FRISCO, Texas — Less than a day after Ford Motor Company received 14 vehicle honors for quality in the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Initial Quality Study (IQS), the company wasted no time launching its next success story — the 2008 Ford Taurus.

While the name is familiar name (Ford has sold more than 7 million of the mid-size Taurus units from 1985 through 2006 when it was replaced by the Fusion) make no mistake, this is an all-new Taurus.

“Customers will find the 2008 Taurus delivers more of what they are looking for, including a strong design, high-quality interior, power and performance, must-have features like Ford Sync and a great safety reputation,” said Cisco Codina,

Ford’s group vice president, marketing, sales and service.

For starters, unlike the previous mid-size Taurus models, the 2008 is competing for market share in the full-size sedan segment (it has an 112.9-inch wheelbase with an overall length of 201.8 inches and more than 21 cubic feet of trunk room).

Yes, it does replace the Ford Five Hundred.

And while it shares the Five Hundred architecture and platform, it has been redesigned inside and out.

The stodgy exterior lines have been resulted to provide a more modern, flowing look. The interior has been enhanced with a new instrument panel and more elegant materials can be seen and touched throughout the cabin.

While I was a big fan of the Five Hundred, I really like what Ford has done with the 2008 Taurus.

The styling is spot on and the interior touches give it the look and feel of a premium luxury sedan costing thousands more.

For the record, the 2008 Taurus has a base price starting at 23,995. It is available in two trim lines — SEL and Limited, both available in front or all-wheel drive configurations.

My test drive model during the product launch was an AWD Limited with a base price of $28,695. Prior to looking at the sticker, I would have guessed the cost would have been a lot higher.

I also had the chance to ride in the back seat during one leg of our test drive. There is an abundance of room back there — head, shoulder and legroom.

Produced at Ford’s Chicago assembly plant, ‘08 Taurus units began arriving at Ford dealerships this week.

There’s also a new engine under the hood, mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission.

The powertrain is more powerful, yet is more fuel-efficient and produces lower emissions than the ‘07 Five Hundred powerplant.

The 3.5-liter Duratec V-6 produces 263 horsepower and 249 lb.-ft. torque. Using regular unleaded fuel, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 18/17 mpg city, 28/24 mpg highway (FWD/AWD). It is also rated as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.

So in essence, there’s a lot more that’s new about this platform than just a name.

Including safety.

“This is one of the safest full-size sedans on the road,” said Steve Kozak, chief safety engineer for the Taurus, announcing the Taurus is the only large family car to earn both a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the U.S. government’s highest available five-star ratings in all crash test categories.

“Basically, in terms of automotive safety, we took this car to the Super Bowl and won,” Kozak said during the recent product launch held in Frisco, north of Dallas.

Kozak said from the beginning, safety was “priority one” during the design and planning stages for the new Taurus.

As part of Ford’s 360-degrees of Protection safety program, the Taurus is the first vehicle in the industry to offer a two-row Safety Canopy side airbag that provides additional protection not only in side impact collisions, but also deploys in rollover accidents.

Another available safety system is the AdvanceTrac electronic stability control to provide more stability and handling in all weather conditions.

Ford worked hand-in-hand with Volvo in developing the Taurus safety story.

While I only spent a day with the new Taurus, I was extremely impressed. For those in the market for a full-size, five-passenger sedan, it is an absolutely must test drive.

My comment to the Ford engineers following the program was, “If folks drive it, they will buy it.” It really is that impressive.

Back to the news on Ford’s quality.

On June 6, the J.D. Power IQS survey awarded Ford more award for quality than any other automaker.

Five vehicles — Ford Mustang, Mercury Milan, Lincoln MKZ, Lincoln Mark LT and Mazda MX-5 each swept their vehicle segments for top honors for quality.

The Ford F-150, Lincoln MKX and Lincoln Navigator received second place honors for fewest problems in its segment while Ford Motor Company earned six third place quality awards.

Ford’s Wixom Assembly Plant (in Detroit) also received a Platinum Award, recognizing it as the industry’s best-quality performing plant worldwide. It also marks the first time since 1999 that a North American plant has received J.D. Power’s top award for producing vehicles yielding the fewest defects.

“We are designing and building world-class vehicles, and it’s great to have this affirmation from the customers who drive our cars and trucks every day,” said Mark Fields, president of the Americas Ford Motor Company. “While we’re pleased that our internal focus on quality is receiving this kind of recognition from J.D. Power and Associates, we will not let up. We will continue to deliver even more high-quality products that customers want.”

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 15 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. Comments may be sent to Neal at neal.white@waxahachiedailylight.com.