'96 SABLE GIVES UP JELLY BEANS FOR 'ELLIPTICAL DESIGN'

For the first time in a decade, Lincoln-Mercury's core model - the Sable sedan - will wear an all-new shape.

Ford Motor Co. has abandoned the 'jelly bean' design the Sable and Ford Taurus sedans have sported for 10 years. Ford design chief Jack Telnack has given the 1996 Sable a look the company calls 'elliptical design.'

Mercury wants the overhauled sedan - with upgraded engines and a new interior - to expand Sable's traditional owner base and capture younger, import-owning buyers.

Available in two models, the Sable LS will be powered by Ford's 3.0-liter, 24-valve V-6 Duratec engine also is used in the Mercury Mystique. The engine delivers 190 horsepower - 50 more than its predecessor. The Duratec is linked to an electronic nonsynchronous four-speed automatic transmission.

An upgraded version of the Sable's current 3.0-liter V-6 powers the Sable GS. Transmission is a synchronous four-speed automatic.

Ford is promoting the fact that both engines can travel 100,000 miles before a scheduled tuneup.

An estimated 35 percent of the 1996 Taurus/Sable build will use the high-line Duratec engine, said Dick Landgraff, director of the Taurus, Sable, Continental vehicle lines for Ford Automotive Operations.

Ford expects to build 100,000 Sable units and 400,000 Taurus units for the U.S. market in the 1996 model year. Less than a week of assembly plant downtime is scheduled for model changeover. Production begins June 19.

Ford refused to disclose Taurus/Sable development costs after being roundly criticized for spending $6 billion to bring the Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique/Ford Mondeo to market in North America and Europe.

LONGER SABLE

The new Sable is built on a 108.5-inch wheelbase - 2.5 inches longer than its predecessor. It is 7.5 inches longer than the current Sable model and 2.3 inches longer than the redesigned 1996 Taurus.

Major upgrades include a redesigned steering system and front suspension and a Quadralink independent rear suspension. A 60 percent increase in body torsion and a reduction in steering system friction have improved steering precision, Landgraff said.

The Sable is available with five-passenger or six-passenger seating.

An all-new interior includes several major revisions:

Interior volume is greater than in current models - with the exception of rear head and shoulder room.

The audio controls are closer to the driver, the buttons are more widely spaced and graphics are larger than in current models.

The decklid release is electronic and relocated from the floor to the instrument panel.

The revised switches and controls yield a 15 percent reduction in hand movements and a 20 percent reduction in eye movements, Landgraff said. Control operation times and display reading times also are shorter, he said.

Ford has patented the console, which is standard on six-passenger models. The front center seat with seat belt can be converted to an armrest and then extended to a console holding drinks, coins and audio cassettes.

Also new is a 60/40 split-folding rear seat and a shoulder harness for the rear center passenger.

Optional is a perimeter anti-theft system that monitors hood, deck and doors and activates the horn and headlights if entry is forced.

LONGER BUILD TIME

The new sedans are easier to assemble than the current Taurus/Sable. But per-vehicle assembly time will increase because of greater content, Landgraff said. Currently, Taurus/Sable rank among the most efficiently built domestic models. Taurus is built today in 12 man-hours, Landgraff said.

Ford will continue to build the sedans at assembly plants in Atlanta and Chicago.

There are no current plans to add a third shift at either plant, Ford said. But the company is trying to boost productivity at assembly operations.

The running production rate of the new Taurus/Sable will be 600,000 units annually, Landgraff said.

The 1994 production of Taurus/Sable will total about 555,000 units, Automotive News estimates.

About 570,000 Taurus/Sable units are planned for North America.

An estimated 30,000 units will be exported to Japan, Australia, Taiwan, Korea, the Gulf Coast States, New Zealand and 20 smaller markets, Landgraff said. Right-hand-drive and left-hand-drive models will be exported.

The export sedan has an aluminum deck lid and front fenders, Landgraff said. In domestic versions, aluminum is used only on the deck lid.

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