The first generation Ford Taurus SHO gained a cult following during its production run in the 1990s, with a fair number of owners charmed by the strange combination of a snarling, Yamaha-engineered V6 and a truck-like 5-speed manual gearbox dropped into a demure Ford Taurus bodyshell.
|1. SHO models comes exclusively with AWD and a twin-turbo 3.5L V6 making 365-hp and 350 lb-ft of torque.
2. Fuel economy is rated at 17/25-mpg.
3. Taurus models start at $25,555 with the SHO priced from $38,155.
4. For 2013 Ford will launch a high-mpg Taurus with a 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder making 237-hp and 250 lb-ft and getting 31-mpg.
Fast forward a couple decades and the Taurus is back after a brief hiatus (and a stint as a re-badged Ford Five Hundred, a car that emerged during a low point on Ford product development), and is better than ever. While nobody would ever confuse the new car for a BMW 3-Series, it’s miles apart from the ponderous land barge that previous generations resembled.
We managed to get our hands on a Taurus SHO, the top of the line version that’s substantially different than the rest of the lineup. Underneath the discrete exterior is a 3.5L twin turbo Ecoboost V6 making 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The “Eco” part of the direct-injected V6’s moniker is a total misnomer, designed to ease consumer consciences about a high horsepower engine. We saw roughly 16 mpg in city driving, but then again, we were hardly being “green” when it came to applying the throttle.
Ford has never really been known for its V6 powerplants, but the 3.5L EcoBoost is a gem. Yes, there’s a bit of lag when trying to transition from part-throttle to “Go Baby, Go”, but the wait brings a delicious reward. Despite its 4,346 lb mass, the SHO has no trouble hitting warp speed. 0-60 comes up in a couple ticks over 5 seconds, with the standard all-wheel drive allowing for rapid launches and a well-timed crest of power from the blown V6. The SHO’s straight line performance reminds us of the famous quote from Jackie Brown “When you absolutely, positively got to kill every [expletive] in the room, accept no substitutes.”
Sure, bench racers and magazine statistic enthusiasts will argue that there are faster cars, but for the common man, the pairing of an easy to use automatic transmission and instantly accessible torque make it easy to lay waste to most cars from a roll. Simply drop the SHO down a couple gears (via the steering wheel mounted buttons or the manual selector on the gear shifter), hit the gas and keep an eye on the rearview mirror as you watch your enemies be vanquished.
On the other hand, the SHO’s porky figure makes for less than engaging handling. Lateral transitions are clumsy, and the car never really feels like it’s game for a jaunt in the twisties. Rather than behaving like an Americanized Audi S4, the SHO feels more like an Americanized Acura TL. The nose heavy chassis and uninspired steering merely add to this impression, even with the 20-inch wheels and sticky Goodyear Supercar tires.
A compromise to performance, ride and handling is excellent, with the SHO soaking up bumps and jolts from poorly maintained roads while still providing a reasonably involving chassis. Ford may not be catering to the hardcore set with this vehicle, but they’re very aware of who their target market is and what their expectations are for a sport sedan.
The interior of the Taurus SHO is about what you’d expect from a vehicle that goes to great lengths to conceal its sporting intentions. The cabin materials are generally good (aside from some ugly faux-carbon fiber on the dash), and the big controls and knobs are easy to operate, ostensibly a concession to the standard Taurus and its generally older buying demographic. Multi-colored cabin and gauge lights make an appearance (with the former a huge hit among all passengers, whether car enthusiasts or not) and Ford’s infuriating SYNC system returns in the SHO. We’re still as unenthused as ever with its interface – we can’t imagine how the less tech savvy will cope with the electronic labyrinth of menus and commands that don’t actually execute the desired result. Fortunately, the sound quality from the Sony stereo itself was excellent
Another curious element of the interior layout is the rather intrusive transmission tunnel that cuts into the driver’s knee area. We conducted out own unscientific poll, whereby a series of male occupants, ranging from 5’7” to 6’4” were asked to sit in the driver’s seat, and all commented (without prompting) that they had to adopt a restrictive, Formula-car-esque driving position, without any lateral leg room. Considering that the Taurus is made for American-sized drivers, we’re a little surprised at this engineering oversight. On the other hand, a cavernous trunk and a roomy back seat are all part of the equation, as any good American sedan is required to include these features.
Ford will be offering the Taurus SHO to police departments as a replacement vehicle for the Crown Victoria sedan, with an all-wheel drive EcoBoost edition offered as the top-of-the-line “Police Interceptor”. Ford knows that police departments are notoriously vocal about their likes and dislikes, and of their pet peeves is front-wheel drive. By producing the SHO and the Police Interceptor, Ford benefits by offering both a halo car and a high-tech vehicle that can be sold to law enforcement fleets and amortizing the costs over one vehicle. One state trooper we chatted with in the Northeast was very enthusiastic about the new Interceptors that will offer all-weather traction and unprecedented levels of grunt.
With the Pontiac G8 gone, the Dodge Charger R/T costing significantly less and the Chrysler 300C occupying more premium territory, the Taurus SHO is stuck in a strange no-man’s land in the performance world. Nobody considering an import performance sedan is going to look at this vehicle, and the Mopar twins make a much bigger statement. At least with AWD it offers an excellent all-year alternative for those who need to worry about things like snow tires.
The SHO seems like a pointless but very cool exercise in engineering that ultimately serves as a halo for the Taurus lineup itself, and allows Ford’s performance division to hone its skills for the days when V8s will no longer be the performance tool of choice.