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Tirekicking Today 

Quick Spin: 1996 Ford Taurus SHO

Super sedan performs as promised, swapping old V-6 engine for all- new V-8

By: James M. Flammang
Editor, Tirekicking Today

Ford launched the first SHO for 1989, as a high-performance variant of its strong-selling family sedan. Packing a silken-smooth (and potent) Yamaha-built V-6 engine, the SHO - which stands for Super High Output - lured a new class of customers into Ford showrooms. Initially offered only with manual shift, the first-generation SHO could be ordered with an automatic transmission in its final years.

After Ford redesigned the Taurus for 1996, enthusiasts eagerly awaited a new SHO edition. Finally on sale as a mid-year addition, the SHO continues to deliver the goods in the performance department - helped by a brawny new V-8 engine, no less - but no more stick shifts are available. Every one has automatic, which detracts just a bit from the car's potential.

Even so, it's an impressive vehicle - a sizable and welcome step beyond the everyday Taurus - that clings to the pavement like a never-to-be-tamed panther. Handling, in fact, is where this Taurus truly excels. Few family sedans feel as solid and tight through curves as an SHO, which we tested on Illinois two-lane roads as well as at Ford's Proving Ground in Michigan.

Acceleration, while inspiring, falls somewhat short of breathtaking. An SHO isn't quite likely to shove many people back into their bucket seats - whether from a standstill or when entering an expressway. Once there, however, they're in for a masterful blend of comfort and taut control.

Based on the smaller V-6 used in the Ford Contour, the all-new, 3.4- liter (60-degree) V-8 engine has an aluminum block and head, a structural aluminum oil pan, and counter-rotating balance shaft. Running on 10:1 compression (a high figure in today's terms), it develops 235 horsepower at 6100 rpm, and 230 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. It's the first Ford engine with coil-on-plug ignition (no spark plug cables) and reverse cooling (for cooler running and fewer emissions).

A tuned dual exhaust delivers what's described as a "unique throaty sound." Goodyear P225/55ZR16 tires were designed specially for the SHO, while ZF rack-and-pinion steering contributes to the feeling of full control on the road and all-disc brakes bring the mid-size sedan to a halt.

A Taurus spokesman called the SHO "a practical family sedan with attitude," aimed at people who are "passionate about driving." An SHO, he insisted, delivers "instant response whenever you want it," courtesy of the engine's "broad torque band."

Typical buyers are well-educated, affluent, and technically astute. Seven out of 10 have college degrees, and 90 percent are male. They're also likely to be Ford loyalists.

Ford expects to produce only 5,000 SHOs in the 1996 model year - no surprise, considering its debut late in the season. Starting with 1997, the annual total should be closer to 10,000.

Ford boasts that the SHO's price is the same as in 1995 - a mere $26,480 (including destination), versus $21,530 for an LX.


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