People expect a Crossover to get better fuel mileage, handle better, and generally be less work to drive than a full-on SUV, and in general they?re correct.

The original Crossover idea was that an automaker could build both a car and an SUV on the same unibody chassis, and thereby save money on drivetrain, platform, suspension, brakes, and all that. The idea comes down from the Minivan, which was generally built on a car chassis and used car brakes and other common components.

Over time, Crossover simply came to mean ?small SUV? to most people. As the segment became popular, manufacturers started calling more and more products Crossovers to get on the bandwagon. So a Subaru Forester is now a Crossover, as is a Honda CR-V, and the Ford Edge and Taurus X. But these vehicles don?t have a whole lot in common with each other.

To me, the best Crossovers are the ones that offer you a car-like driving experience with AWD and a lot of carrying capacity. The Taurus X is built on the new Taurus chassis and platform, but gifted with an extra-tall station wagon body.? And that?s the thing to like about the Taurus X – it?s a proper station wagon updated for the CUV age.

I took my test vehicle on a road trip to Seattle and back, and found that the X (it seems improper to call it a ?Taurus? somehow) has good road manners, and the features you get with it make a long road trip on the freeway a pleasant time.

Let?s be clear – if your road trip involves a long winding road up a coastline or through purple mountains majesty above the fruited plain, for God?s sake take a Miata or a Solstice or a Z4 BMW. But if you?re facing down mile after washboarded mile of well-plowed Interstate, you want something with some mass, a buttload of passenger entertainment ding-dongs, heated seats, and mega storage capacity.

Ford gave the Taurus X the 3.5-liter Duratec V6 engine, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. With 263 horsepower and 249 lb-ft of torque, it?s got plenty of gumption. The AWD is standard and there are no controls to it – it just is. This is a car that will cruise (and of course, it comes with Cruise Control) comfortably all day at 75 MPH. Fuel economy is not bad for a car like this, at 16/24.

The Taurus X drives like a station wagon. Like I said, if you want to cut curves, go get in a sports car. This ain?t that. It has third-row seats that fold up nicely to give you a capacious carrying capacity, or it?ll haul 7 people around.

The Taurus I had was outfitted with all the bells and whistles – heated seats, audiophile stereo with satellite, adjustable pedal height, rear seat climate control, GPS nagivation, DVD player for the back seat, and 18-inch wheels.

I liked the fact that Ford steered away from fake woodgrain – which is always a temptation on cars like this. My position is solid – if it never grew in a tree, it shouldn?t oughta look like wood, so Ford gets points with me for the basic black interior.

All that stuff goes out the door, according to Ford, for $38,160. Which is comparable to other larger SUVs. I liked the look of the car – black on black, and it was comfortable inside.

Bottom line – the Taurus X costs a bit more than I?d expect to pay for a car like this, but if you?re willing to live without a bunch of those options, it starts at a much more tempting $31,800. If you?re trying to kick the SUV habit, but still need the functionality and want your AWD, this upgraded wagon is worth a look.

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