Traditionally, all of the really cool, cutting-edge gadgets and gizmos have been reserved for the most expensive cars, putting such technology out of the reach of mortals (unless we worked valet parking cars when we were in school).
With the introduction of the 2010 Ford Taurus, a raft of contemporary technology becomes available in a mainstream car that sells for a price many new car buyers expect to pay — in this case $26,000 to $32,000.
“This kind of technology starts out expensive and generally filters down,” said Stephanie Brinley, a senior manager for market researcher Auto Pacific. The Taurus marks the beginning of that process for many of these features.
This is good news for car buyers, even if the Taurus isn’t your cup of tea, because it sets a standard that competitors will be compelled to meet. So even sport coupes, crossover SUVs and other models will soon follow suit.
Ford’s goal is to attract shoppers’ notice by offering technology in the Taurus that they expect to see in pricey luxury cars, said Frank Davis, executive director of Ford’s North American product programs.
“Two or three years ago we were trying to be product-competitive,” he said. “We’ve moved beyond that to say we are going to develop product excellence.” That means adding technologies which are available on cars like the Audi A6 and Lexus GS350, he said.
For now, Taurus is first in the mainstream vehicle league with some of these features and is certainly first to offer so many of them. Chief among the gadgets that have been in the upper-crust domain is “Active Motion” — a power seat feature that uses the adjustable lumbar support to provide a massage to the driver and front-seat passenger, reducing aches and fatigue on long drives.
Lots of radar sensors
The Taurus sprouts enough radar sensors to rival a Ticonderoga-class missile cruiser, with forward-looking radar mounted on the front and a pair of side-looking units at the rear to seemingly provide near-360-degree sensor coverage.
The forward radar provides vision to the adaptive cruise control system, which lets the Taurus cruise at a pre-set highway speed, until it encounters slower-moving traffic. Then it automatically slows to match the speed of the vehicle as far as 600 feet ahead without the driver having to intervene or deactivate the automatic speed control. That means that after a slowdown, or if the Taurus driver changes to an open lane, the car automatically continues at its pre-set speed.
Ford feels so strongly about the importance of this feature that it has styled the Taurus to highlight the radar unit, so consumers can see it there and appreciate its function, said Moray Callum, Ford’s executive design director for the Americas. “We’ve actually highlighted it in the grille and it has ‘ACC’ on it,” for the adaptive cruise control, he said.
The Taurus’ collision warning system uses the same radar to maintain a watch for potential collisions with objects ahead, triggering a warning to the driver through both an audible alert and what is known as a heads-up display on the windshield.
Additionally, when an object ahead is detected, the system pre-charges the brake assist system for full braking power.
Brake assist cannot apply the brakes independently, but the second the driver touches the brake pedal, it can apply maximum stopping force, bringing the Taurus to the point of anti-lock braking system activation for the fastest possible stop.
Also at the front, a forward-looking optical sensor watches for oncoming headlights at night, automatically dimming the high-beam headlights without any input from the driver.
At the rear, side-looking radar surveys the Taurus’ blind spot. If it sees a car there, a warning indicator lights up on the outside mirror of the side where the other car is.
If the driver checks the mirror and doesn’t see a car, but does see the glowing light, he or she will know there is a car in the next lane.
Cross Traffic Alert system
That side radar also gives a helping hand in the situation that is the bane of shopping center parking lots: attempting to back out of a space when hemmed in on both sides by large SUVs that block the view of traffic crossing behind. The Cross Traffic Alert system operates when the car is in reverse and cross-traffic appears behind the car within 60 feet.
“Every mom can imagine backing out of a crowded parking lot between two SUVs and being unable to see,” said Brinley.
There is also a conventional rear view camera that projects the scene directly behind the car onto the Taurus’ navigation screen, making it easier to back into tight parallel parking spaces. This technology is also invaluable for being able to see toddlers, or children's bicycles or playthings behind the car in driveways.
That navigation system is included in a nice touch-screen model with voice activation. But what sets it apart from most other systems is the availability of Sirius Travel Link, a service that overlays traffic information and weather directly onto the on-screen map.
It also offers movie listings, gas station locations and prices (gathered daily from credit card purchases), sports scores and more. This requires a $12.95 monthly Sirius satellite radio subscription, and Travel Link adds $5.99 a month to the cost.
Ford boasts a slew of its own signature technologies that are available on a variety of its own vehicles that are not commonly available on other brands. Most popular right now is Ford Sync, a voice-activated communication and entertainment system developed with Microsoft. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
Sync not only permits voice command of MP3 players and phones connected by the USB port or Bluetooth wireless connection in the vehicle, it can also use connected phones to gather traffic information, news, gas prices and more over the driver’s existing voice service without an additional data plan.
"Sync 911 Assist" can even place an automatic distress call to 911 using the driver’s cell phone in the event of a crash that deploys the car’s airbags.
'MyKey' for parental limits
To help reduce the chance of that service being needed when teen drivers are at the wheel, Ford offers “MyKey,” a parental-guidance feature that can limit the Taurus’ top speed, sound warning alarms at a selectable maximum speed, limit stereo system volume, and make the seatbelt warning reminder sound continuously until all occupants are belted.
“This is peace of mind that the mother and father have as young drivers learn to drive,” said Davis.
Also, if the Taurus’ key is locked inside the car, of the driver can use Ford’s SecuriCode keyless entry keypad. Just like the wireless keypad that opens the garage door at home when the kids lock themselves out, Taurus drivers need only tap in the car’s code number on the keypad located on the window frame and the doors unlock.
Another smaller technological change in the Taurus is the elimination of the gas cap, making it impossible to lose the cap or to accidentally trigger a “check engine” light by failing to tighten it sufficiently.
The “Easy Fuel” cap-less system is an automatic closure on the fuel filler that means Taurus drivers never need to get smell gas on their hands from handling the gas cap again.
If this roster of technology seems exhausting to contemplate, then the Taurus driver can simply park someone safe, recline the Active-Motion seat, draw the power rear sunshade, turn up the 12-speaker, 390-watt, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound Sony stereo — and take a nap.