New Car/Review

1997 Ford Taurus SHO

by Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide


When it first appeared in late 1988, the Ford Taurus SHO quickly became the reigning champion American high-tech sports sedan. A V6 engine based on the stock Taurus pushrod unit but equipped with Yamaha-engineered 4-valve-per-cylinder, dual overhead cam heads appealed to technologically-minded enthusiasts who wanted an American car with European manners. A modern front-wheel drive chassis with a firm suspension and standard 5-speed manual transmission with no automatic available ensured the original SHOís status as a limited-production cult car - beloved by near-rabid enthusiasts, misunderstood by the general public, and consequently selling in rather exclusive numbers. When an automatic was finally available in the early 1990s, sales took off, and automatics outsold the stick-shift models by a considerable margin. The handwriting was on the wall.

When the second-generation Taurus made its debut for the 1996 model year, the upscale LX model had Fordís own "Duratec" twincam, 24- valve V6. It was close to the original SHO in power, and was (and is) a very poised machine. Clearly, the second-generation SHO would have to be very different from the original.

It was. Ford used the Duratec block as a basis for a relatively small-displacement 207-cubic inchV8. As with the original V6, Yamaha assembles the engine, and subtle styling modifications differentiate the SHO from other Taurus models. Unlike the original, only an automatic transmission is offered, no manual. The suspension is softer, and the car is more at home on the highway than on twisting backroads. The focus has changed from a contemporary muscle car to the automotive equivalent of an executive jet.

During the time I had a 1997 Ford Taurus SHO, I had opportunities to drive it on everything from congested city streets to winding backroads to high-speed Interstates. It was very European in feel, and covered ground quickly, quietly, and unobtrusively.

APPEARANCE: The number of Tauruses on the road makes the newest SHO a stealth cruiser in the same manner as the original. The most noticeable differences from other Taurus models are restyled front and rear body caps. The front, in particular, is very successful. The elliptical headlights and inset foglamps are shared, but there is a larger, oval air intake between them, with a chromed horizontal bar supporting the Ford logo. Below the bumper line, the twin auxiliary intakes of the standard Taurus are replaced by a single broad opening - oval, of course, and horizontally split. Larger, five-spoke alloy wheels and small aero-kit "skirts" distinguish the SHO from the side. The taillight panel of the SHO is body-colored instead of dark, and the rear bumper is restyled. A large spoiler wing mounted on the end of the rear deck states the carís performance objective.

COMFORT: As outside, there are no startling differences from other Tauruses inside of the SHO. Appointments are upscale of lesser Taurus models, but not quite luxury class - meaning no wood trim or other non-functional distractions, just solid business-class comfort. The sport-type front bucket seats are good for long trips; the driverís seat is power-adjustable. Optional leather adds a touch of elegance. The rear seat is comfortable for medium-sized people but does not have unlimited headroom. The instrument panel is the standard flowingly-molded Taurus design. It is really quite functional, with important instruments placed in visible locations. Control buttons are large and well-marked. Climate and audio system controls are logically and artfully grouped in an oval "Integrated Control Panel" in the center of the dash.

SAFETY: The 1997 Ford Taurus SHO has safety-cell construction, side-impact protection beams, dual air bags, and standard 4-wheel antilock disc brakes.

ROADABILITY: The second-generation SHO is an excellent high-speed cruiser, a great car for covering distance on the highway. The fully- independent MacPherson strut / quadralink rear suspension has a softer calibration that the old SHO. Pavement irregularities are handled with verve, and the SHO is smooth and quiet. The balance of the car has changed from "sports" to "sport-touring". It responds to a more relaxed attitude, and is a more refined machine than its predecessor.

PERFORMANCE: The most interesting feature of the 1997 SHO is under the hood. Its unusual 60-degree vee, 235-horsepower 3.4-liter dual overhead cam V8 is based on the 2.5-liter Duratec V6 used in the Contour, a close relative of the 3.0-liter Taurus Duratec V6. A balance shaft keeps it smooth and civilized, and, most importantly, it fits easily into the Taurus engine compartment. It produces wonderful V8 music, and plenty of smooth power, especially at higher engine speeds.

CONCLUSIONS: The Ford Taurus SHO has matured from a modern muscle car into executive transportation.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 26,460
Price As Tested          $ 30,145
Engine Type              aluminum alloy V8, dual 
                         overhead cams, 32 valves
Engine Size              3.4 liters / 207 cu. in.
Horsepower               235 @ 6100
Torque (lb-ft)           230 @ 4800
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled
                         automatic
Wheelbase / Length       108.5 in. / 198.3 in.
Curb Weight              3327 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    14.2
Fuel Capacity            16.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium
Tires                    P225/55 VR16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc, 
                         antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson struts /
independent Quadralink
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed           17/26/21
0 to 60 mph                             7.5 sec
ľ mile (E.T.)                           15.7 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)                0.30

OPTIONS

Preferred Equipment Package 211A        $ 1,740
Includes: remote keyless entry, perimeter anti-theft,
automatic air conditioning, power heated mirrors,
Ford Mach audio system, power moonroof
California emissions system             $ 100
Leather sport seats                     $ 1,190
6-disc CD changer                       $ 595
Destination charge                      $ 550
Option package savings              (-) $ 530    

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