I put the sedan to the test by driving it from Ohio to central Pennsylvania. Happily, the large sedan handled the curvy roads of the Pennsylvania Turnpike with little effort. An independent MacPherson-strut front suspension with coil springs and stabilizer bars mounts on an isolated subframe with four rubber mounts. The rear suspension has strut-mounted coil springs with stabilizer bars, tension struts, and parallel control arms. Engine-speed sensitive rack-and-pinion steering also contributes to the car's smooth handling. Also, the Taurus SEL carries four-wheel ABS for stopping power.

A 3.0-liter DOHC V6 engine under the hood provides 200 hp at 5,650 rpm and 200 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. The four-speed automatic transmission has adaptive shift control that maintains the same shift quality over its life. I barely noticed any shifts when, for example, I put on a burst of power to pass some pokey drivers on the highway.

Perhaps the most notable advantage Taurus has over its competition is safety. A personal safety system, consisting of several networked sensors and controls, protects front passengers. A front-crash sensor detects impacts and determines their severity. A control module under the instrument panel receives signals from the front-crash sensor and judges how fast the Taurus is slowing. It also processes signals from other sensors to determine how to inflate the dual-stage front air bags and seatbelt pretensioners.

A driver's seat position sensor tells the air bag control module if the seat is at the front or rear of the seat track. Seatbelt sensors then keep tabs on whether the front occupants are buckled up and signals the control module to deploy the air bag. And, because the Taurus is a family sedan, a system called Latch safely secures child seats in the back. It uses rigid metal anchor bars where the seatback meets the seat cushion and a top anchor point behind the top of the seats. No seatbelts are required when using Latch-compatible child safety seats.

Setting safety and family-sedan attributes aside, our test vehicle was steeped in luxury. Optional equipment such as leather seats, power moonroof, six-disc CD changer, rear spoiler, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass belies its family-sedan moniker. There is one tiny drawback. The leather seats, while comfortable, lacked heat. I would think Ford designers equipping a vehicle with lighted, brightness-adjustable visor mirrors could kick in for some seat heaters.

Back on the positive, however. Its good looks were noted by at least one other person besides me. While making a fuel stop on the turnpike, I noticed an obviously intelligent woman on the other side of the pump checking out the Taurus. After a few moments, she asked what kind of car it was. When I told her it was a Taurus, she was quite surprised and commented on its good looks. And, with a base price of $22,330, it's easy on the wallet as well. Mileage estimates are 27 highway/20 city. My less-than-perfect calculations confirm those numbers. The bottom line for the Taurus SEL, including option and destination charges, is $23,690. Not a bad price for a well-equipped, smooth-handling family sedan. Now where can I find the husband and kids to justify owning one of these?

Sherri Koucky