The American full-size segment isn't an overly welcoming place for those of us who worship at the altar of skinny-pedal antics. While European automakers are happy to deliver their customers a raft of monolithic luxury barges with Saturn V levels of thrust, We The People have been largely left with coma-inducing hardware like the Cadillac DTS, Chevrolet Impala and Lincoln MKS. Meanwhile, bruisers like the Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic, BMW 550i xDrive and Audi A6 all boast all-wheel drive capability with sports-car besting performance cocooned in the threads of a tailored three-piece suit. These days, if you want serious big-car, bad-weather go with a domestic badge on the hood, you have just a few options, including the 2013 Taurus SHO.
So far, Ford says it hasn't had any trouble convincing buyers to abandon traditional big-boned performance vehicles for the SHO resurrection. Around 10 percent of all Taurus sales leave the showroom with a SHO badge on the fender, and half of the performance sedan's sales have been conquest buyers sniped from brands like BMW and Audi. For 2013, this D-class athlete boasts a slew of mid-cycle changes to keep the model fresh. If, like us, you have a hard time imagining a buyer skipping the 5 Series for a Taurus, a few new exterior tweaks, a more aggressive brake system, a reworked version of MyFord Touch and a new track performance package are all designed to help change your mind.
Chief among those changes is an all-new front end. Designers have bolted on a new hood, complete with a reworked fascia and scowling headlights to match. A massive single-inlet grille replaces the old design to give the SHO a somewhat sportier countenance. With a black mesh background and chrome framing, the grille drops all the way down into the lower fascia to mingle with a set of LED fog lights. The look is fresh and helps set the SHO even farther apart from its more pedestrian siblings. Slip to the sedan's side, and it's easy to spot the SHO-specific black side-view mirrors and subtle badging laid into the front fenders.
Ford has also rolled out a new 20-inch wheel design, and while the geometric spokes certainly won't be for everyone, we love the combination of black paint and raw alloy. Throw in details like the SHO emblem laid into the rim and we're suitably taken. The 2013 SHO offers fewer changes out back, though a trim-specific deck lid spoiler is part of the package.
Designers have bolted on a new hood, complete with a reworked fascia and scowling headlights to match.
We remain disappointed to see the unattractive black plastic cladding draped along the lower body stay on for another year. Ford made a smart move with the 2013 Mustang by deleting similar trim work in favor of painted body panels – a decision that always does much to improve exterior aesthetics of a vehicle. While we don't mind the trim on the base Taurus, we think it has no business hanging around a model designed to lure buyers out of BMW showrooms.
Inside, the 2013 Ford Taurus SHO continues to offer a refined and attractive cabin with a few small tweaks. The vehicle's pillars are now wrapped in cloth, and the center console features a soft-touch cover in place of the Rubbermaid materials of the outgoing model. Ford has worked to better differentiate the SHO from its lesser siblings with new dash appliques, and the textured metal finish looks and feels excellent. The center stack is dominated by a large touchscreen interface for the recently improved MyFord Touch system. With new virtual buttons that are easy to see, the graphics are big step forward, though our brief time with the gear was too short to form an opinion on whether or not the voice-activated functionality and general speed is any better than previous iterations.
Designers have also bolted in seats with a bit more support and reworked foam for more comfort, though the buckets are still far from worth writing home about. With only the faintest pretense of bolstering, they left us pining for the seats in even a base 535i. That's a shame, because the workmanship is well executed. With handsome stitching, contrasting faux-suede inserts and brazen SHO emblems embroidered across the seatback, the pieces are nicely finished, but their broad acreage made us feel like they'd be just as happy in an Econoline.
The cabin almost can't help but feel small for the segment.
There is no arguing that the Taurus is anything but a massive vehicle. With a sprawling 112.9-inch wheelbase and a total length of 202.9 inches, this sedan fills parking spaces with the ease of a fat man in a little coat. Unfortunately, that girth doesn't translate to wide open spaces indoors. The cabin almost can't help but feel small for the segment. With 41.9 and 38.1 inches of front- and rear legroom, respectively, the Taurus finds itself in the company of mid-size creations like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Passat. Even the Ford Fusion delivers nearly half an inch more room up front.
Still, that news likely says as much about the swelling of the mid-sized segment as it does the cozy quarters of the SHO. The BMW 5 Series, for example, serves up half an inch less leg room than the Taurus SHO up front and two inches less out back. Vehicles like the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic fare no better when towed against the bloated mid-sizers.
So, what could possibly talk us into forgiving the SHO its foibles? While Ford left the 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V6 under the hood and its six-speed automatic transmission largely untouched, engineers addressed one of the largest complaints hurled at the 2012 model: the brakes. With a larger master cylinder and brake booster pressing on 13.8-inch front rotors and 13.5-inch rear discs, the 4,343-pound bruiser now sheds speed as quickly and as predictably as it generates momentum. The new pieces are eight-percent larger up front and five-percent beefier in the rear to help the system dissipate heat more effectively and resist fade under heavy abuse.
Engineers addressed one of the largest complaints hurled at the 2012 model: the brakes.
While the pedal still feels a bit too soft to hold its head high among the rest of the sports sedan segment, the new kit is a massive improvement. Whereas last year's SHO could turn us skittish with enough speed and a quickly approaching apex, the 2013 model is good for surprisingly athletic sprints up or down your favorite mountain. Ford has thrown in brake-based torque vectoring to help keep the sports barge headed in the right direction, and the system intervenes with little to no drama. With the added grip of all-wheel drive, the 2013 SHO feels surprisingly nimble. Get past the notion you're piloting a vehicle approximately the size of a New England county and there's fun to be had behind the wheel.
Enough fun to consider regular trips to your favorite track? Ford certainly thinks so. The company has unveiled a new Performance Package for the SHO that includes hardware like springs and dampers with specific tuning rates, a recalibrated power steering system, a more robust cooling system and 20-inch wheels clad in summer rubber. More importantly, the package features a traction control system with a "true off" mode for our kind of hijinks. As fun as those goodies sound, we still aren't really convinced SHO buyers are the kind to regularly don a helmet and send high-dollar summer compound tires to their smoky graves. Ford says the SHO National Owners Club, however, relishes in doing just that. Guys, if you're reading, we'd love to come out for a track day.
We will admit that the SHO makes for a surprisingly poised performer. With a 15:1 rack coupled to an electronic power steering system, turn-in is initially a bit vague, but sharpens up nicely once the real sawing begins. Honestly, we didn't expect a vehicle that tips the scales at well over two tons to feel as well balanced and nimble as the SHO does.
We didn't expect a vehicle that tips the scales at well over two tons to feel as well balanced and nimble as the SHO does.
If you like what you see, Ford will kindly ask for $39,200 for a ticket to ride, plus a $795 freight charge. Our tester, which came equipped with goodies like a voice-activated navigation system, adaptive cruise control and Ruby Red Metallic paint, rings up at $46,075. That kind of cash falls well below what buyers are expected to pay for supposed competitors like the BMW 550i xDrive starting at $64,300 or the less powerful Audi A6 Quattro, which starts at $49,900. Likewise, the Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic is no easier on the wallet with its $59,790 MSRP.
With its 365 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque on hand, the 2013 Taurus SHO is capable of an estimated run of 5.1 seconds from standstill to 60 mph. That thrust bests the A6 by about .4 seconds and the big E-Class by a shave, but falls just short of the 4.7 seconds served up by the considerably brawnier 550i xDrive. Surprisingly enough, we'd wager the Taurus would be capable of hanging with those high-brow Europeans even after the track turned twisty. Is the SHO as nice as its Old Country counterparts inside and out? Certainly not, but any deficiencies are quickly made up by the MSRP. At nearly $20,000 less expensive than its closest Euro counterpart, it's no wonder Ford says half of SHO buyers come from luxury brands.
At this point, you're likely wondering why we've avoided the two V8-powered elephants in the room; the Chrysler 300 SRT8 and Dodge Charger SRT8. While it's true the big American bruisers offer big thrust and smart handling, their 470-horsepower 6.4-liter V8 engines put them in a different class altogether, and they can't be had with all-wheel drive.
With its refreshed exterior, interior tweaks and more substantial braking system, the 2013 Ford Taurus SHO is an improvement on a recipe that's been largely abandoned by other domestic automakers. Loaded with technology and easily optioned without breaking the bank, this sedan continues to offer buyers a legitimate alternative to Europe's army of all-weather bruisers.