The Classic Confrontation, In Plain White Wrappers: 2000 Chevy Lumina vs 2001 Ford Taurus

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Good morning, and welcome back to another week of Shitbox Showdown! I hope you all enjoyed your holiday weekend. Since we have a short week, I’m continuing in my quest to give David a heart attack by messing with the formula, and we will have only three Showdowns this week, and then do something special on Friday. Speaking of Friday, let’s see what you thought of our cheap RV options last week:

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As I suspected. Lewd jokes aside, the Beaver really was the better bet.

Today, in honor of the Indepenence Day holiday yesterday, I thought we’d revisit the classic Ford versus Chevy confrontation, in the form of two plain white sedans. These cars were once the default family-car option in America, before the Age of SUVs and the coming of the great Crossover. But outdated as they may be, these basic four door sedans still have a lot to offer, especially at the bottom end of the price range. Let’s check them out.

2000 Chevrolet Lumina – $2,300

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.1 liter V6, 4 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Long Beach, CA

Odometer reading: 156,000 miles

Runs/drives? Just fine

The Chevy Lumina was based on GM’s ubiquitous W-platform, which accounted for roughly 70% of all cars on the road in the 1990s, or at least it felt that way. This is the second-generation Lumina, introduced in 1995. This 2000 model would have been the last year of regular retail production, with 2001 Luminas being limited to fleet and rental customers. But really, every Lumina ever built feels like a rental car.

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Exciting it may not be, but the Lumina is a nice comfy car.  For a couple of years, after the rear-wheel-drive Caprice was discontinued but before the front-wheel-drive Impala was launched, the Lumina was Chevy’s largest car. This one, with a split bench seat in the front, is technically a six-passenger vehicle, though I would say any six people who chose to ride in this car all at the same time had better know each other really well. Or they certainly will, by the time they get where they’re going.

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All the fun or sporty versions of the Lumina – the Euro, the Z34, the LTZ – had been discontinued by the time this car was built, and the two-door variant had been re-christened the Monte Carlo, leaving this basic 3.1-liter-V6-powered Grandma Special as the only option.

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This Lumina looks like it’s in good shape. There are a couple of dings and dents, but it’s still presentable, and the interior looks quite nice, especially for a 20 year old GM vehicle. The seller says it runs and drives well, and is ready to go with no work needed. So that’s something.

2001 Ford Taurus – $1,300

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter V6, 4 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Camas, WA

Odometer reading: 138,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but transmission might be questionable

Oddly, seventy percent or so of all cars on the road seemed to be Ford Tauruses in the 1990s as well. Yes, I know that’s not mathematically possible, but there it is. Eighty percent of cars on the road were Dodge Caravans too. Not to mention the 62.3% that were Toyota Camrys. It’s just how it was.

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This 2001 Taurus is from Ford’s “Less Ugly” design period. Wait–that wasn’t it. Oh right: “New Edge.” This particular car eschews the standard-issue Vulcan V6 for a 24 valve Duratec V6, giving it a not-unrespectable-for-the-time 200 horsepower. This is coupled to a four-speed slushbox, but at least it has a floor-mounted shifter.

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The Duratec engine has a good reputation, but the transmission in this particular car might not be up to the task. The seller says it slips a little going into 3rd gear. This might be nothing, or it might be on its last legs. It might conk out tomorrow, or it might go on slipping a little for another ten years. You never can tell with an automatic, but for only $1300 it could be worth a gamble.

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The rest of the car looks decent: the interior is clean, and I don’t see any issues outside. Again, despite packing more power than the Lumina, this is not an exciting car. But who cares? It’s less than two or three payments on anything else, and it drives. Baby it along so you don’t cause the transmission any extra stress, and forgo a car payment until the used car market straightens itself out.

Obviously, neither of these is anyone’s dream machine, and in refrigerator-white, they won’t win any beauty pageants. On the other hand, they’re cheap, they cost next to nothing to insure, and nobody is going to steal them. It’s just down to which brand of plain vanilla you prefer.



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46 Responses

  1. Flashbacks to my days working the used side of a Chevy dealership in the 90’s!

    The Lumina, just because the Fords were dog ugly–er slightly more than the Lumina.

    We had an absolute FLEET of Refrigerator white ex rental Corsicas, Luminas were luxurious beside those!

  2. Both of these platforms are known for coming from the factory with rocker panels already rusty. In my neighborhood, that’s a death sentence.
    I’d choose a contemporary Intrepid or Concorde over either one of these.

  3. I’m going to base this on what I see on the street, in a purely anecdotal evidence way.

    I don’t see that many Luminas lately. I still see hundreds of this generation of Taurus, they are surprisingly common for 20 year old, completely uninspiring vehicles.

    On that metric, Taurus has to take it.

  4. I’d bet the Taurus is going to need a new tranny but the interior and exterior of the Taurus looks much more modern than the Lumina. I’d go Taurus even though the running gear of the Chevy is very reliable and easy/cheap to repair if it goes bad

  5. Ford Taurus.

    My wife had this exact car (a hand-me-down), except one year older, in black with tan interior. Same drivetrain and everything. The worst thing I could say about it was was a bit boring and had a fairly bad power to fuel economy ratio.

    That said, it was decent around town, decent on the highway, fairly comfortable, and had Ford’s famously cold AC. We did a preemptive transmission filter and fluid change, which probably helped prolong the drivetrain’s lifespan. For the asking price on this one, I’d change the fluid, filter, and throw in some Lubegard Red or some of their Sudder Fixx and send it.

  6. That lumina is too ugly to simply be boring. The Taurus wins by dint of being part of the less ugly generation. Also costs a lot less, so if that transmission falls out tomorrow, you still have a grand and change to make another regretful decision

    1. I don’t see the Lumina as particularly ugly. I mean it’s not good looking, but it has a moderately nice “this is probably driven by a grandma who has some kick ass squares at this church bake sale” vibe to it. Especially in the green they were pushing hard at the time.

  7. I’m quite familiar with W-bodies, and a friend had a Chevy Lumina of this era – a ’95. Which he absolutely loved because it had enough room and wasn’t “scary” to drive.
    Maintenance was nothing more than the occasional (nowhere near every 5k) oil change and one set of plugs and wires I convinced him to let me do when it had a misfire. That was at something like 134k miles. To say it was beat down and abused is severely understating it. It finally was done in by unibody rot. Ran like shit, terrible fuel mileage, transmission was starting to have major slip, but still drove.
    And that abused machine had more than 300k miles on it.

    Don’t think I need to say much more than that.

  8. I was ready to ask how loud the Taurus clunk on the 2-3 shift was before seeing that it’s already mentioned in the article. Those transmissions are time bombs, and this one is mid-detonation.

    I drove an auction special once where the transmission shook the rear view mirror right off the windshield.

    Take the Chevy. The Taurus is a (very presentable) parts car.

  9. I swear I fell asleep halfway through this article. Both of these cars were boring as shit back in the 90-00ss and carry absolutely no nostalgic charm for me. I voted for one of them, but I don’t remember which, does it really matter?

  10. Regular Car Reviews described the W Body as a series of cars all suited for driving to a coin-op laundry and getting into a shoving match over a dropped quarter. Did the fender of this Lumina get its dent when the fight spilled over from the laundromat to the parking lot? I’d give it a non-zero chance.

    Oh crap, the Ford vs Chevy thing. I’d pay a little more for the car that doesn’t have a questionable transmission. The extra power from the Taurus won’t do you any good once the transmission goes. Meanwhile, the Lumina will keep puttering along like the W Body cockroach that it is. It won’t run well, but it will run.

    1. I need to get my hands on another Abboud and get him to review it.

      If the Lumina, Century, et. al are for driving to the laundromat and fighting over dropped change, the Regal GSE is suited for driving like a reasonable human being to a heavy metal concert, bringing your brass knuckles to the mosh pit, and fleeing the cops afterward.

      1. The Regal GSE is the W Body to get because it has the supercharged 3800 and was babied by the retiree who bought it new. The equivalent Grand Prix or Monte Carlo got flogged from the first day it rolled off the lot. You should always buy the version that screams “ Early bird special”.

  11. I only trust Ford products that were/are designed by Ford Europe or Ford UK.

    Besides an inherent bias against Ford Tauri due to some unpleasant experiences, the GM powertrain has a better reputation for reliability, and I think that’s really the only question at issue today, because there’s no other reason to purchase either of these cars.

  12. Taurus. Even with the transmission problem. They’re asking $1300 but they’ll take $1000 and be thankful. I owned a 2001 wagon (purchased new) to haul kids because my wife and I hated minivans and SUVs. While it was no thriller, it was great for hauling all the crap you have with kids while not being too big and bulky. And, believe it or not, the factory leather interior was really well put together (even after years of kids f’ing them up and car seats pressed into them). Plus… station wagon with a pop up rear hatch seat! It lasted a looooong time and we only gave it up because the kids got older and our needs changed. I’m betting the thing is still on the road today.

  13. For some reason I consistently forget that the Lumina is a car that existed until I see one and have an “oh yeah, those were a thing” moment. This doesn’t happen too often anymore up here in the rust belt.

    Anyway I went with the Lumina. I don’t feel like gambling on the transmission and what better way to remind me that the Lumina is a car that exists than having to drive one everyday

  14. Oooof. This is match of both shitty shit cars. But my hatred for the Taurus also goes far and deep. So many fell victim to Ford’s long running junker.
    I can guarantee that transmission will go out ASAMFP. Before you can figure out that acronym.
    And the Lumina was such an ugly ass car. The couldn’t even jouge it up with that coupe z34. So fugly.
    But if I had to choose out these two hideous monsters I’d have to say the Chevy.
    It pains me & gives me vomit taste but it’s the tolerable of the two knowing the mechanical side & parts aspect.
    That bench seat…yikes. Gross.

  15. No. I refuse. I want shitboxes, not Camazotzian ennuimobiles. My parents, rest their souls, owned four Tauruses between 1986 and 2005, and I hated all of them. (Nice people, but yeesh, after I was born my parents had terrible taste in cars.) And the Lumina is just as bad. And the white paint is…

    No. Goddammmit, no. This is like making me choose between a bus pass and a kid-size Razor scooter with wheels that no longer light up.

    I have a soul, damn you.

  16. For $1300, I’d be willing to take a chance on the Ford. And if the transmission shits the bed and you have to spend a grand or three fixing it, at the end of the day, you still have a much better car than the Lumina.

  17. That chevy is just urgh. Its like they called their design team and said “I want a car with four doors, just a car, nothing else.” I do appreciate the bench seat and column shifter though. But had to go with the Ford.

    1. Agree. And it took me a bit to realize it, but it’s the wheels arches esp.

      The Taurus has normal semicircles that of course nicely frame the wheels, but the Lumina’s are squared off…the look is subtly jarring.

      It kinda worked for the previous-gen Lumina, which seemed lower and wider, but not here.

  18. Contrary to nerd wisdom that favors the SHO, the best Taurus to get is the late 90’s one in Rose Metallic (mauve) with the ovals everywhere. That coupled with a cassette playing an endless loop of political commentary on the “blue dress” and grotesque cigar stories would be the perfect time capsule. I can dig super plain and anonymous, but the white Taurus is really pushing the limits. It still gets the nod because you could actually convince your neighbors you’re really into that car and want to keep it forever. That’s not hysterically funny, but there are some potential giggles to be had.

    All I think when I see a last gen Lumina is: “A teenager learned about understeer when he hit the curb at his high school parking lot entrance”. No giggles, no joy.

  19. The Chevy is the far better buy, and the far better car to own. The Lumina should be a lot more reliable, and this is not even including the known weakness of the transmission in the Ford.

    In my family, large family gatherings used to look like a Ford dealership just got a triple shipment of new Tauruses. They were definitely the default choice.

    This Ford is from the later part of the time when the head gaskets on a Taurus V6s seemed almost like a wear item. In the extended family, I know of four Tauruses that had warranty cylinder head work done at around 30,000 miles or less. And one car had it done twice before 60,000 miles, and was showing symptoms of losing a third head gasket when it was traded in. At least two had major transmission failures under warranty as well.

    That said, I just plain like the Ford better, so this would be a difficult toss-up for me.

  20. The Lumina is super-outdated even for 2000, BUT it actually, you know, WORKS. You could probably put in a decent used transmission in the Taurus for the difference, but the job is going to SUCK, and this is the car you depend on for work, so F* that. Lumina – Just because if I am buying a car like this, I am kinda desperate. I’ll bite the ugly bullet for something that works, continue to take some abuse as it gets me to/from work.

  21. Cars like these are what I call juggalo chariots. Also popular among juggalos, grandmas old Buick they inherited and procceded to totally roach out within 6 months. Any Pontiac, Neon, PT Cruiser, or Chevy Cavalier are popular options. Also old ass Altimas

    Hondas and Toyotas are too classy and cost too much for juggalos, people who drive them really dont want to trade their car for some weed and crystal meth

    1. Cobalts have been steadily replacing Cavaliers as the GM small car juggalo chariot of choice in the rust belt where Cavaliers are starting to disappear. The Chrysler Sebring is also another classic choice.

      1. “starting to disappear”? Are there just a ton more in other Midwestern states?. I live in MO, and seeing a Cavalier is an event. It is amazing, seeing how many of those little crap cans were roaming around here 15-20 years ago. My sister had one, and shifting that manual was like stirring soup. The coupes weren’t bad looking, though…

  22. I wasn’t aware they made the Lumina still in 2000. By then, they had the N-body Malibu and had just released the first FWD Impala on the gen. 2 W-body platform (the Lumina was on the gen. 1). But what a shitty car.

    Taurus, hands down.

    What would have been really funny is to pit a 2005 Taurus against the car that attempted to steal its styling, the 2005 Buick LaCrosse.

    1. I once was behind a Buick LaCrosse at night and wondered why someone put custom taillights on their Taurus.

      It’s fascinating though, the LaCrosse looks more like what you’d expect that Taurus facelift to look like – it was a follow up to a model with round headlights – to the point where I’ve wondered if it was the most inexplicable act of corporate espionage, taking a rejected styling proposal for the Taurus and selling it as a Buick.

  23. How about neither. I have worse memories of the Taurus though; got that same car as a rental once and it was unpleasant. Cramped, numb, crappy interior and weird feeling on the road. First time I heard a car grooooaaan after I turned the ignition off.

  24. I was not paying attention to price and voted Chevy. Given Ford’s constant transmission issues, there’s gotta be replacement transmissions for cheap, since they’ll always sell. Probably better to get the Ford and a new transmission at the price.

  25. Taurus, more for nostalgic reasons than anything else. Although they got it long after I had moved out my parents had a Taurus wagon of that generation that served them well for many years. The transmission is definitely a concern, though.

  26. Taurus. Mostly b/c it’s only the second-ugliest version of its run, whereas the Lumina is in fact the ugliest.

    Contrast it with ’90s Lumina design – it was decent for what it was and the taillights (yes…autopian bingo square!) always struck me as pretty Star Wars-looking at the time.

    1. Agreed on the “second ugliest version” statement. I remember when my neighbors whom we carpooled with to school got a ’96 when they first came out. It was the first one I saw in the metal, and was HIDEOUS. I remember it was always in the shop, too. This version is at least palatable. I always thought it was funny that the first gen Taurus was called “Jelly bean” when the 3rd gen looks WAY more like a Jelly Belly.

      1. Right re the jelly bean thing?

        This past weekend, I saw a (face-lifted) first gen in the grocery store parking lot, and 1) did a double take at how the design still holds up, and 2) noticed how angular it actually is.

        The edges are rounded, but there’s a ton of straight lines, esp. compared to the near ovoid ’96.

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