First Drive: 2010 Ford Taurus SHO offers excellence without emotion
Incendiary Statement of the Day: American automakers haven't made many good sport sedans. It isn't because we can't build 'em – it's just that for one reason or another, U.S. automakers have historically refused to take the segment seriously, all but ceding it to the Europeans and the Japanese.
Thankfully, the Detroit 3 have produced some models that buck the trend, and even better for us, most of them are recent offerings. Cadillac's stonking new CTS-V isn't just a sport sedan – dollar-for-dollar, it may very well be the best in the world. Pontiac's G8 GT and GXP are two excellent examples, and Chrysler's 300C SRT8 and Charger SRT8 make decent cases for themselves, although they're arguably more muscle cars in sedan wrappers than four-door barnstormers. What else is there? In the last 25 years or so, not a whole lot. Once you get past the first-gen CTS and perhaps the Lincoln LS, you're dealing with short-lived, small-volume factory skunkworks models like the Dodge Spirit R/T and SRT4, as well as the Ford Contour SVT. In fact, you're skating on thin (sport compact) ice... until you get to the first- and second-generation Taurus SHO of the late-Eighties to mid-Nineties.
Ah, the Taurus SHO. While it's probably true that the fog of time has conspired to give us a rosier view of the 1989-1991 SHO and the 1992-1995 model that followed the original, few would deny that its spirited 220-horsepower Yamaha-sourced 3.0-liter V6 was anything less than a wondrous engine, or that the standard Taurus' revolutionary slipstream bodywork and tidy dimensions lent itself well to the genre's ethos. Further, for an American mid-size sport sedan, it was the only game in town, yet it acquitted itself handsomely against contemporary Nissan Maximas, and pricier competitors like the BMW 3-Series.
The SHO took a wrong turn (as did the entire Taurus franchise) with the softer V8-powered 1996 third-generation model, and slow sales saw the model expire by 1999. A decade has passed since that car went off to the Great Crusher in the Sky, and now Ford has returned with an altogether different SHO for 2010. Does it live up to the original, or is it more in keeping with the underwhelming model that preceded it so long ago? Let's find out.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Paukert / Weblogs, Inc.
As we told you in our review of an SEL model, the new Taurus is all grown-up. Stretching a massive 202.9-inches overall with a wingspan of 76.9-inches, this new model is a very big boy indeed. In fact, thanks in part to the weight of the standard front-biased Haldex all-wheel drive system, obscene levels of comfort and safety equipment, and more sound deadening than a top-flight recording studio, this new SHO buries the needle on the scale at 4,368 pounds. Weight and outsized dimensions being the enemy of performance, this isn't exactly a good start.
What is good news, however, is the inclusion of Ford's excellent 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, which features direct injection and a pair of turbochargers to yield 365 horsepower (a fresh pony for every day of the year!) at 5,500 rpm and 350 pound feet of torque when nourished with premium fuel. Coupled to the standard all-wheel drive and the same six-speed SelectShift automatic found in garden-variety Tauruses, Ford says the SHO is good for a 0-60 mph time of 5.2 seconds. That's in the mix with more expensive V8-powered cars like the Chrysler 300C SRT8 and BMW 550i.
Most importantly, the Ecoboost is an epically flexible engine, a powerplant for which "torque curve" is an ill-fitting metric – this mill has a torque shelf, with peak twist available from 1,500 rpm on through 5,250 rpm before the engine tapers off at its unmarked 6,200 rpm redline. Better still, fuel economy rings up at 17 miles-per-gallon city and 25 on the highway, which is just a sliver off the standard Taurus' 18/28 ratings. Credit for the EcoBoost's stout performance can be traced to its higher-alloyed crank and connecting rods that allow for higher boost pressures.
As we soon found out, the SHO picks up its avoirdupois and runs to illegal speeds with no discernable turbo lag, shift hiccups, or tire squeal. Hell, it doesn't even squat that much – it just goes. While we don't miss any of the aforementioned events, we would like a nice exhaust burble or some sense of mechanical mayhem under the hood. The SHO is too quiet for its own good.
In fact, the engine is so subdued that Ford realized it had to dial some sound back into the car, so they added a speaker-like sound generator on the intake that pushes engine noise back toward the cabin. It helps, but it isn't nearly enough if they're going for a sports sedan vibe. During a stop on our test run around Asheville, North Carolina, Ford furnished us with a Chrysler 300 AWD for comparison's sake, and while we preferred virtually every aspect of the Blue Oval including its interior, ride, and power delivery, we wanted to bottle the Hemi's sound and hand it to Ford's engineers as a starting point.
Similarly muted is the SHO's exterior styling, which builds on the garden-variety Taurus' confident looks with a bare minimum of changes. The most noticeable differences include a modest decklid spoiler, 19-inch "Luster Nickel" wheels, a pair of body colored mirrors, HID headlamps, and a set of dual chrome-finish exhausts. Naturally, there's the requisite special badging and minor details like black brake calipers, a darker three-bar grille and model-specific parking lamp bezels, but by and large, the word here is "understatement." If the old SHOs were sleepers, this new model is a Michael Jackson-spec hyperbaric chamber.
Inside, there are additional SHO-specific flourishes, including aluminum IP trim, leather seats with "Miko Suede" inserts, aluminum pedal pads, branded sill plates and floor mats, and perforated sections on the leather-wrapped wheel. As with the SEL model we tested the day previous, our SHO possessed a beautiful interior with a scarcely believable amount of tech goodies, but we would have traded those suede inserts for a bit of additional bolstering and some of the electronic gewgaws for a driver-selectable sport shift program.
Naturally, in order to best manage all of the EcoBoost's additional chutzpah, Ford has stiffened up the suspension's shocks, springs and strut bushings, added thicker anti-roll bars, and interestingly, it has substituted electric power assist steering for the standard car's hydraulic setup. Generally speaking, these systems aren't known for the quality of feedback they deliver. That's the case here as well, although the steering is no less communicative than the unit fitted to other Taurus models. Perhaps some of the blame should be shared with the 19-inch 255/45 Goodyear Eagle RS-A radials our tester was shod with. They're part of the reason the SHO has such a composed ride, but they aren't terribly athletic shoes, and we found they protested too early and too often when pushed hard into corners.
To be fair, if we had nearly 4,400 pounds of metal bearing down on a few square inches of our contact patches, we'd probably take to howling with a quickness, too. Simply put, retuned suspension or no, uprated tires or no, the SHO simply possesses too much mass to feel tossable, too much heft for sporting drivers to want to grab it by the scruff and chuck it into a corner willy-nilly. The car's all-wheel drive system is a great safety net and pulls it through corners faithfully when carrying inadvisable amounts of speed, but we couldn't find much joy carving up the otherwise inviting roads that spaghetti around the Great Smoky Mountains.
Ford's suspension tuners are among the best in the business, but they aren't magicians, and they can't suspend the laws of physics. Maybe Dearborn's SVT team could've exacted some more engaging behavior out of the suspension (they were not a part of the SHO's development), but even that's a stretch. The bottom line is the SHO weighs more than a Mercury Grand Marquis (with 60% of the burden looming on the tires that steer) and combined with a front-biased all-wheel drive system, well... it's a recipe for push, not entertainment.
Perhaps we should have waited for a tester with the optional SHO Performance Package, but we couldn't get hold of one to sample. That options group includes a more aggressively tuned electronic power steering unit, a shorter final drive ratio (3.16:1 versus 2.77:1), a sport mode and defeat switch for the electronic stability control, and 20-inch 245/45 Goodyear F1 summer tires. It also includes a much-needed set of performance brake pads. The braking system is unchanged from the standard Taurus, and we detected some fade while pushing harder on some downhill mountain runs. From where we sit, the Performance Package ought to include a higher top speed as well (the SHO is governed to a miserly 131 mph), but it doesn't. We'd be willing to pay the extra $995 for all of this, but on top of the not-inconsiderable $37,995 base price ($37,170 + $825 delivery), we're not sure why it isn't standard. After all, isn't this the performance model?
If we are beginning to sound a bit disappointed, well, we are. But perhaps it's our fault. By fixating on the "SHO" badge glued to the trunk lid, we duped ourselves us into thinking that this car would be different than what it turned out to be – despite the fact that we already understood that the regular-strength 2010 model intentionally orbits a wholly different planet than it did in the Eighties and Nineties. We thought we were getting something emotional – a genuine sport sedan. But real sport sedans respond to quick changes in direction like an Olympic gymnast. Real sports sedans ferret out corners like washing machines seek out pocket change. Real sport sedans are drawn to a pointed edge. But this SHO is safe-as-houses – it's all smoothed-off curves.
Don't get us wrong, Blue Oval faithful. There's plenty of meat here to get worked up over, but there's just not enough flavor to slake our red-meat enthusiast side. What Ford has wrought with the SHO isn't really a sports sedan at all – it's a four-door cruiser with sporty undertones. It's an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to high performance. And while this big bull generates some pretty handsome numbers, it fails to inspire drivers to push harder, something that we desperately hoped it would do.
In the end, we prefer to think of Ford's highest-spec Taurus as a compellingly priced full-size luxury car for those who aren't hung up on expensive labels. It's an exceptional executive express, and it'd surely be a monumental partner on a transcontinental journey. It's even a great sleeper in the grand tradition. But it isn't a sport sedan. And to us, at least... that means it isn't really a SHO.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Paukert / Weblogs, Inc.
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