Thumbs Up: Goes like a V8, drinks gas like a V6.
Thumbs Down: Interior not up to Ford’s usual standards.
Buy This Car If: You want a sporty but (relatively) frugal AWD American sedan.
The American motoring public had never seen anything like the original Ford Taurus SHO, launched in 1989. It was a genuine sport sedan, in family sedan disguise, built and sold by a major U.S. automaker for thousands less than the competition from Germany. It featured a Yamaha-designed, 24-valve, 3.0-liter V-6 good for 220 horsepower and mated only to a five speed manual transmission. Quick for a sedan of its size (by 1989 standards, at least) the SHO could dash from 0 to 60 in just over 6.5 seconds and topped out at 143 miles per hour. The original SHO was a huge hit, and Ford had no trouble selling through its build quantity of 15,519 units.
No other Taurus SHO really managed to capture the magic of the first car, and by 1999 the public had lost interest in Ford’s family sport sedan. Although the engine had grown from six cylinders to eight (and still used heads designed by Yamaha) the only transmission offering was the four-speed automatic used in the Taurus LX, which was hardly a good choice for a sport sedan. Worse, the exterior styling was hardly distinguishable from the rest of the egg-shaped Taurus family, so only the brand faithful could tell you weren’t driving an ordinary grocery-getter. When the fourth generation Taurus sedan was launched in 2000, the SHO was dropped from the lineup.
Fast forward to 2010, and the launch of an all-new Ford Taurus. The SHO was back, this time as the showcase for Ford’s EcoBoost V-6 engine, whose twin-turbo enhanced power promised V-8 performance with V-6 fuel economy. Instead of sending power to the front wheels, the new SHO offers the superior traction of all-wheel-drive, making the car a reasonable choice for drivers in snowbelt states who still want a sedan with entertainment value. While a manual transmission is still off the table, the six-speed SelectShift transmission offers drivers the ability to row their own gears via the console shifter or via steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
Like the rest of the new Taurus family, the SHO is far better looking that the car it replaces. While still tasteful enough to appeal to the buying public, the new Taurus’ front end has an aggressive look not typically associated with a family sedan, and a deep character line runs from the front fender across the doors. In profile, the rear window (and hence, the C-pillar) is more steeply raked than the windshield, and blends into a short rear decklid which belies the fact that the SHO has a cavernous trunk. From the back, the rear of the Taurus is best described as “clean,” with a tasteful lower fascia and taillights that tie up the car’s angular-but-rounded styling.
Like the previous generation Taurus SHO, the car doesn’t offer much to distinguish itself from other members of the Taurus family. Sure, the 20-inch wheels from the SHO Performance Package are a dead giveaway, but aside from the subtle rear spoiler, SHO trunk and C-pillar logos and slightly different grille, there’s not a lot of bling to tell other drivers you’re packing 365 horsepower under the hood. If you want flash in a performance sedan, the new SHO may not do it for you; on the other hand, if you understand the benefits of flying under the radar, this may be the car you’re looking for.
If you’ve driven the new Ford Explorer or the new Ford Focus, you probably have certain expectations for interior materials and interior quality. If there’s bad news to report on the new Taurus SHO, it’s this: on the inside, the car simply doesn’t live up to the standards set by its newer stablemates. That’s not to say that the interior is bad, it’s just not as good as other contemporary models from Ford. Door panels, for example, are slathered in shiny vinyl that has no place in a car with the SHO’s price tag, and the instruments almost seem to be an afterthought.
We like the textured aluminum housing, but is there a reason the gauges are so small? Worse, the black chrome trim surrounding the dials reflects the gauges odd lighting, making them even harder to read at a glance. We know there’s a new SHO coming for 2013, and we certainly hope the car comes with all-new instrumentation.
As for the rest of the dash, we have few complaints. We’d like to see a little less hard plastic at the bottom of the dash, and could do without the shiny plastic console trim, While we’re at it, a more sporting steering wheel would help, too, since the one in the SHO is oddly thin between 10:00 and 2:00. If you need an example of what a proper sport steering wheel should look (and feel) like, see the ones used in the Mark VI Volkswagen GTI and in the new Buick Regal GS.
We’ll admit that we weren’t fans of the black-and-umber seating in the SHO. That’s easily corrected by opting for the black seating, which would also help to hide the vinyl door trim. The front seats are comfortable enough for daily commutes and long road trips, but they don’t offer anywhere near enough lateral support for even moderately spirited driving. The soft-touch, sueded panels are a nice touch and help keep the driver in place during normal cornering, but more bolstering (at both hip and back) is needed to give the SHO genuine sport sedan credentials.
The same applies to the rear seats, which also lack any kind of lateral support. We suspect they’re as comfortable as the front (and they’re heated as part of the Rapid Spec 402A package), so car-pooling colleagues won’t object when you pick them up in your new SHO (unless, of course, your commute involves a lot of high-speed sweepers with the occasional switchback corner thrown in).
Unlike previous Taurus SHO models, the engine used in the new SHO doesn’t come from a motorcycle or motorsport supplier and is probably the most ordinary ever used in a Taurus SHO. That’s not a bad thing, since the best word to sum up Ford’s 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine is “superb.” It really does pull like a V-8, but delivers significantly better fuel economy under normal driving conditions. In SHO tune, the engine makes 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, which will get the new SHO from 0 to 60 in less than 5.5 seconds. Despite this, the car still returns a respectable 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Those aren’t hybrid numbers, but they aren’t bad for a big all-wheel-drive sedan with this much power on tap.
Ford’s done a good job in balancing handling with ride comfort on the SHO. To be clear, it isn’t going to run with the big dog sport sedans on a racetrack, but it’s capable of providing significant entertainment value on your favorite twisty road. Even the occasional track day isn’t a problem for the SHO, but if you need a commuter sedan that will also fill your office with autocross trophies, the SHO probably isn’t your ride. One area where Ford could do better is steering feel, since the SHO has a hard time telling the driver what’s going on with the front wheels. We suspect some of that has to do with the car’s mass, since it’s tough to make 4,400 pounds of sedan nimble yet communicative. That said, the new Taurus SHO is still reasonably entertaining, especially if your needs dictate an AWD family sedan but your wants say muscle car.
Ford supplied the 2011 Taurus SHO for my evaluation. Base price on my press fleet tester was $38,595, including a deliver charge of $825, and options included the $2,800 Rapid Spec 402A package (heated & cooled front seats, power moonroof, 12-speaker Sony audio system, heated rear seats, power rear window sunshade, blind spot monitoring system, rain sensing wipers with automatic high beams, power adjustable pedal assembly), the $995 SHO Performance Package (3.16 final drive, performance tires, 20-inch wheels) and the $1,850 Voice-Activated Navigation System, for a total sticker price of $44,240.
For comparison, a similarly equipped Dodge Charger R/T AWD would sticker at $40,145, while a comparable Acura TL SH-AWD with the Advance Package would list for $45,970.