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It's SHO-Time again: 

All New 1997 Ford Taurus

by Harvey Schwartz

The Ford Taurus has been the best selling car in the U.S. for the past three years. It gives young families good value for their money, performs well on the road and can comfortably hold up to five adults. Back in 1989, Ford introduced the first SHO to go after the dads, who wanted more power and performance for weekend fun. At first the new SHO was hard-edged with lots of power but little manners. Sales figures didn't meet expectations and the Ford engineers went back to the drawing board. They refined the 5-speed manual transmission and suspension, but sales still lagged. Market research revealed that those late 20's early 30's drivers wanted an automatic transmission. Once the automatic transmission was installed, sales improved dramatically to over 12,000 sold units in 1995. 

In 1996 the all new Taurus debuted with a fundamental design change. This departure from the conservative Ford styling was met with mostly negative reviews. Initial sales were slow - remember Ford sold over 450,000 Taurus models in 1995. Nevertheless, in 1996 the new Taurus was once again the best selling car in the U.S. The radically new design gave engineers at Ford the opportunity to start with a blank slate for the SuperHighOutput edition of the Taurus. Introduced in the Spring of 1996 as an early '97 model, the Ford Taurus SHO is more powerful and certainly more refined in many respects than its predecessor. Considering the performance, it fits in the class of much pricier midsize 'Euro-Cruisers', like the BMW 540i or the Mercedes-Benz E320.

The exterior styling of the SHO differs from the Taurus LX by having a more aggressive front end with improved air-intakes and a slightly higher hood. Oval halogen headlamps, oval turn signals and oval Ford grille highlight the very low front end. The two large, oval, polished stainless steel exhaust ports add another the sporty element.

The all new '96 Taurus platform gave the engineers a chance to provide the new SHO with something special under the hood. Yamaha built the old SHO's 3.0 and 3.21iter 220HP V6's. The new engine is a quadcam, 32V V8 with 3.4 liters displacement. Tuned rather mildly for its specifications, it is rated at 235HP @6000RPM and 230lb.ft. of torque @4800RPM. That is only up 15HP from the older model, but the power comes on faster and is much smoother. Taking the SHO up to the 7000RPM redline is quite exhilarating! This new 3.4 liter aluminum cylinder block with iron liners is made by Ford in Windsor, Canada, using the efficient Cosworth casting process. The block then goes to Japan where Yamaha contributes a pair of its own cylinder heads plus machine work and final assembly. It is then shipped to Atlanta, Georgia where final assembly of the SHO takes place. 

Only one transmission is available and it is the very smooth shifting AX4N four-speed automatic with Overdrive, which is also used in the new Lincoln Continental. The new transmission brings all this power to the front wheels silently, the only sound you hear is the high-pitched whine of the V8.

The suspension consists of damper struts and coil springs up front and quadra-link with damper struts. There are front and rear stabilizer bars to keep the ends flat. There's a new sophistication in the chassis, where electronics in the struts automatically choose between two levels of damping. At speed high speeds the ride is rock solid, on the tightest turns the SHO kept on perfect line. On rough roads though, the dampers smooth out the road. The all new Goodyear Eagle RS-A 225/55ZR16in. tires provided stability for high-speed freeway driving and but remained comfortable on rough Los Angeles roads. These tires were made specifically for the SHO and have 3-distinct block patterns across the thread. The outermost third is optimized for steering precision, the innermost for wet-weather traction and the center for quiet cruising. The front brakes are 11.8in. vented steel discs and the rear vented, steel discs are 11.0in. Four-wheel ABS is standard. Another unique SHO item is the German made ZF variable-assist rack and pinion steering. Ford says that the unit is manufactured to exceptional standards, and incorporates a dual-rate torsion bar for a more refined feel. The system further benefits from high-precision bearings and low-friction U-joints.

The interior styling and comfort were refined and received the new look know from the standard Taurus. Ovals are present everywhere in the spacious interior cabin that comfortably seats 5 passengers. The instrument panel is ergonomically designed and is easy to operate. The speedometer is centered in front of the driver and displays speeds up to 150 MPH. A tachometer is to the right and to the left are gauges with fuel and engine temperature. LED readouts are grouped together to warn the driver warning about system failures. All buttons and levers are large, easy to reach and well illuminated for safe nighttime driving. The dashboard is dominated by the once again oval central control module that houses controls for air conditioning and the Stereo system. The SHO is said to be 'near luxury' and I will say that the only luxury missing is the wood paneling. 

In addition to the usual "power-everything" features, I should mention the leather bucket seats, reading lamps, center storage console, dual cup holders and rear air ducts behind the front center console. The trunk is large and with the rear seats folded down, as a matter of fact, it's one of the largest volume in its class. 

The production run on the new SHO is around 12,000 and we will have to wait for the final sales figures to see how the performance oriented sedan buyers greet the new SHO.

Copyright 1996 The Special Car Journal.

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