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C&D Road Test 

Thanks to Sheriff Buford T. Justice:

Ford Taurus SHO
Ford shifts from Super High Output to Most Affordable 32-Valve V-8.


We wondered if Ford would stay in SHO business when the next-generation Taurus appeared last year, and we were pleasantly surprised to see it on the 1996 menu. So much so that we put it on our cover last October and subjected it to a full, instrumented test, something we rarely do with pre-production prototypes. This time, we got one of the first Taurus SHOs to roll off the ramp at Ford's Atlanta plant, and we put it through the test mill to see if our first impressions still held.

Our first assessment of the car was that Ford had moved the SHO up-market and turned it into a "four-door Lincoln Mark VIII." Based on what Ford told us at the time, we guessed it would cost "about $33,000." That's changed.

Since the new Taurus was launched on September 27, 1995, Ford has been roasted by Wall Street and its own dealers for overpricing the car. With a base price of $19,150, which really meant an out-the-door tab of more than $20,000, many Taurus owners who remembered paying $15,000 or less for their first-generation cars, and other potential buyers, took a pass. Sales dropped by 16 percent in the '96 Taurus's first month, October 1995, and 27 percent the next month. Even a $110 million ad campaign, built around a nauseating jingle about "making the dream come true," didn't rouse much interest.

Ford has since introduced a cheaper, stripped-down Taurus G, as well as rebates and low-interest financing. As for the Taurus SHO, the official billing now reads, "The World's Most Affordable V-8 Performance Vehicle," a line redolent with ambiguity.

By choosing this marketing approach, and keeping the price down, Ford has essentially reduced the SHO to a series of option packages. It is now more like a "designer" model such as the Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer or Bill Blass Lincolns of the past.

The base price of $26,480 includes air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, and an adjustable-damping suspension. Exclusive SHO equipment includes a 32-valve V-8 engine, sportier steering and chassis tuning, some subtly different body panels, and a rear spoiler. Keyless entry, a moon roof, and premium speakers add $1325. Chrome wheels up the price an extra $580, and leather costs $1190. For spend-thrifts, there's a cell phone for $650 and a CD changer for $595. All that adds up to $30,820, a not-unreasonable price for a refined, well-executed sedan that falls some-where between sporty and luxurious.

We liked the prototype SHO's accommodations, and the production car confirmed our opinion. The SHO has something of a Jaguar feel in its cabin, with the driver sitting in a cockpit like environment surrounded by a high-sill door, an eminently legible instrument panel, and a combination console/armrest. SHO-only touches include monogrammed floor mats and a 150-mph speedometer (the car's electronic brain nips the fuel supply at about 137 mph). The seats are well shaped and comfortably firm, and rear-seat room is about what you would expect in a family four-door-spacious for two and a bit close for three.

We won't comment on the Taurus's style-like it, hate it, decide for yourself -except to say that Ford should have put its designers on a shorter leash. Function follows form too often in this car. For instance, the little cubbyhole at the front of the console is smooth and rounded, and maybe you could mash a couple of tennis balls into it, but it doesn't fit the usual square or rectangular stuff that finds its way into these places; the deck lid wraps stylishly around the taillights, but conforming to the design theme reduces access and increases lift-over height.

And the radical style may have worked to the detriment of creating that special SHO look. The old SHO, with just a few distinct body pieces and a monochromatic paint scheme, stood out clearly from rental-fleet Tauruses. The new one, even with special front and rear valances and a rear spoiler that looks as if it had been left on the trunk by accident, is hard to spot in a herd of Tauruses because they all look sort of wild to start with.

The straight-line performance of this SHO was a shade better than the pre-production model's. The new SHO went from 0 to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, a tenth quicker, and turned the quarter in 16.1 seconds at 87 mph, also a tenth quicker and 1 mph faster.

Nevertheless, it was still slower than the old V-6 SHO automatic, which ran to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds and tripped the quarter-mile lights in 15.7 seconds and 88 mph.

Why the old SHO out drags the new one is something of a mystery. At 3580 pounds, the new car is only 66 pounds heavier, and the 15-hp advantage of its V-8 over the old V-6 should easily overcome that slight deficit. Both cars have the same gear ratios, including the 3.77:1 final drive, and the new one is supposedly more aero-dynamically efficient. Yet they're separated by four-tenths at the end of a quarter-mile, which is nearly two car lengths a not inconsiderable gap. 

We had no such dilemma with the new SHO's midrange performance. In the prototype, we thought it lacked immediacy, but the production SHO answered the call at the first ring. Its throttle response is instantaneous, and in normal traffic, just point it toward a gap, stab the throttle, and you re there. The 235-hp V-8 engine has a healthy snarl, and its power is concentrated where it's needed. Ford says it has flattened the torque curve of the V-8 since our first test and claims that 80 percent of its torque is available at 1200 rpm. It feels like it.

This engine is a joint project between Ford and Yamaha and takes a circuitous route to its final destination in Atlanta. The castings are produced using a patented Cosworth process at Ford's plant in Windsor, Ontario, and shipped to Japan, where they're assembled by Yamaha, which sends them to Georgia. The two companies shared development of the engine, with Ford taking credit for every-thing below the head gaskets and Yamaha claiming the cylinder heads and their related components. Ford says this method is more efficient and less costly than set-ting up a separate engine facility in the United States. 

Ford also out-sourced the steering. The SHO's German-made ZF rack-and-pinion system couldn't be more satisfying. It offers exactly the right degree of assistance and precision. The tiniest inputs keep the car tracking true on either fast sweepers or tight hairpins. In straight-line driving, it's as resolute as a laser-guided smart bomb.

The SHO's suspension seems ideally tuned for twisty-road driving. The car stays flat and controllable, and its limits are well above most people's fun zone. But one area where the SHO's suspension, with its computer-controlled two-position shock absorbers, doesn't work as well is over tar patches, expansion strips, and the sort of pavement irregularities found even on otherwise smooth freeways. The chassis doesn't absorb these kinds of surfaces very well and transmits timpani-like sounds and vibrations that were sufficient to start the hardware rattling on the rear-center-seat shoulder belt. This condition appeared on both SHOs we tested.

Except for that shortcoming, however, Ford has successfully transformed what is essentially a mundane, high-volume family car into a refined sporty' sedan with a satisfying balance of performance and luxury at a relatively affordable price. 



Quick-revving V 8, spot-on steering.


Occasionally rough ride, boomerang spoiler.

The Verdict:

Refinement and sportiness at a fair price.

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