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Cincinnati Enquirer



Saturday, March 1, 1997
Taurus doesn't have
to be boring

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Taurus SHO
| ZOOM |
You won't be able to sneak one past your spouse, so don't even think about trying to con your insurance agent.

The family resemblance is notable, but the Taurus SHO is obviously a breed apart from its hard-working, church-going brethren. Especially in a black suit, as the tester was, it looks baaad.

The biggest giveaway comes from the rear view: an odd little spoiler grows out of the trunk lid like a mushroom in the rain forest. If that's too subtle, the twin exhausts reinforce the message. If you're positively obtuse, check out the tacky chromed V-8 emblems on the front fenders.

The skunk works types at Ford had cobbled together a social deviant Taurus in the first generation, too, pouring a slick double-overhead-cam 3-liter V-6 from Yamaha into the engine bay in a way that made dealership mechanics study really, really hard so they could work exclusively on Escorts.

The new, homegrown powerplant, with its two added cylinders, also looks like a wrench-turner's nightmare, and offers only a modest step up from Ford's own new mid-range 3-liter Duratec V-6, a 24-valve design.

The Duratec delivers 200 horses and a like number of foot-pounds. The SHO (Super High Output) V-8, with just 3.4 liters' displacement, makes 235 hp at a racer-like 6,100 rpm, and 230 foot-pounds at a lofty 4,800. Such specific output is laudable, but in calling it "super high," Ford is letting hyperbole get out of hand.

Ford's hotrodders first perpetrated a SHO back in '89, with the assist from Yamaha. In a context where the (italic) upgrade (unital) engine delivered 140 hp, the 220 option seemed downright wild, turning a steer into a bull (that being what Taurus means in Latin; in English it means socially responsible, middle class).

I'd be a little more excited about the V-8 if it didn't have to carry a couple of hundred pounds' more load than its forebear. It's still worth having, but at what price? A SHO starts at $26,460 and runs towards $30K with a couple of strokes on the options form.

There's more to the SHO package than just the engine. Such goodies as cruise control, floor mats, particulate air filtration system, upgraded, power driver's seat, 16-inch aluminum wheels and extra interior lights are standard here, available as options on lesser Tauri. Mechanically, the SHO stands apart with a variable assist steering system, heavy-duty power steering pump and beefed-up front brakes.

Both the front grille and rear fascia are unique to the SHO. The seats are more sporting, too, with power lumbar support. The only-somewhat-optimistic 150-mph speedometer is a further reminder of this variant's prowess.

But when all's said and done, we return to the engine bay, the raison d'etre. This amount of power is pushing the edge of the envelope in terms of what a front-wheel-drive car can actually use, even when delivered through a power-absorbing automatic transmission -- the only way they make SHOs, or any Taurus, for that matter. Two issues here: traction and torque squirm.

The output figures tell the tale: the diminutive DOHC 3.4, unlike its pushrod cousins, Ford's 5.0- and GM's 5.7-liter mills, doesn't break a sweat or make much go power until the tach is on the far side of 4,000. It's not a torque monster in the low ranges. If you're content to start off in a leisurely manner, fine -- but then why did you buy a V-8? No, the best procedure for blastoffs is to wind the engine up against the transmission a bit with the brakes on, and then release them. At that point, you might as well be riding a bucking bronco, between the fore-and-aft wheelspin and the side-to-side torque wrestling. A modern form of computer-driven traction control would be desirable.

Once underway, you'll note a bit of torque steer if you dump the throttle while the engine's cooking, but it's manageable. The engine is unobtrusive until it's in the upper half of its rev range, and then begins to sound like an angry tiger. It lacks the authoritative rumble at low revs so beloved of the old-style engines mentioned above.

For all that it's set up for action, the SHO Taurus has a pretty good ride. It's fairly firm, but not punishing, and even washboardy roads skimmed quickly didn't make the shocks capitulate.

Would that the handling were of so high an order. It's better than what you get on a standard Taurus, of course, but this pup will be driven hard, I presume, and out there in high-performance territory, it reveals a lack of refinement that can be positively unsettling over less-than-perfect roads. At this price point, I'd like to see more mastery. In placid going, it's predictable and well-mannered. The SHO's power steering is a bit faster than that of standard Tauri.

The SHO has 16-inch wheels with hefty 225/55/VR16 rubber. Welcome as they are in terms of roadholding and torque management, they push the turning circle from the normal 38 feet to a wide-ranging 42.4 feet, to the detriment of parking lot maneuverability.

As a midsize, the SHO Taurus is reasonably accommodating of four or five people. I had plenty of legroom and enough headroom, even with the intrusive power moonroof.

Noise level at 65 was about average, with some tire slap and exhaust drone slipping into the cabin.

The four-speed automatic overdrive transmission shifted smoothly and unobtrusively in ordinary going, but got flummoxed when the driving became hot and heavy. It was unacceptably slow on forced downshifts, and seemed to get confused at times.

Ford's optional "Mach" audio system produced impressive, cabin-expanding sound when it had enough signal to work with, especially from the tape deck or a CD. The FM tuner portion seemed average to below-average in sensitivity, even though fed by a mast antenna.

Only the SHO and Taurus wagons have discs brakes in the rear as well as up front. On the SHO, the fronts are slightly bigger (11.6 vs. 10.8 inches) to accommodate a presumed more energetic driving style. The optional antilock system kicked in fast on slick roads and did what it's supposed to do without an alarming amount of feedback. The brake pedal felt solid and progressive, even after a series of high-rate stops. Dual airbags are standard, as on all Tauri.

Base price on the SHO Taurus is $26,460. The tester had a $1,740 package consisting of antilock brakes, keyless entry system, anti-theft measures, air conditioning, power heated outside mirrors, power moonroof, Ford's "Mach" audio system upgrade, and high-performance all-season tires on 16-inch wheels. That's a bargain in light of the $530 package discount that appears farther down on the sticker. The test car also had specific chromed aluminum wheels, which, for $580, I could live without.

Total, with freight and less discount, was $28,800. Payments on such a vehicle would be $584, assuming 20% down, 10% interest and 48 installments. Leasing could lower the monthly bite.

Alan Vonderhaar welcomes email: alanv@bigfoot.com

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