New Car/Review

Ford

The Ford Taurus SHO
A Sedan ready for NASCAR

by Larry Weitzman

Ford Full Line factory footage (14:26) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

When does a great sedan become one of the sweetest running, pure fun, superb sounding sports sedan? The answer is when you combine a great ridged chassis with one of the finest motors ever produced for an American car. The end result is the Ford Taurus SHO.

Ford has been making V-8's since 1932 with the original flathead, 60 hp, 3.6L engine that stayed in production in one form or another for 22 years. It wasn't until replaced with a modern OHV V-8 until 1954 (1952 in the Lincoln). Until 1996, you couldn't get a V-8 in a Taurus.

The are other things that separate the super high output (SHO) from the standard Taurus, but the main difference is the engine. This is the second generation SHO, the first one being a 220 hp OHC V-6. I like the first V-6 SHO, but is was lacking the polish, the sound and the smooth powerband of a V-8.

Ford fixed that with this jewel of a V-8. As with the previous SHO engine, this motor was a joint collaboration with Yamaha. The engine also shares much in common with the 2.5L Duratec V-6 of the Contour. The engines use the same pistons and connecting rods as well as bore spacing. You could say it's a V-6 with two more cylinders. The four-valve head design is that of Yamaha's.

The result is one of the finest V-8's I have ever driven. With only 3.4 liters, it puts out 235 hp at 6,100 rpm and 230 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. These aren't the highest output numbers of any engine, but the way it performs is what makes this car so good.

First there is the smoothness. At idle you have to look at the tach to make sure its running. Blip the throttle and you can feel the throaty throb of the V-8 come alive as if to say, "I'm ready, willing and very able".

Second is the engine redline. It's a lofty 6,800 rpm and the engine loves to rev. The powerband is strong and linear until you arrive at about 4,000 rpm. Then it starts pulling like the space shuttle at lift off. The g forces increase at a rapid rate until 6,800 when the rev limiter tells you its time to shift. It's hard to keep your foot from burying the go pedal every chance you get.

Third is the melody this silk motor produces when it goes about its business. I love to listen to it sing. There is nothing like the sound of a high rpm V-8 to get the blood going and I've never heard any V-8 sound better than this one, not a Ferrari, Mercedes, or Infiniti. This is one of the best sounding engine I've ever driven behind. It never sounds stressed.

Fourth is the compact size. This is one motor worth taking a look at. The intake runners, which dominate the engine bay as well as the other visible parts, are all beautifully molded, cast, machined and polished. It's an absolute jewel of an engine.

The engine drives through an electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmission, which drive the front wheels. Only during full throttle acceleration is any torque steer evident, and then ever so slightly.

Its performance matches its sound. Able to accelerate from 0-60 in only 7.5 seconds, this machine will devour just about anything its class as well as some much more expensive vehicles. 50-70 will only take as little as 4.5 seconds (the quickest 50-70 car I've tested yet) and doing that uphill will slow that time to 6.1 seconds. It's not just that the SHO is fast, it's how relaxed it is while doing it.

The EPA rates the SHO at 17/25 mpg city/highway. I averaged about 20.5 mpg during my test period, which included much time with my right foot buried in the SHO's delicious throttle. With a little restraint, it should maybe average as high as 26-28 mpg on the highway at a steady 65-70 mph. The engine spins a leisurely 2350 at 70 mph.

Along with the exceptional performance, the SHO exhibits the appropriate handling characteristics to match. Fully independent suspension with struts up front and a quadralink rear set up give the SHO a contemporary ride. The SHO, however, comes standard with ride adaptive shocks that are controlled by a microprocessor and sensors at each wheel. The system limits body lean, acceleration squat, and nose diving on braking. The system works. The SHO also comes standard with four wheel discs, ABS and larger than standard front rotors for confident deceleration as well. The feel is excellent.

Ponderosa Road was smooth, comfortable and caused no axle hop in going around corners in the washboard area. Green Valley was effortless and the steering was excellent. That could have something to do with the special ZF rack and pinion power steering that's exclusive to the SHO. The highway ride was firm, well controlled, quiet and very smooth.

On the exterior, the SHO has three defining features over the regular Taurus. First is the chin scoop below the bumper. Second is the spoiler on the tail and third is the gorgeous 16 inch five spoke alloy wheels, which are shod with low profile 225/55 ZR16, all season performance tires.

On the inside the only real difference is in the seats. The Taurus SHO comes with special performance bucket seats that really hold you in place. But don't think they aren't comfortable. The gathered leather surfaces cradle you perfectly. I could spend hours behind the wheel. My wife also commented on how comfortable the seats were.

The rear passenger compartment offers comfortable seating for two and not too bad for three. There is a third inertia reel shoulder restraint for the center passenger as well. A nice safety feature. Legroom is generous, but the headroom would be marginal for anyone over six feet two. The rear seat backs pull down to allow even bigger loads for the already huge trunk.

The dash pod contains a large 150 mph speedo and 8,000 rpm tach with a left flanking fuel and temp gauge. The center of the expansive dash, above the console has a large oval pod containing the sound system and electronic A/C controls. It is somewhat strange looking at first, but the after a day or two it becomes easy to use and nicer looking all the time, especially every time I get to make music with that wonderful engine, never mind listening to the great sounding Mach stereo.

The other amenities include power seats, a six disc remote changer, power moon roof, and remote keyless entry and soft touch door paneling.

One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the overall look of the car. When I first saw this car in 1995, I was very impressed with the design. I really liked it. I still think it is one of the most contemporary designs on the road and I give its styling high marks. It's clean, nearly devoid of chrome, with a design theme that carries through the entire car.

So is this the only Taurus that goes? No. There is a Taurus SE with the Sport Group that comes with the very nice 3.0L DOHC, 24 valve Duratec V-6 (actually quite similar in design to the SHO motor) that puts out 200 hp that will satisfy 99 percent of the drivers at a substantial price savings. I would estimate 0-60 times in the eights and passing times a half to a second slower than the SHO.

How much will the SHO set you back? A SHO lists for $29,000 plus $550 for destination. There are no other options to buy; everything is standard. The only decision is to pick one of five colors and choose either gray or tan leather.

Other Taurus's start at around $19,000 well equipped and very well equipped including the DOHC 3.0L V-6 at about $20,000.

This is a family near luxury sedan with an attitude. It will definitely change your attitude about this best selling Ford product. If you haven't guessed it by now this is a great automobile, one that I would enjoy driving every day. Love that V-8.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                                      $29,000 (other models starting at $18,445)
Engine
   3.4L DOHC, 32 valve, V-8                235 hp @ 6,100 rpm
                                           230 lb-ft torque @ 4.800 rpm
Transmission
                                           4-speed electronically
                                           controlled automatic
                                           Front Wheel Drive

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase                                  108.5  inches
Length                                     198.4  inches
Width                                      73.0   inches
Height                                     55.8   inches
Trunk Capacity                             15.8   cubic feet
Curb Weight                                3469   pounds
Fuel Capacity                              16.0   Gallons

PERFORMANCE

0-60                                       7.5    Seconds
50-70                                      4.5    Seconds
50-70  up hill                             6.1    Seconds
Top Speed                                  Probably would push 140 mph,
                                           but only on a test track or in 
                                           Montana with a good lawyer.
Fuel Economy                               17/25 mpg city/highway, my estimate
                                           in El Dorado County would be in the
                                           20+ mpg range with 26-28 highway

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