SUPER High Output: That's what the three-letter acronym SHO used to stand for.
When, in 1989, these letters appeared on the flanks of Ford's Taurus family sedan, not too many folks paid attention. Then, one imagines, the sedate fourdoor wound its Yamaha-engineered 3.0-litre V-6 engine up to an ear-splitting 7,300 r.p.m. and folks sat up and took notice.
With 220 horsepower, the original SHO was something quite special, a sort of M5 for the Midwest masses. Even today, the original high-revver (later models were available with a V-8) finds fans among lovers of esoteric machinery - Conan O'Brien has a green one and Jay Leno has a Ford Festiva with the same engine stuffed in the back.
But the Taurus is no longer a mid-sized family hauler. It's a big rig - a fullsized continent crosser designed for open highways and high mountain passes.
And the engine that powers this, the new bearer of the iconic SHO badge, is no high-revving V-6. In fact, it's the same 3.5-litre twin-turbo Ecoboost that you can get in the Ford Flex Wagon, or in the F150.
Even so, Ford's been doing a pretty good job of resurrecting convincing modern versions of the greatest hits of the past - Mustang Boss 302, anyone? So is this big sedan worthy of the badge, or is it all show and no SHO?
Speaking of show, this new, updated version of the Taurus is certainly a big-tent affair. It's absolutely massive.
Benefits? Certainly curbside cred is no problem. The SHO sports big 20-inch alloy wheels, aggressive aero tweaks, and a large hexagonal grille that gives the impression that you could refuel by hoovering up subcompacts like hapless krill.
Downsides? Did I mention how big this car is? It's like the QEII, sport edition.
Even with standard back-up camera, parallel-parking the SHO requires a certain amount of patience, and perhaps some prior experience at the helm of a cruise liner. Overall though, the big Taurus certainly looks the part.
Another side benefit to the overall heft of this big sedan is climbing into the thing. It's a horizontal move, rather than the hoist-up into an SUV or crossover, or the clamber-down into a sportscar. No doubt this is a hat-tip to the likely older demographic that'll be looking hard at this car.
However, climb inside, and things are new-tech enough to be a bit confusing. Soft-touch controls for A/C and stereo are cool to look at, but are nowhere near as effective as the no-look simplicity of a humble knob.
What's more, the Taurus has a sort of reverse-Tardis effect going on. It's gargantuan on the outside, but that doesn't necessarily translate to huge interior space. Not that it's cramped or anything - rear seat passengers certainly have plenty of room (and heated seats) - just not as spacious as one might expect.
MyFord touch remains a difficult system to simply jump in and pick up without instruction. It's powerful, but don't leave the dealership without a thorough lesson, and maybe make arrangements to come back to have a specialist go through it again with you after a week or so - touch-controls are improved but the voice command system can be infuriating.
Before flying off in an incandescent rage, sink back and let the massaging seats do their thing. With many tweaks made to improve the interior look, the SHO is a nice place to relax. Hang on - this is supposed to be a performance sedan - grasp the Alcantara-lined steering wheel and punch it, Chewie!
Let's talk briefly about the Ecoboost V-6 motivating the SHO. A pair of turbo-chargers bolted onto a six-cylinder engine doesn't sound very "Eco," but it does promise V-8 power with V-6 fuel consumption.
At least, that's what it says on the tin. What you actually
get is twin-turbo V-6 fuelconsumption and twinturbo V-6 acceleration. The Ecoboost mill has a torque curve that's as high and flat as a New Mexico mesa.
Get the SHO lined up on an on-ramp from a stop and stomp the go-pedal and the all-wheel-drive system transfers all 365 h.p. and 350 foot-pounds of torque directly to the pavement without an iota of slip. The result is a zero to 100 kilometres/hour dash in just over five seconds.
Out on the highway, all that mid-range power is both a boon and a liability. The SHO lives for long, fast sweepers, and you get the sense that it could outrun its Mustang stablemates in any high-speed, cross-country dash.
Unfortunately, that sort of thing is going to get your keys taken away. It's all too easy to find your speed creeping up in the SHO's whisper-quiet cabin, and given that the AWD traction provides the confidence to pretty much ignore the elements - a new Curve Control system and torque-vectoring make up for ham-handed driver inputs - the SHO has capabilities that easily exceed its legal limits.
Happily (or unhappily, depending on your view), it's not really the kind of machine that encourages bad behaviour. Unlike ticketmagnets like that brightorange Boss Mustang, the SHO has the gumption to go, but is also perfectly happy to potter along on cruise control. Features:
As you might expect, being king of the hill for the Taurus lineup, the SHO is crammed full of every option under the sun. The MyFord Touch suite of technologies controls iPhone, Bluetooth and other connectivity functions. A 12speaker stereo system stands ready to pump out all your favourite road-trip tunes.
Rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights and a heated steering wheel all contribute to a happier wet-weather drive. And then there's the tech designed to keep you on the road.
As mentioned, the SHO comes equipped with Curve Control, a system that utilizes automatic braking of individual wheels to control the understeer inherent in such a heavy sedan. Torquevectoring all-wheel-drive transfers the power around to help you blast out of the corner safely.
Optioning the $1,200 Performance package adds stiffer shocks and springs, more aggressive brakes, a shorter final drive for faster off-the-line acceleration and a laundry list of other performance goodies. It's a must-check box, otherwise, why not just buy the standard V-6 Taurus?
Fuel economy figures - on premium - are rated at 12.4/8.1 litres/100 kilometres city/hwy. Good luck getting anything close to the in-city rating, but gentle driving on the highway actually returned fairly decent numbers.
Phenomenally torquey engine; absolute all-weather capabilities; and physicsdefying acceleration.
Big footprint makes for difficult maneuvering; MyFord Touch voice control still tricky; and smallish cabin, given exterior dimensions.
The Checkered Flag:
Nothing like its frenetic, V-6 ancestor, but a genuine highway star.
- Acura TL Type-SH It's not as big as the Taurus, but the TL comes equipped with torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive, stability controls and a sixspeed automatic. What's more, its 305 h.p. V-6 might not have the turbo-punch of the SHO, but the TL's got less mass to haul around.
All in all, the TL is the hidden jewel in Acura's crown. While everyone natters about the upcoming NSX, the TL remains one of the best driver's cars still available from an ever-moreconservative Honda. And one thing everyone always forgets to talk about: how thoroughly excellent it sounds when you wind that 3.7-litre six-cylinder right out to the redline.
- BMW 535i xDrive Big, fast, luxurious. Looks like you just got the attention of the Germans, Ford.
Here's why they aren't worried, despite the equivalentlyequipped 5-series being approximately $20,000 more expensive: it says BMW on the front.
Not to be facetious, but the SHO's price-tag is pretty big for a car that wears the humble blue oval. Big, American sedans depreciating as quickly as they do, and BMW resale values being quite high at the moment, there's little doubt that the 5-series will lease out fairly close in payment to the SHO - at least it will if you leave some of the options off.
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer.