After keeping an eye on the success of car based SUVs such as the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and the Nissan Murano, Ford felt that its truck based SUVs, the Explorer and the Expedition, was not going to cut it. Thus came the Freestyle to fill in the void for a car like SUV that combined the virtues of a minivan, wagon, and a sedan in one package. It was based on the Five Hundred sedan and offered decent performance and remarkable practicality. Despite its competence, the Freestyle sold less than what Ford expected. In late 2007-2008, the Freestyle was refreshed. It adopted a name change to Taurus X (The Five Hundred sedan also adopted a name change to Taurus), and gained a new powertrain as well fixing the issues of the Freestyle.
There is no avoiding it. The Taurus X tries hard to look like a tough SUV, but you can tell there are hints of a minivan and wagon in the design. The proportions are strictly front wheel drive, and the roof line is reminiscent of a wagon. The grille is tasteful and it lends some elegance to what is a generic front end. The headlights could be better shaped. The flared fender flares attempt to add some aggressiveness to the design, but other than that, the side profile has no distinguishing traits. The rear is as bland as the front, but it also adds elegant design details such as clear lens taillights. I actually like the two-tone paint job on this car, as I feel it adds to the car’s design. Overall, the exterior is inoffensive with some nice touches. The elegant details are carried over to the interior, where the gauges and vents are lined in chrome. Other than that, the interior is ho hum, with dark color surfaces.
The Taurus X is decent when it comes to the driving experience. Body lean is well contained, and the steering has decent weighting. Steering feel is muted, but it is precise and accurate. Handling is secure with steady understeer. The Taurus X’s forte is in its ride quality. The ride quality is serene as bumps are muted, and they are felt with a muffled thud. Only on rough surfaces does the ride quality become firm. But the ride quality falls in line with its mission as a family friendly SUV.
The Freestyle originally came with a 3.0 liter V6 pumping 203 horsepower and 207 ft-lbs of torque and was accompanied by a CVT. As part of the refresh, the Taurus X ditched the CVT for a six speed automatic transmission, and it gained a larger engine. The 3.5 liter V6 engine churns out 263 horsepower and 245 ft-lbs of torque, a significant increase compared to the older engine. The engine is responsive. It is strong, and it always has decent pickup power at any speed. The six speed automatic transmission is swift and unobtrusive.
One area where the Taurus X excels is in its overall quietness. Driving on the main road and on the highway, the cabin was very quiet. Road noise was present at times but it is not intrusive. The V6 is quiet, but flooring it produces a trashy engine note.
There are some nice touches in the interior that attempts to lend a luxurious aura in the cabin, but ultimately the interior ambiance is drab and predicable. Fit and finish is middling as some plastics are mismatched with other surfaces in the interior. There were some panel misgaps. There is excellent visibility in the front although less though in the back. The controls are intuitive and well placed, even though they look similar and can be hard to tell apart at times. I loathe voice command systems because they never work. However in the Taurus X, the voice command system works flawlessly. There is decent headroom, and it is easy to get comfortable. It is a shame that the steering wheel does not telescope. The gauges wash out in direct sunlight. The front seats are comfortable, and the rear seats are very roomy. This Taurus X came with captain chairs for the second row, so there are only two seats in the second row, and three in the third row. The third row has decent room. The cargo area is cavernous. The third row flows back neatly into the floor for more cargo space.
To sum up, the Taurus X rides well, and it has superb practicality, and it fits the needs of most family oriented shoppers. Its flaws are ordinary styling, and average fit and finish which wouldn’t be a deal breaker for most people. So why didn’t it sell well? Three words. Middle child syndrome. This Taurus X was placed between the small and cute Escape, and the manly and “mature” Explorer. At the time, buyers were moving away from minivans to SUVs. The Taurus X feels too much like a minivan, which ironically it replaced the Freestar minivan. Americans were placed with the perplexing choice of getting the macho and tough Explorer, the dull Taurus X, and the pleasant and smaller Escape. Ultimately in the end, the Escape or the Explorer was chosen over the Taurus X. It did not sell well necessarily because it is a bad car. Rather, it was a case of product placement. It is a shame, because this car succeeds at what it is supposed to do. It is an effective family oriented vehicle. You could argue that this is one of the ideal SUVs to go on a relaxing long drive with just the family. The middle child syndrome doesn’t just happen to people. It can happen to cars too.