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USA Today 

02/07/97 - 04:38 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

SHO-off: Sporty Taurus offers spice

Ford Motor's hot-rod version of the Taurus family sedan, called Taurus SHO, raises a pointed question. (Quick review)

If Ford can make a Taurus as sweet-driving, road-loving and driver-delighting as the SHO, what perverse process caused the regular Taurus to be such a ho-hummer?

Both the regular and SHO versions, after all, are based on the same thoughtfully engineered chassis, the same interesting interior and the same dramatic styling.

SHO - it stands for Super High Output, a somewhat hyperbolic reference to the zippy V-8 engine - wakes up the essential goodness engineered into Taurus. A little more engine, some suspension and steering tweaks, a snappy-shifting automatic transmission, a tasteful minimum of cosmetic claptrap, and suddenly the Taurus is a real car.

SHO is a poetic answer to the car query of hot-blooded family types and middle-agers: Do I hafta drive a stupid sedan like everybody else?

Nope. For less than $30,000 you can haul your assets proudly, smiling with delight. You get the fun of a high-performance sports machine, without sacrificing room for the kids. Nor do you attract undue attention from cops and carjackers.

The test model always evoked enthusiasm, even on dreary daily commutes. It did not have to be spurred down the road or tossed into corners to be appreciated.

The 3.4-liter, 235-horsepower V-8 barks and growls with Europe's best when hammered, and purrs pleasantly when restrained. Billowy seats invite your backside and treat it better than in Ford's pricier Lincoln models. The automatic temperature control works quietly, invisibly, and even filters small particles before they can cause you to cough.

Even the spoiler on the trunk lid seems appropriate. The airfoil is small enough to escape ugliness, and it draws the eye up and away from Taurus' baby-with-a-full-diaper rear styling.

Spiffy wheels and restrained plastic trim round out a nicely done exterior that manages to look much better than a conventional Taurus without looking much different.

Nothing's free. You pay for the SHO's goodies several ways:

SHO models have been adjuncts to the Taurus lineup since the 1989 model in '88. Always niche players, SHOs had their best year in '93, when sales hit nearly 20,000 and accounted for close to 6% of all Taurus sales. Ford plans 4,900 this year, and dealers already have ordered them all.

Overall, SHO proves that Ford knows the heart and soul of its best-selling car. Those who like their driving with a dash of spice can add SHO to their list of contenders.

Other opinions

It's obviously a family sedan first, with sports-sedan trimmings applied later; it doesn't pretend to be anything else.-- Road & Track

Refinement and sportiness at a fair price.-- Car and Driver

The new SHO brings us to a better place, where we can drive greatness at a price that used to buy us only pretty-goodness.-- Automobile Magazine



1996 Ford Taurus at a glance

What is it? Hot-rod version of the basic Taurus, which retains the regular car's four-door, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive configuration. SHO stands for Super High Output, so the big difference between SHO and normal is the engine: 3.4-liter, 235-hp V-8 developed jointly with Japan's Yamaha. Top engine in the regular Taurus is 200-hp V-6.

How much? $26,480 to start - same as its less-powerful, V-6 predecessor; about $30,000 laden.

How big? Midsize; smaller in some key dimensions than last year's Taurus.

How soon? On sale since May 23.

How powerful? More than plenty (unless you think horsepower is like money; you never have enough).

How comfortable? Quite; more so than the regular Taurus.

How good? Dandy. Family room and vroom in a handy package.

Any drawbacks? Same as in the ordinary Taurus: No pockets in the doors for maps and detritus; innovative but not very functional flip-fold center console; a lot less trunk space than in the previous model; a feeling that the rounded roof and side windows are cutting into your personal space; styling that might make your neighbors wince.

By James R. Healey, USA TODAY



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