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The Tech Tour Mobile: Understated High Tech Class

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The 2013 Ford Taurus. Ford Motor Co. photo.

The 2013 Ford Taurus. Ford Motor Co. photo.

(credit: istock) Technology Report
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SOUTHFIELD — “That’s what a Taurus looks like now?” my daughter exclaimed when I visited her Friday at Michigan State University, driving the Fall 2012 Tech Tour Mobile, a 2013 Taurus Limited.

The first Roush family hauler she remembers was our 1994 Ford Taurus station wagon. You remember: the bubble-shaped one with the fold-up third-row seat that faced backward.

There was nothing really wrong with that Taurus, but let me tell you, the 2013 model is so far technologically advanced that it’s pretty much like comparing a 1960s Mustang to today’s model. The classics are fun, but today’s cars are just flat-out way better.

To begin with, there’s the power plant, a four-cylinder EcoBoost displacing a mere 2.0 liters. How they get this kind of kick out of just a half-gallon of cylinder space is a mystery, but it works. There’s plenty of power for freeway entrances and passing on two-lane roads. It compares favorably with the performance of my everyday driver, a 2010 Ford Focus, whihc is 1,400 pounds lighter and has a 2.5-liter powerplant. Ah, the magic of turbocharging.

The handling is OK for a two-ton car. I had to avoid tire debris and large road kill several times on this trip, so I tested it for real. The car is also wider than you think, though; I goinked the nice wheels on a couple of curbs.

Nicer still is the refined interior, with nifty wood trim, leather seating, and a Sony sound system with enough oomph to rattle your fillings. (I was able to share one of my favorite ’80s tunes, Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face,” with pretty much the entire Seney Swamp region.)

The Sync with MyFord Touch system also worked well, with an intiutive interface that didn’t take much time to learn, even for an old fart like me. and lots of neat features, like live weather radar superimposed on a driving map, so you know what you’re driving into. (There are even little warning icons for severe weather, like the hail I encountered.) Linking my cell phone was a breeze. There are also separate button controls for basic climate and radio functions for screen-phobes.

And the cavernous trunk would have made Henry Hill and the Goodfellas happy. My two suitcases and computer bag disappeared into its ample confines with room for three or four more large bags. Golfers, take note.

My MPG may have been affected by my lead foot driving style — the EPA figure for the highway is 32 MPG, but I got only 25 in the real-world, driving 1,700 mostly highway miles around the state over the nine-day Tech Tour.

But the coolest feature by far was the Taurus’ adaptive cruise control. Let’s say you get out on the freeway and set the cruise at 70. (Why of course that’s all the faster I go, that’s the speed limit.) You come up behind a truck going 60. And the car automatically slows down at a safe distance behind the truck. (You can adjust that distance with a rocker switch marked “gap” next to the cruise control on-off switch.) Then, you can pull into another lane, and, if it’s clear, the adaptive cruise control will resume speed.

If someone slams on the brakes in front of you, the adaptive cruise control will too. And if a collision is impending, there’s a loud beep beep beep and a line of bright red flashing lights projected onto the bottom of the windshield.

Essentially what this car does is make it almost impossible to nod off at the wheel and rear-end somebody.

It’s also a sign of things to come in the auto industry. Look at it this way: Cruise control let you take your foot off the gas for sigificant periods of time while driving. Adaptive cruise control lets you take your foot off the brake. And what’s next? Lane station-keeping, in which the car will note the location of white lane stripes, and (for starters) warn you of unintended lane changes and (eventually) keep the car in a lane — with or without your hands on the wheel. It’s just another step to my dream car — a car that I can drive manually if I want to, or that I can tell, “Look, I’ve got a mountain of email and paperwork to get through. You drive me to Kalamazoo.”

My only quibble with the Taurus is that the back seat didn’t seem that big for a vehicle this size, especially with the front seats far back. Some reviewers have also complained about front seat hip and knee room, given the Taurus’ thick doors and wide center console, but that doesn’t bother me — I kind of like that wrapped-up-in-the-car feeling.

All this fun tech ain’t cheap, though. My Tech Tour Mobile stickered right around $40,000.

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