Even though Ford’s flagship saloon is not sold in Europe, the Ford Taurus shows how far apart the US and European interpretations of ‘sporting’ are at the moment

The Ford Taurus is effectively the range-topping version of Ford’s global flagship saloon, even though it is not sold in Europe and many other markets.

The Taurus started life as the Ford 500, a large saloon with strong styling overtones of the landmark 1997 VW Passat. It was launched in 2004 and was based on the original Volvo S80, using the Swedish company’s P2X platform. Like the S80, the 500 was available in front and four-wheel drive. The car was re-named and re-styled in 2007. It is rumoured that new Ford boss Allan Mulally was baffled that Ford had dropped the Taurus nameplate.

This car shows just how far apart the US and European interpretations of ‘sporting’ are at the moment

A touch over 5m long, the Ford Taurus has unusual proportions in the flesh. From a distance the car looks like a normal large saloon. Close up, the height of the car’s belt line and rear deck becomes apparent. And the boot is huge, especially in height. The front seats are also positioned rather higher than normal.

The odd proportioning of the car is rumoured to be rooted in the Side Impact Protection tube which runs between the B-pillars. In the Volvos based on this platform, the tube runs through the front seat frame. In the Ford, the seat frames on positioned on top of the tube, raising the seat height and causing the whole upper body to be re-proportioned to take this into account.

In any case, this is very big car.

This SHO version is the ‘performance variant’, powered by Ford’s effective 3.5-litre V6 Ecoboost engine, driving all four wheels through a six-speed automatic ’box.

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Not great. Although the engine is quite smooth and pretty perky (despite having to drive all this weight), the rest of the car cannot live up to the engine. Our test car was also fitted with the ‘Performance Package’ which adds 20in wheels, stiffer damping, stiffer rear springs a lower final-drive ratio and tweaked electrically-assisted steering.

On the broken concrete road surfaces of Sunset Boulevard, the Taurus SHO thumped and banged its way along, only getting a grip, so to speak, when the road surfaces were much better. It can haul itself along with some vigour on the backroads, but it just hasn’t got the chassis sophistication needed. The steering is too detached, the ride compromised, the body control too marginal.

Despite the promise of performance brake pads, these anchors were hopeless compared to the Ford Mustang GT’s optional Brembos we tried on the same day. There was too much travel before the brakes really bit and not enough under-foot feedback.

Overall, this is a nice engine struggling in a loose-limbed and unfocused big saloon. It can’t decide whether it wants to be one of those early 1990s all-weather executive express cars (remember the Renault Safrane Bi-Turbo?) or a big, long-distance loafer.

The cockpit is extremely spacious and the boot absolutely vast, but the rear legroom isn’t brilliant. The double-sided dash design basically pretty good, but the mainstream quality and profusion of wildly different switchgear undermine the Taurus’s flagship status. A European Mondeo is far superior and a vanilla Skoda Superb would knock it into a cocked hat, in terms of internal packaging as well as chassis poise.

It might have some appeal in the Mid-West – or Middle East – where the roads are open and sweeping and fuel is relatively cheap.

The influence of European engineers at Ford, however, promises that the new Ford Mondeo – also replacement for the US market Fusion, the Taurus’s smaller stablemate – will soon show US drivers what they have been missing.

Ford Taurus 2010-2017 First drives