Befuddled in a Ford Taurus

A few days ago at 11:30 pm at the airport in Honolulu I picked up my rental car keys at the Avis counter. “Your car is in space F-55, out the door and two rows over.”

I made my way to the right row and counted down to space 55 in the dim light. There was a huge, hulking gray car parked there that stopped me in my tracks. I always rent mid-sized cars. I like the feel, I like being able to find parking spaces, I like squeezing into tight underground garages in hotels, and I really dislike large, heavy cars. But Avis often does me favors and “upgrades” me to full or luxury cars, like Lincoln Continentals, and in this case – a Ford Taurus 2012.

Usually when I get such an upgrade I just look at the monster and walk right back to the counter and get what I asked for, a midsized car. But this time I looked at the line at the counter and decided, midnight approaching, I’d put up with the Taurus and get to my hotel.

The lot was very poorly lit so it was hard to see. I stowed my luggage in the large trunk and squeezed into the seat. Being tall, I had to move it back, and I found the buttons to adjust the seat where you’d expect them, on the left side of the seat. But then the trouble started when I looked at the bewildering dashboard.

The old Ford Taurus was a great car. Ford started selling this model in 1986 and it was one of its most successful cars, for some years the bestselling car in the U.S., until they discontinued it in 2006. I remember renting Tauruses occasionally in the 1990ies, and I always liked them. Sitting behind the wheel of a Taurus gave me a feeling of comfort and home. Everything was in the right place. The operation of the car was intuitive, and the ride tight, smooth and strong. I used to say that about the Taurus and about the Toyota Camry. Sit down in a Camry and everything is exactly where it should be, and it works like you expect it to work. You don’t need a manual to operate a Camry. You just know how. The same thing used to be true for the Taurus.

No more.

When Ford discontinued the Taurus, they replaced it with the Ford Fivehundred. That car was something like the New Coke. It just flopped. Ford brought back the Taurus in 2008 by renaming the Fivehundred. In my opinion, that was putting lipstick on a pig.

It’s dark in the car at midnight in Honolulu. I put the key into the ignition and start the car. The dash lights up, the vent fan blows into my face hard and cold. I try to figure out how to turn down the fan. There are a myriad of buttons in the area of climate control on the bottom of the central dash strip but I am having a hard time figuring out how to turn down the fan. Finally, after pushing just about every button I get the hang of it. Now I need to learn how to turn off the air conditioner. It’s Hawaii. I want to breathe the outside air, after all. Air conditioner under control, I now need to adjust my mirrors in the pre-departure checklist for a rental car. The center rear-view mirror is no problem. I just grab and twist it. I find the narrow, small window in the back and I am set. I do hate it when large cars have small rear windows.

Then it gets really tricky. The left and right outside mirrors are not set correctly for my height and seat position. I try to find the controls. The dash is lit up in blue lights, all manner of icons flashing at me. Blue LED lights even illuminate the door side pockets, the bins in the central column and even the floor mats. I see, bright and clear, the stains in the floor mats of the car in the light, but I cannot, for the life of me, find the mirror controls. Eventually I give up and I drive away with the mirrors not set. Everything in the Taurus is definitely not where it needs to be.

I dont’ find out what happened until the next day, when the valet brings me my car. It’s now daylight, and I find a small knob up right by the window and the left mirror. This knob turns and allows me to turn the left and right mirror. When I can see it in daylight, it’s obvious. At night, when the entire car sparkles with blue lights like a Hanukkah lawn in December down to illuminated floor mats, the knobs are black, small and invisible.

The center column contains the gear shifter and several pockets and containers for cups and other things. The column is huge, massive and high. It makes the car feel like a cockpit of a jet fighter plane. Some people may like this. I think it makes a large car feel small and cramped. I have been in many a mid-sized car that feels much larger than this hulking, heavy Taurus.

Ford made a mistake when they discontinued the Taurus. Ford made another mistake when it started it back up by renaming the Fivehundred to Taurus. I am not impressed, and next time I get an upgrade to a Taurus, I’ll go back to the counter and stand in line to trade it back in for a smaller car.

Thank you very much.

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