Road Test: 2010 Ford Taurus SHO
This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2013.
By Tony Quiroga of Car and Driver
Owners of the original Ford Taurus SHO, gathered at a Taurus Car Club of America track day at GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan, are slightly startled as they approached the massively high greenhouse and roofline of the latest 2010 Taurus SHO. "It's big, seems bigger than the last," one of them says while closely examining the VIN of our early-build test car.
The reaction seems about right to us as the new Taurus is a massive, 8/7ths-scale car that's more than half a foot taller than Ford's first super-high-output version of its Taurus family sedan. This latest SHO, which returns after a 10-year hiatus, has the same awkward proportions of the weird Outback sport-utility/sedan model that Subaru used to make, except that Ford's tasteful design tries to hide the SUV-like size and succeeds.
It's a new world out there, SHO faithful, but we imagine you already know that. Twenty years ago, your 220-hp SHO was the third-quickest sedan in the country, outrun only by the BMW M5 and 750iL. But today, most family sedans equipped with V-6 engines make more than 250 horsepower and are quicker than that first SHO. We almost feel bad for first-gen SHO owners because watching a V-6 Camry — with an Elmo sun blocker and a baby seat — pull away from what was once the American sports sedan must play hell on memories of what used to pass for speed.
What happened to the SHO? Arguably, the disarmament campaign began in '92, just four years after its debut. That second SHO suspiciously offered, for the first time, an automatic transmission. The 1996 Taurus SHO that followed was yet another attempt to capture more sales in the calmer waters of the mainstream. Speaking of water, that SHO was the one that looked like an automotive tribute to the noble lungfish. Weak, heavy, bulge-eyed, and — in that iteration — sold only with an automatic transmission, that last SHO before the hiatus seemed like little more than a cynical attempt to mine the scrap of credibility the letters S-H-O had acquired.
Even true believers have to admit the third generation didn't quite live up: "I bought one of the last '99 SHO models, thinking it might be a collector's item one day," a Taurus clubber recalls. "I kept it until I was beaten by a Pontiac Grand Am GT in a drag race."
Now, more than a decade later, a new Taurus SHO has arrived, and it's large, but is it in charge? And why is this new SHO so big? Possible explanation: After the Fusion came along to compete with the Taurus's previous rivals, the Camry and the Accord, the pressure was off the Taurus to compete for mainstream family-sedan sales, and as a result, it bloated into obesity. And racked by the news that its big brother, the Crown Victoria, had become fleet-sales only, the Taurus continued to expand, to its current length of 202.9 inches. What we now have is a Taurus SHO that weighs 4346 pounds — 998 pounds more than the original.
Fortunately, Ford has added some super-high output to mitigate the super-high mass. For the first time, a Yamaha-built engine is not under the hood of a SHO. Not to worry: Ford's 3.5-liter "EcoBoost" V-6 makes 365 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 350 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm. The engine features direct fuel injection, variable intake-valve timing, and two small turbochargers that put out a maximum of 12 psi of boost. Power delivery is impressively immediate and like a small-block V-8's; a high static compression ratio of 10.0:1 helps eliminate any feeling of turbo lag. The engine gives no hints that it's turbocharged — there's no whistling, no waiting, no signs that intake-air molecules are being forced together like veal calves except perhaps our as-tested fuel economy of 16 mpg. Even at a steady 80 mph, our Taurus had trouble topping 20 mpg.
Throughout the day at GingerMan, we repeatedly hear "Do a burnout!" and "Light 'em up!" yelled at us. But the standard all-wheel-drive system of the SHO allows only a brief shriek of the front wheels before the power is sent rearward. The Performance package on our test car includes a shorter final-drive ratio, which helps the SHO surge forward with more authority from a stop. Launching it is easy: Hold your foot on the brake, raise the revs, and release the brake. It rips to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, 0.2 second quicker than the V-10-powered Audi S6. From U.S. highway speeds, the SHO accelerates into triple digits as if it were raised in Germany. But the 133-mph governed top speed — that's 10 mph lower than the 1989 original's — is a major clue that this car wasn't designed with the autobahn in mind.
While the engine's ability to move the SHO through space is hard to fault, the intake and exhaust tracts seem to have taken the credo, "silence is golden," too seriously. Even when revved toward the 6200-rpm redline, the intake and exhaust systems emit only the briefest of snarls, indistinguishable from the naturally aspirated V-6 in the base Taurus. Few noises of any kind permeate the SHO's double-pane front glass and acoustically treated windshield glass. If it weren't for the constantly changing scenery, you'd almost never know the SHO was in motion. Suspension noise is almost nonexistent, and the sturdy structure is imperturbable. The measured 70 decibels at 70 mph was a surprise, as the SHO seems dead silent. Trust us, there isn't enough ambient noise to hide even the daintiest flatulence.
Directed in a straight line, the mighty turbocharged V-6 does help one forget about the car's two-ton weight. A turn of the power-assisted electric steering reveals a safe and obedient chassis. Steering effort is higher than in the regular Taurus (and is recalibrated in Performance-package cars), but the feel is one of numbness. Grip from the 20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires (part of the Performance package) is reasonably respectable at 0.84 g, and the SHO is willing to put up with track-inspired shenanigans until the smallish brakes start pouring out enough white smoke for Catholics to take notice. Though the SHO has 102 more horses than the family model, it gets the same brakes (Performance-package models get heavier-duty pads, but they can't overcome the overtaxed regular-Taurus-size rotors). The 174-foot braking distance from 70 mph is 17 feet shorter than that of the base Taurus, but we credit the improvement to the aggressive summer tires on the Performance-package SHO.
With 59.5 percent of the weight over the front wheels, the SHO has the balance and stress-free understeer of a front-driver but powers out of corners with all-wheel-drive ease. No one would call this a playful chassis but, considering the curb weight, it doesn't have any egregious faults. Body roll is well controlled, and the suspension strikes an excellent ride-and-handling compromise.
"Since I can't drive it, can I push down on the body?" asks one of the Taurus club members, wanting to see how stiffly the SHO is sprung, "I couldn't shake it at the auto show. Wow. It's pretty stiff."
For those who get a kick out of removing chunks of rubber from their tires, the stability control has a sport mode that backs off the point of intervention; Performance-package models allow the stability control to be shut off completely, and that makes for even quicker tire destruction.
If you're interested in being in the right gear for a corner, the automatic transmission does have steering-wheel paddle shifters. Ford's system isn't our preferred right-hand upshift/left-hand downshift setup. Instead, both paddles can perform upshifts and downshifts. We can't imagine owners will have much use for this, but at least Ford salesmen will have some way to show off the SHO's sporty nature.
The SHO's interior is differentiated from the standard Taurus's via black trim along the center console, metallic-looking trim instead of wood, leather-trimmed seats with fake-suede inserts, and a steering wheel wrapped in perforated leather. The SHO has easy-to-use controls, Ford's voice-command Sync system, and an excellent navigation system (a $1995 option). Our complaints involve a restricted view out back, annoying headrests, and the lack of turn signals that give three clicks when tapped. The faithful have no complaints: "Looks as nice as the [Lincoln] MKS in there." We'd have to agree, which makes us wonder who would buy the pricier MKS.
On the outside, the SHO looks almost exactly like its lesser brethren. Subtle SHO badges appear on the trunklid and C-pillars, and the LEDs in the front bumper have a silver bezel instead of a black one. "Why couldn't they black out that chrome and maybe add some cladding with SHO on it?" we're asked.
Riding on base 19-inch wheels, the SHO is nearly indistinguishable from the SEL trim level. We like stealthy performance cars, but we have to agree with the Taurus clubbers who would like the SHO to have something special to set it apart from the herd. And cladding is never the solution.
Judging by the car's looks, SHO owners won't be showing off much, and that's okay. The letters S-H-O are still about power, but this one is mature enough not to advertise its speedy nature. Our office, sometimes referred to as an island of lost boys, is filled with editors who are psychologically 17 years old. Crippled by an unwillingness to mature, many of us liked the SHO but just couldn't shake the feeling that we were driving dad's car. Its performance and especially the excellent twin-turbo V-6 command respect, but its size, quiet character, overall refinement — and its $37,995 base price — put the SHO firmly in the adult world. That first SHO was a youthful car, slightly uncouth but fun in a way that appealed to enthusiasts both young and old and to buyers who had never considered a Ford.
The Ford loyalists we talked to were smitten with the latest SHO, but we wonder how interested the rest of the car-buying public will be. It seems unlikely that this SHO has the cachet to steal sales from the import brands, although it could find a place in the hearts of domestic car shoppers, especially with 300C owners looking to move away from Chrysler.
How about this, Ford? Give the Fusion the SHO's drivetrain. A Fusion SHO might just become the must-have performance sedan for less than $30,000. A Fusion SHO would likely be a bit less serious, more fun, and more like the original SHO.