Thanks to Car and Driver at
1996 NEW CARS
Ford Taurus SHO
BY BARRY WINFIELD
PHOTOGRAPHY BY AARON KILEY
If there was anything wrong with the first SHO Taurus, it was that it lacked refinement. It certainly did not lack performance. Even with the automatic transmission that was introduced for 1993 to bolster sales, the SHO ran to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds and tripped the quarter-mile lights in 15.7 seconds. That put it in the company of the BMW 325i and the Acura Legend. Along with such sprightly acceleration came marvelous midrange flexibility and rip-snorting throttle response.
Somehow, this failed to impress the sports-sedan clique, who refrained from purchasing SHO Tauruses in even the modest numbers Ford had hoped for. It's a risky wager, but we bet the new Ford Taurus SHO does not suffer the same fate.
Why? Because the car has moved into a new niche, its focus has altered, and its image has shifted upmarket. And the car will cost a lot more--about $33,000, Ford tells us. The new SHO is more a four-door Lincoln Mark VIII than it is a souped-up family sedan. The choice of a V-8 underlines that fact as much as it fulfills the prophecy we heard from Ford officials a few years ago that all Fords would soon be powered by engines from their own drawing boards.
The new SHO's engine shares the basic architecture of the Duratec 2.5-liter V-6 found in the smaller Contour, with exactly the same bore, stroke, and cylinder spacing. Development time decreases when all of an engine's dimensions and parameters have already been explored. This commonality endows the 3.4-liter V-8 with a 60-degree angle between cylinder banks, relinquishing the usual 90-degree V-8's inherent equilibrium and making the installation of a balance shaft necessary.
Although this is a Ford engine, development was shared by Yamaha, which machines and assembles the engines in Japan after receiving castings produced, using a patented Cosworth process, by Ford's plant in Windsor, Ontario. The finished engines are shipped back to Ford's Atlanta assembly plant for installation in the SHO Taurus. It is the only Ford engine with direct ignition, reverse-flow cooling, and aluminum bucket tappets in the valve train.
And what a civilized engine it is. Producing just a satisfying purr at cruising speeds--and a mellow snarl when spurred to greater effort--the four-cam V-8 sounds and feels more expensive than the V-6 it replaces. But it doesn't have the immediacy that the old V-6 flaunted, nor the enthusiastic midrange pickup. Although the V-8 produces more torque (225 pound-feet versus 215 at the same 4800 rpm), it seems to lack the V-6's instant midrange throttle response.
The early prototype SHO we tested was also less capable in every performance category except braking, where it equaled the old car's 197-foot stopping distance from 70 mph. Its 8.0-second 0-to-60 time makes it 0.4 second slower than the previous SHO automatic we tested. It was also a half-second slower in the quarter-mile. The impression of having less midrange response is heightened by the fact that the new SHO comes only with an automatic transmission; it downshifts obediently at any generous measure of throttle increase, choosing to rev rather than to lug. And this impression is also reinforced by the somewhat distant nature of the well-isolated powerplant.
In the old SHO, a dig at the throttle produced an exuberant snarl from the engine, a distinct tug of torque steer at the wheel, and a surge of power. In the new car, such things are handled much more circumspectly, the sensations diluted by the improved body structure, the well-behaved steering, the seamless transmission, and the thick layer of refinement that coats all of the car's mechanical exploits.
The only part of the new SHO's repertoire that is uncharacteristically rude is the ride quality across abrupt breaks in the pavement. Over tar patches and bad expansion strips, the suspension thumps like a buckboard--this despite automatic dual-level damping, which is informed by ride-height sensors and initiated by electronics. Over less sudden undulations, the ride is nice and flat, with little roll or pitch to disturb its attitude.
The SHO is also very quiet on pavement that lacks the sharp breaks needed to set up that disturbing percussion, and it covers ground with a tempo understated by the car's good composure and quiet ride. Helping keep the act together is a remarkably smooth and precise variably assisted steering gear, along with handling that keeps the car faithfully on your chosen line without any of the deviations you usually expect from changes in surface camber or texture.
Here again, the quality of the new SHO's steering and handling is subtle, engineered to keep the occupants isolated from the action rather than involved in it. You have to detect the tiny bit of road feel through the damped steering mechanism and to acknowledge the good off-center response visually rather than as a tactile change of wheel effort.
Consequently, the new SHO is less of an overt driver's car, even though it exhibits much better poise than its predecessor. Most of the torque steer is gone, but the new car still swivels slightly off-course under full throttle, at the same time revealing a mild locked-up steering effect. Squeeze in a degree of correction and the car locks onto a heading slightly off-course in the other direction, if you're still accelerating hard.
Mainly, though, the new SHO just goes obediently about its business. The electronically controlled AX4N transmission is among the least intrusive mechanisms of its kind, producing upshifts (just above 6000 rpm, despite the 7000-rpm redline) that are a perfect blend of speed and smoothness, and downshifts that are more apparent on the tach than they are through the seat of the pants. Squeeze the overdrive button off while cruising and you can watch the tach needle swing to a new position without any discernible driveline surge. It's that smooth.
Along with the creamy driveline, the new SHO has a roomy interior filled with sculpted forms, organic moldings, and swoopy panels. When you slide inside it, any expectations of a sporty persona dissolve. The accommodations are generous and comfortable. The switches are clear and easy to use, with decent tactile qualities, but the surfaces are as impersonal as the control interfaces. The oval center console, in particular, is an art-deco affectation that feels as if it will not grow friendlier with time.
Still, the only part of the SHO's polished new upscale personality that does not work is the jittery, clumpy ride on high-frequency pavement breaks. The rest of it--questionable styling aside--is genteel enough to lure luxury-car aspirants who wouldn't have considered the previous Taurus SHO. As for the fans of the previous car . . . Ford must be hoping that they have matured, too.
Vehicle type: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan Estimated base price: $33,000 Major standard accessories: power steering, windows, seats, and locks, A/C, cruise control, tilt steering, rear defroster Sound system: Ford JBL AM/FM-stereo radio/cassette, 7 speakers ENGINE Type V-8, aluminum block and heads Bore x stroke 3.24 x 3.13 in, 82.4 x 79.5mm Displacement 207 cu in, 3392cc Compression ratio 10.0:1 Engine-control system Ford EEC-V with port fuel injection Emissions controls 3-way catalytic converter, feedback fuel-air-ratio control Valve gear chain-driven double overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder Power (SAE net) 235 bhp @ 6000 rpm Torque (SAE net) 230 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm Redline 7000 rpm DRIVETRAIN Transmission 4-speed automatic with lockup torque converter Final-drive ratio 3.77:1
Gear Ratio Mph/1000 rpm Max. test speed I 2.77 7.1 50 mph (7000 rpm) II 1.54 12.7 89 mph (7000 rpm) III 1.00 19.6 130 mph (6600 rpm) IV 0.69 28.4 136 mph (4800 rpm)
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES Wheelbase 108.5 in Track, F/R 61.6/61.4 in Length 198.3 in Width 73.1 in Height 55.7 in Ground clearance 4.8 in Curb weight 3574 lb Weight distribution, F/R 64.4/35.6% Fuel capacity 16.1 gal Oil capacity 5.5 qt Water capacity 10.6 qt
CHASSIS/BODY Type unit construction with a rubber-isolated powertrain cradle Body material welded steel stampings INTERIOR SAE volume front seat 56 cu ft rear seat 47 cu ft luggage space 18 cu ft Front seats bucket Seat adjustments fore and aft, seatback angle, front height, rear height, lumbar support Restraint systems front manual 3-point belts, driver and passenger airbags rear manual 3-point belts General comfort poor fair good excellent Fore-and-aft support poor fair good excellent Lateral support poor fair good excellent
SUSPENSION F: ind, strut located by a control arm, coil springs, 2-position electronically controlled shock absorbers, anti-roll bar R: ind, strut located by 1 trailing link and 2 lateral links, coil springs, 2-position electronically controlled shock absorbers, anti-roll bar
STEERING Type rack-and-pinion, power-assisted Turns lock-to-lock 2.7 Turning circle curb-to-curb 38.6 ft BRAKES F: 11.5 x 1.0-in vented disc R: 10.0 x 0.6-in disc Power assist vacuum with anti-lock control WHEELS AND TIRES Wheel size 8.0 x 16 in Wheel type cast aluminum Tires Goodyear Eagle RS-A, P225/55VR-16 Test inflation pressures, F/R 30/30 psi
CAR AND DRIVER TEST RESULTS
ACCELERATION Seconds Zero to 30 mph 2.9 40 mph 4.2 50 mph 5.9 60 mph 8.0 70 mph 10.5 80 mph 13.8 90 mph 18.1 100 mph 22.4 110 mph 28.1 120 mph 39.2 Street start, 5-60 mph 8.0 Top-gear acceleration, 30-50 mph 4.1 50-70 mph 5.1
Standing 1/4-mile 16.2 sec @ 86 mph Top speed (drag limited) 136 mph BRAKING 70-0 mph @ impending lockup 197 ft Fade none light moderate heavy HANDLING Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad 0.79 g Understeer minimal moderate excessive PROJECTED FUEL ECONOMY EPA city driving 18 mpg EPA highway driving 26 mpg INTERIOR SOUND LEVEL Idle 44 dBA Full-throttle acceleration 71 dBA 70-mph cruising 68 dBA 70-mph coasting 68 dBA