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Ford Taurus: Luxury Car? Better Believe It

It is a safe bet that very few young men have dreamed of rolling up to the prom queen's house in a Ford Taurus. A nameplate that has never been accused of panache, the Taurus is more Target than Tiffany. Same with even the high-end offerings from Hyundai. Nothing wrong with the Genesis, but we're talking Gosselin, not Garbo, right?

Maybe it's the influence of the Great Recession, but numbers compiled by suggest that Americans may be looking at these cars in a new, more flattering, light.

For 2010, Ford transformed the Taurus from the rental-fleet drone of recent years to a comfortable, tech-loaded large sedan with many luxury features. Now, Edmunds notes, nearly 10 percent of trade-ins for the 2011 Taurus are from 10 luxury brands, ranging from Audi and BMW to Mercedes-Benz. And about six percent of trade-ins for Hyundai and its corporate sibling Kia come from those luxury brands. Many of those trade-in buyers are opting for the Hyundai Genesis, the well-reviewed model also introduced for 2010 with a luxury feel. Of course, this is hardly a runaway rejection of luxury brands, many of which have increased sales this year. But those trade-in rates are roughly twice what they were three years ago.

Part of this trend results from even the affluent needing to be thrifty, says Edmunds senior analyst Karl Brauer. With the Taurus or Genesis, previous luxury-brand owners can get a similar smooth, quiet ride, advanced navigation and audio systems and the latest in safety features that they would find on a Mercedes-Benz E-class or BMW 535-series for $15,000 to $20,000 less. But Brauer believes certain buyers also want to avoid ostentation. "In tough times, some people don't want to announce: I can still buy a Mercedes and you can't" says Brauer.

The Taurus and Genesis also are part of a movement by car companies to put once-luxury features in less-expensive mid-size and even small cars, Brauer says. For instance, the small-car Chevrolet Cruze -- on sale late this year -- will come with an optional navigation system and a raft of high-tech features never seen in small cars of the past. (See Fuel-Efficient American Cars Star at New York Auto Show).

If you are a might-be luxury buyer, here is a look at the features and potential savings with Taurus and Genesis. I know: If you are a performance-oriented BMW loyalist, you are not Hyundai shopping. But, as someone once said about another brand, this is not your father's Taurus.

Ford Taurus The new Taurus has elicited raves from reviewers for its comfort, quiet ride and cornucopia of electronic gear. They also note that it is not a sporty ride (for that you need the SHO version of the Taurus with a turbochaged, 365-horsepower engine starting at $37,700). Thrifty luxury shoppers will want the top-end Taurus Limited version with navigation and all available safety features. Those include blind-spot warning if you are changing lanes too close to another car and radar-based adaptive cruise control that will keep you a safe distance behind the car ahead. It will even warn you and start to apply the brakes if you are so close a collision seems imminent. With the navigation package, you also get 10 gigabytes of music storage. All those pricey options packages push the price of the 2011 Taurus Limited to an average $35,166, according to Edmunds. That includes a $1,500 rebate -- a practice luxury brands normally avoid.

Hyundai Genesis Hyundai has gained steadily in the U.S. market, as its once-suspect quality and reliability have vastly improved. But reviewers were still surprised in 2010 that the Genesis was as quiet inside as the legendarily silent Lexus LS. Its optional 385-horsepower V-8 (rated at 17 mpg city, 25 highway) is almost as powerful as a BMW 550i. If you opt for the V-6 (18 mpg city, 27 highway) and choose the big option package that includes navigation, adaptive cruise control and a rear-view camera for backing up, the average selling price is $38,738 after a $1,500 rebate. With the V-8, where most of the equipment is standard, you will pay $40,647 with a similar rebate -- a price that nearly takes you into the luxury neighborhood.

But not quite: For comparison's sake, let's look at a similar array of features in a 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan, which is about the same size. There, you would pay an average of $57,500, according to Edmunds. The E-class still has a safety feature the competitors don't: night-assist vision to help see people and deer on dark roads. While there is no rebate, Mercedes does offer 1.9% financing for up to three years. And of course you get a certain hood ornament that Ford and Hyundai don't offer.

Photos courtesy of the manufacturers

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