2011 Ford Taurus SHO Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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When Ford CEO Alan Mulally decided to revive the Taurus nameplate for the 2008 model year, he gave the company's flagship sedan all the advantages and disadvantages that go with carrying a famous name. After all, the Taurus nameplate has huge consumer recognition thanks to the massive sales numbers generated by the first two generations of Taurus from 1986 to 1995, when it was the best-selling car in the U.S. But the name also carries the luggage associated with a rather bizarre 1996 restyling that marked the beginning of a major sales slump and eventually left the name Taurus associated with somewhat bland, ovoid rental cars.

Then there's the Taurus SHO (Super High Output). The original SHO, which was introduced in 1989 with a Yamaha-built high-output 3.0L V6 and 5-speed manual transmission, was a wolf in sheep's clothing and quickly developed a cult following. Which should be good news for a reintroduced SHO, but also carries the risk of comparisons with an idealized past - can anything ever be as good as a fondly remembered legend? I was given the keys to a Sterling Gray SHO so I could try it out for a week and see how it measures up.

Whether or not it's as good as the original SHO, the new version is certainly bigger - since its rebirth in 2008 the Taurus has been Ford's flagship full-size model, while the first four generations were all mid-sized cars. The new SHO is also better looking than the original, thanks to a redesign for the 2010 model year (the 2011 SHO carries over essentially unchanged from 2010, save for some exterior colour options).

Compared to its forebears, which successfully introduced the smoothed "jellybean" profile to the world and then flopped with the follow-up ovoid look, the 2011 Taurus SHO is decidedly more mainstream looking. It is tall for a sedan, but proportioned such that you don't really notice until you park it next to a more typical, lower-slung sedan. A deep beltline crease lends character and elongates the side profile, minimizing its height. Big 20-inch alloys on the SHO also trick the eye into thinking the sides are less tall than they appear. The biggish, rounded front end sports a perforated, satin-finished interpretation of Ford's three-bar grille and sweeps back to a high, square-edge hood. The rest of the bodywork follows this theme of rounded profiles and squared edges, finishing in a slightly forward-raked rear end. The overall look has a hint of aggressiveness and a certain undeniable street presence, but I didn't find it particularly cohesive-looking or memorable. I'd wager, however, that it will likely age well.

Inside, the SHO is fitted with good-looking and very comfortable leather-trimmed seats with perforated Miko-suede inserts, heated front and rear. The seats are all comfortably roomy, but not as spacious as you might expect in a full-size car because much of the space has been given over to a big centre console and a positively enormous trunk (and the rear seats fold forward too, in case you actually need more room back there). On the dash and centre console a mix of textured aluminum and faux-carbon fibre strikes just the right balance between refined and sporty. Ford has been winning accolades for its Sync voice-activated connectivity system, and this is standard in the SHO, as is a superb-sounding 12-speaker, 390-watt Sony surround-sound audio system with six-disc in-dash CD changer, USB input, MP3 capability and satellite radio.

Also accounted for are all the usual expected luxury conveniences: dual-zone automatic climate control, remote keyless entry and pushbutton start, power windows of course, power moonroof, power adjustable seats and pedals (with memory), automatic headlights and automatic rain-sensing wipers, universal garage door opener, Ford's colour-selectable ambient lighting, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift. One unexpected convenience is a power-actuated rear-window sunshade, which should prove a boon to those who live in hot climates or have small children. Basically, the SHO has every conceivable option from the Taurus playlist included as standard equipment, except for the voice-activated navigation system and adaptive cruise control with collision warning (and my test car had these two optional items fitted just for good measure).

Under the hood, the SHO differs from run-of-the-bullring Tauruses with a 3.5L twin-turbocharged and direct-injected EcoBoost V6, instead of the standard car's non-turbo 3.5L Duratec engine. The engine is hooked up to a crisp-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission equipped with paddle shifters and driving all four wheels (base Tauruses get front-wheel drive with optional AWD, while both the Limited and SHO get standard AWD).

The SHO's EcoBoost engine puts out 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, compared to 263 horsepower and 249 lb-ft of torque for the standard car's Duratec. Ford claims that the EcoBoost V6 delivers V8 power levels with V6 economy, and it's not an idle claim, either - consider that as recently as 2010 the Mustang GT was only making 315 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque from its V8, and that the SHO posts city/hwy economy numbers of 12.4 / 8.0 L/100km, barely any different from the Taurus Limited AWD's posted rating of 12.3 / 7.8 L/100km.

On the road the EcoBoost engine also has the advantage, thanks to those twin turbos, of an extremely flat torque curve. There are simply gobs of torque available at any revs, with no discernible turbo lag, so acceleration is instantaneous and effortless from any speed. The SHO will giddy up when you want to giddy up, scrambling from a standstill to 100 km/h in about 6 seconds, yet it will also glide along quietly when you want to glide. I found it to be refined and exceptionally quiet inside, and I was particularly impressed with the chassis dynamics.

With unique shock absorbers, springs and stabilizer bars the SHO's sport-tuned suspension provides an exceptionally solid-feeling, well-controlled ride and crisp, grippy handling, but without any hint of harshness. Pushing the SHO gently along a curving ocean side road with the transmission in manual mode, I found the car surefooted, forgiving and reasonably tossable, and I quite liked the transmission's paddle-shifter arrangement once I got used to it (pull either paddle to upshift, push with your thumb to downshift), although I'd have preferred more solid-feeling paddles.

The one real strike against the SHO would be the car's weight, which at 1,990 kilos (4,388 lbs) is definitely on the chunky side. To the SHO's credit, it drives like a significantly lighter car, but I can only imagine how much better the handling, acceleration and fuel economy would be if Ford could somehow trim its mass by a few hundred pounds (it would also lighten the workload for the brakes, which I found perfectly adequate, but which have received poor marks in some repeated-stop tests).

There is also the matter of cost: The Taurus SHO is very well equipped, but it checks in at a relatively lofty base price of $48,199, and with the adaptive cruise control and nav system my test car was priced at $52,099 plus $1,450 in destination charges for a total of $53,549. This puts the SHO in league with the (admittedly smaller) Infiniti G37xS and the (admittedly less powerful) BMW 528i. More to the point, it places it remarkably close to the Lincoln MKS, at least in that car's mid-range trim.

So is the new SHO that good? Well, I only ever rode in an original SHO once, and that was a well-aged example some years ago, so it's hard for me to say whether the new car really lives up to the legend. But I can say that on its own it stands up as an exceedingly competent, comfortable and fun-to-drive big sedan with undeniable performance licks. It's a bit of a sleeper, that's for sure. And isn't that the whole point?
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, Ford, 2011, Taurus SHO, $40,000 - $49,999,

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