Photos copyright ©2009 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.
If you're expecting a knock down, drag out comparison test between old and new that pits my '91 SHO with 86,000 miles against this 2010 model with 1,218 clicks, sorry to disappoint. While my baby may look concours ready on the outside, what's underneath is 100% Grade C first-gen Taurus that's decaying like a Big Mac box. Therefore, we won't be comparing lap times or lining them up at the drag strip because, well, my guy would lose every time and probably snap in two. Fortunately, there are other ways to compare these sibling models that may reveal if the modern one really deserves to be called S-H-O.
SHO stands for Super High Output, and the original model's 3.0-liter V6 truly gave those words meaning. There's lots of speculation about how this motor came to be, but the prevailing theory is that Ford contracted Yamaha to design and build a motor for a mid-engine sports car meant to compete with the Pontiac Fiero. That project was canceled, but Ford was on the hook for these engines and needed somewhere to stuff them. We can only guess what strong narcotics were consumed that night when a Taurus engine bay became the answer, but that's how the SHO was (supposedly) born.
Arriving on the scene in 1989, the original SHO's engine was way ahead of its time, producing 220 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 200 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm when other V6-powered sedans from Toyota, Honda and Nissan were still years away from breaking the 200-hp barrier. While the engine could naturally rev to a lofty 8,500 rpm redline, Ford engineers cut the fun off at just 7,000 rpm to save any Taurus-spec parts like the A/C compressor, power steering pump and alternator from being spun to an early grave.
The top of the SHO engine, however, is its calling card. Those long and short intake runners that weave together like a pair of hands praying are not just industrial art; they give the original SHO a dual personality. Below 3,500 rpm, the longer runners lift the torque curve for comfortable around town cruising. Above 3,500 rpm, the short runners transform SHO v1.0 into a she-devil that howls up to redline with a demonic frequency. An engine this great needs a good operator, and back in 1989, computer-controlled automatics couldn't be trusted. So the last ingredient was a five-speed manual transmission borrowed from Mazda that put Yamaha's gem of an engine in the palm of your hand.
Ford is hoping that history repeats itself with the 2010 Taurus SHO, that some of the original car's lightning can be felt in the new car's bottle. On paper it would seem the new SHO is a natural extension of the original. For one thing, it starts with a big honkin' sedan that you wouldn't normally peg as "sporty", in this case the redesigned 2010 Taurus. Finally free of the Five-Hundred's dowdy silhouette, the new Taurus looks, dare we say, spectacular. The front end features sophisticated shapes imported from Ford of Europe, the hood now bulges and steps down to a pair of tastefully flared front fenders, the character line along the side vanishes and reappears on the rear fenders with a wink, and those 427 concept-inspired blocky taillights remind us of a time when Ford design actually had a little chutzpah. Tie it all together and the adjective you taste on your tongue is "interesting".
Just like the original, however, you have to look closely for any SHO-specific design cues. The things you have a shot at noticing are a spoiler on the trunk lid that's unique to the SHO, dual tailpipes split to either side of the rear apron, a "SHO EcoBoost" badge on the rear and small SHO badge in the armpit of the C-pillar. Then there are those giant 20-inch wheels that make my car's 16-inchers look like the blades on a Magic Bullet. I think I speak for all SHO fans when I say we're disappointed that Ford won't be offering a wheel design inspired by the original's iconic "slicer" design. Those wheels, which first appeared on a limited number of 1991 models, mine included, became ubiquitous on second-gen SHOs from 1992-1995. You see one now, you know it's attached to a SHO. Updating the original slicer design would've been a piece of low-hanging fruit for Ford to pick, but the designers skipped it in favor a five-spoke wheel that just isn't SHO-y enough.
I'm big enough to admit, however, that my SHO's interior doesn't hold a candle to the new car's cockpit. Back in 1991, state-of-the-art was an in-dash CD player. Today, it's SYNC, Bluetooth Audio, a 12-speaker Sony stereo, satellite radio, push button start, heated and cooled front seats with Active Motion butt massagers and multi-color ambient lighting, all of which the new SHO's got. Both passenger and driver get their own hooded parts of the dash, which is bisected by a sloping center console that brings the intelligently laid out HVAC and stereo controls out to you. There's even another rare appearance of the SHO logo on the right side of the dash.
The seats are a model of comfort, though their grippy, suede-like covering will hold your shirt like velcro in a turn while the barely there bolstering lets your body slide right off the seat back. This is a big car with a big interior, so four people of even above average proportions will be comfy cozy. We did dock the new SHO a few points for its tall, upright seating position, which, while great for long trips and general comfort, is not the most confidence-inspiring perch from which to pilot a sport sedan. That said, there are some plusses that come with owning a car this big. At 20.1 cubic feet, the trunk with 60/40 split-folding rear seats can accommodate just about anything short of 4x8 sheets of plywood, and who doesn't know at least one person who owes his or her very existence to a big back seat?
Of course, being a SHO isn't about exterior design or interior amenities. It's about one thing: the engine. What kind of engine does it take to earn the title "Super High Output"? The new SHO's twin-turbocharged and direct-inject EcoBoost V6 towers over other six-cylinders with 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque available at a barely-over-idle 1,500 rpm. While opening the new car's hood doesn't reveal a gorgeous tangle of intake runners like the original, we're just as interested in power as being pretty and the EcoBoost V6 makes more of that than V8s in the Pontiac G8 GT (361 hp), Chrysler 300C (360 hp), BMW 550i (360 hp) and Audi A6 (350 hp). At the same time, it earns the "Eco" in its name by beating all at the pump with a 17 city mpg/25 highway rating, though premium fuel is its cocktail of choice.
3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 (left) and 3.0-liter Yamaha V6 (right)
What this engine feels like beneath your right foot is another matter entirely. Sliding the SHO's T-bar shifter into Drive and mashing your clodhopper to the floor will elicit the same amount of thrust as this car's V8-powered competition, if not more thanks to those two small turbos dragging peak torque down to the tachometer's basement. It's good for a 0-60 time in the low- to mid-5.0-second range, which is at least two seconds quicker than my '91 model when it was new – a remarkable feat considering the 2010 model weighs some 1,283 lbs more than the original
Whereas the original reacted with some violence when you marshaled 100% of its motor's reserves, the new SHO hardly blinks. It delivers you your quick 0-60 mph time on a plate with the crust cut off and goes back to reading the latest Barbara Kingsolver novel. We miss the sounds and vibrations associated with an engine hard at work, as well as the participation factor provided by the original SHO's manual transmission. The new SHO offers only Ford's 6F55 SelectShift six-speed automatic transmission, a stout runner of ratios that shifts quickly and smoothly, but again drains the drama when caning the car between stop lights. There are a pair of paddle shifters for manual control, each requiring a pull back for upshifts and forward push for downshifts. This arrangement took some time to get used to, especially the downshifts that require your thumbs to do something other than just hold on. The paddles themselves aren't made of the highest quality material either, and each bears a passing resemblance to the shoulder blade of a spider monkey.
As a mere sedan, the modern SHO excels thanks to its 2010 Taurus roots. It's a big car that rides like it owns the road. Even with those giant 20-inch steam rollers, the SHO's suspension mutes minor bumps and remains upright and composed at all times. It's mature demeanor comes from a complete set of suspension tweaks that includes unique shock absorbers, springs, stabilizer bars and strut-mount bushings, though you can tell that decent ride and handling prowess is already baked into the base Taurus sedan.
Back in 1991, Ford offered option package #212A for the SHO, a.k.a the Plus Package. Very few were made (mine was one of them), but those that did leave the factory were blessed with a lighter weight plastic "Power Bulge" hood and several cosmetic treatments to set them apart. The new SHO gets its own version of the Plus Package called the 12S–Performance Package, but in this case looks were left untouched and Ford upped the ante on performance hardware. Included are higher performance brake pads squeezing identically sized discs, 20-percent-stiffer damping, nine-percent-stiffer rear springs, an even bigger anti-roll bar and shorter 3.16 final-drive ratio.
Does the new SHO deserve those three letters at the end of its name? The tough answer is no.
Buyers of package 12S also get special sport tuning for the steering and stability control system, the latter of which gains a "Sport Mode". Finally, those 20-inch wheels are standard with the Performance Package and lovingly hugged by a set of Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires. The price for all this? $995. We say get it, not just because the Performance Package is a steal at twice the price, but also because a SHO so equipped can go harder, turn faster and grip stronger while not taking a hit to everyday drivability.
Our tester was equipped with the Performance Package, and what we can say is that the 2010 SHO is a physics-defying car. From the outside it appears too big and heavy to dance, but behind the wheel it feels as light and precise as a B-list celebrity on the season finale of Dancing with the Stars. The EcoBoost V6 is there for you at all all times with power and torque to make the trip to each corner a short one, and when you arrive, the SHO remains remarkably flat and uses its Haldex all-wheel-drive system to keep all four wheels clawing. The steering is accurate and nicely weighted, though surprisingly little information about where the wheels are pointed and how hard the tires are working gets through. That means your eyes alone are left in charge of knowing where the SHO is about to go at all times, which can be unsettling considering how far away all four corners are. Lastly, even with the Performance Package's upgraded pads, the brakes are woefully incapable of stopping the SHO with confidence. The brake pedal's travel is long, mushy and seemingly detached from the mechanical operation that's taking place at each wheel.
Despite those few missteps, the new SHO is a seriously fun-to-drive large sedan thanks to its uniquely powerful engine. It's a totally different answer to the same question that many of its competitors have answered with big V8 engines and rear-wheel drive. Yes, you can buy a Chrysler 300C with all-wheel-drive and an almost equally powerful V8 for a similar price, but it won't handle like this. You can also buy a Pontiac G8 GT with rear-wheel drive and another almost equally powerful V8, but it won't be as comfortable or offer the latest infotainment tech. You can also buy your choice of Germany's finest large sport sedans, but you'll just be spending a lot more money for a name. And in all cases, you'll get slightly less power and worse fuel economy. Much like the original, the new SHO is selling a unique powertrain in a familiar package that has no problem running with a more expensive pack.
Our tester began with a base price of $37,995 and added option package 401A for $2,000 that includes a power moonroof, heated/cooled front seats and a Sony 12-speaker stereo; the Performance Package for $995; multi-contoured "Active Motion" front seats with built-in butt massagers for $595; and another $295 for the Red Candy Metallic paint job. Total: $41,800 including a destination charge of $825. Of the aforementioned competing class, only a Pontiac G8 GT costs less, and ignoring the fact that Pontiac is dead and the G8 along with it, you couldn't get one comparably equipped with all-wheel drive and numerous other options like a nav system, which would add $1,995 to the SHO's bottom line.
So there's no arguing that the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO is a good performance bargain, but does it deserve those three all-important letters at the end of its name? The tough answer – especially for this self-described SHO fanatic – is no. The problem is that the superlative EcoBoost V6 is also offered in the Lincoln MKS EcoBoost, MKT EcoBoost and Ford Flex EcoBoost (though all three are down 10 hp compared to the SHO), so what we really have here is the 2010 Ford Taurus EcoBoost. It seems to us that someone in Ford's marketing department believed a few extra sales could be had by tugging at the heart strings of enthusiasts, and any SHO fan meeting the new car for the first time will surely admit to having his heart strings played like a fiddle. But the new SHO needs a few of its performance pitfalls corrected and an extra ingredient that makes it much more than just a Taurus EcoBoost. What that is, we don't know, but a manual transmission, "slicer" inspired wheels and Brembo brake package would be a start.
At the end of our time with the new SHO, my answer to this one question best sums up how we feel about the car. Would I replace my vintage 1991 Ford Taurus SHO Plus for a 2010 model? No, but I'd be happily park them next to each other in my garage.