As widely reported ahead of the Chicago motor show announcement, Ford has now confirmed it is bringing back the well-known Taurus nameplate first used in 1985, in a move US reports said had been influenced by new ex-Boeing president and CEO Alan Mulally.

The current Five Hundred becomes the 2008 Taurus, the name Taurus X goes on the three-row crossover formerly known as Freestyle, and the Sable name returns to Mercury showrooms on a revised Montego, the current twin of the Five Hundred.

All the renamed models have improved engines and specifications and go on sale in the US this summer.

“Taurus has been an icon for Ford’s family sedan for more than two decades, and it’s time to return this powerful name to where it belongs,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president of The Americas, at the Chicago show.

“Consumer awareness of the Taurus name is double the Five Hundred that it’s replacing, and awareness of Sable is triple that of Montego.

“By giving these vehicles the names that consumers recognise at the same time we’re making significant upgrades, we’re confident that even more people are going to be attracted to these great products in the future.” Fields added.

The US consumer website The Car Connection said the nameplate switch is said to be the plan of Mulally, who is also said to be an advocate of the name.

TCC noted that the Five Hundred was named under an earlier company plan to use the letter “F” for all Ford passenger cars.

The website noted that the current Five Hundred is selling at less than initial projections made when it was launched in the US in 2004 – Ford had hoped to sell about 100,000 Five Hundreds each year, in front- or all-wheel-drive form but, last year, according to The Wall Street Journal, shifted only 84,218 Five Hundreds.

According to Ford, the 2008 Taurus has exterior design updates, a new engine with 60 extra horsepower, a new all-wheel-drive system, more standard safety features – including standard electronic stability control – and other improvements.

The 2008 Taurus X crossover will go on sale late this coming summer with similar design, powertrain and safety upgrades, as well as three row of seats, one-touch flip-and-fold second-row seating and an optional power tailgate.

The 2008 Sable gets similar design, powertrain and safety upgrades, as well as unique touches that distinguish the more expensive Mercury from its Sable sibling such as a satin aluminium ‘waterfall’ grille, jewelled projector beam headlamps, distinctive LED tail lamps and two-tone interior trim.

The original, curvy Ford Taurus was a styling sensation in the staid US market when introduced in 1985 and subsequently was the best-selling car in America for five straight years, from 1992.

At its peak, the Taurus had annual sales of more than 400,000 units. It was killed off last 27 October – and its Atlanta, Georgia factory closed – after almost 7m cars had been sold.