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Thanks to J.J. Gertler at  http://www.hardrive.com/reviews/shogun.htm

Hot to Trot, Man
Road Test: 1996 Ford Taurus SHO

A parliamentary fantasy.

The Speaker: The House will come to order. The resolution before the House today is "Be it Resolved That the Ford Taurus SHO is the Best Sedan Built in America." The Chair recognizes the Right Honorable the Prime Minister to present the resolution, reminding him that he has eight minutes in which to do so.

The Prime Minister: Mr. Speaker, I come before this House to declare that the new Ford Taurus SHO is indeed the best sedan made in America.

I do not doubt that this statement will arouse comment among some Hon. Members of the House. This automobile is not without history, albeit of the Horatio Alger school. Controversial at its introduction, it became a great success. The latest model has begun this cycle anew, but we have yet to see whether it will rise above its controversy.

Heckle: It looks like a turtle!

The Prime Minister: That aspersion addresses the Taurus family as a whole, and I might suggest that the Right Hon. gentleman consider whether his own house might escape such a comment. I further suggest that we consider the SHO on its own merits. Visually, the SHO is different in three significant ways from an average Taurus. First is a larger grill opening to cool its V-8. Second is a little vestigial wing tacked on to the trunk that is really quite superfluous and third, big, open alloy wheels exposing large brake discs and carrying Goodyear RS-A P225-55ZR16 tires. One of the reasons the previous SHO didn't sell as it might have is that it didn't look different enough to most people from the regular Taurus, so they wondered why to pay extra for it. This one looks noticeably more aggressive than its baser kin. You can tell right away what it is, yet it's neither too gaudy or flashy.

Furthermore, popular reaction is positive, although this car gets a good number of quizzical looks. It's like seeing someone one works with every day on the weekend, when they're in shorts and a tee shirt; one knows this person, but one's not sure from where. I should note that this was the reaction of those drivers who didn't mistake it for a Taurus police car and immediately begin driving in an unnaturally sedate manner, as more than a few did.

The Taurus' interior is unchanged from the regular model we drove previously, which is largely to the good. The radio and climate controls are styled in a way I find bizarre, set into a large oval in the center of the dash, but they are easily operated. There's a truly good cup holder -- its claws extend to hold a 32-ouncer -- and a large center compartment with a built-in change holder of the spring-loaded Good Humor variety. Even the ashtray and lighter -- which, of course, this House urges constituents not to use -- glide out smoothly and silently.

For the horn on the Taurus one hits the middle of the wheel, no silly little buttons. Cruise controls are arranged in the usual Ford manner around the center of the wheel. The particular vehicle we drove was silver with a gray interior and -- unlike many cars -- the interior looks good, not dowdy, in a light color.

In ordinary driving, the SHO's suspension is not particularly different in feel from that on the standard Taurus, which says volumes about how good the standard Taurus suspension has become. One is aware of the larger contact patch of the big Goodyears, but handling is lithe and ride pleasant. Let me inform the House that the Splendid Co-Driver concurs that the SHO tracks very well in corners. It goes very smoothly. One can detect just a hint of drop-throttle oversteer, which in a front wheel drive car is quite creditable. Beyond that, though, the SHO has a connectedness with the road, a chassis refinement that one doesn't find in its competitors. Yes, you can get other powerful cars in this price range -- the Pontiac Bonneville SSEi comes to mind -- but the SHO feels more completely developed, as if Ford had spent an extra few months on the details.

The only place that the Taurus' suspension feels less than fully controlled is on the entrance to tight corners. For example, in taking an off ramp there is an over-the-top feeling as weight shifts from one side of the car to the other. It seems to go up and then back down. That may simply be a matter of increasing the diameter of a sway bar by a millimeter or so, but otherwise things are very well controlled and supple. The structure is very stiff. Over some types of surfaces you get a bit of booming which is a little surprising.

We have commented for some time on how well Ford was doing in this kind of development and it really shows with this car. The steering is not the most communicative of what's going on, but the suspension more than makes up for that. One feels the little imperfections in the road. You know they are there and they don't upset the car at all and they don't ruin the handling. You can hear them and you can feel them just a little bit which is enough for a responsible driver to use the information.

This poise is due in part to the terrifically stiff structure of the current Taurus. This is a car built much better than it needs to be for the price point. The handling is refined, the structure solid.

However, the heart of the SHO package is its engine. The SHO's 3.4 liter V-8 is very interesting, because it's a high revving, small displacement engine. One doesn't get the same bottom end torque surge that one might from a large capacity V-8, but the 3.4 revs quite happily, yielding plenty of thrust. It just does so in a much higher register than one expects. Indeed, the acceleration is good enough to toss one's tape recorder into the back seat.

It's a heavy car, to be sure, but with sturdy, easily-modulated brakes. In the course of our investigation, we tested those brakes in extremis, and also discovered the SHO has great grip in emergency maneuvers. Someone -- doubtless a well-meaning constituent -- decided to pull out of a side road while we were at about 60 MPH, right into our lane, requiring that we evade with alacrity. The maneuver was sudden and violent enough to reposition everything inside the car, but the SHO stuck fast. While there was a little bit of body roll, the SHO did exactly what it needed it to do when called upon. In this maneuver, I was held very firmly in place by well bolstered seats that remained comfortable for a 4-hour ride. and have a full electric adjustment including lumbar support.

As we've noted before, the Taurus looks much smaller than it actually is especially given the cavernous amount of room inside and the SHO thus has an athletic presence. It's not a vast car with things tacked on to make it look fast. The Taurus has a tension to the body that stands out from the crowd.

Heckle: Has the Prime Minister passed into Paradise?

The Prime Minister: The gentleman's presence is evidence to the contrary.

And, to be sure, we find shortcomings. Our significant disappointment with the SHO is that it cannot be had with a manual transmission. One reason the previous SHO sold disappointingly was the long time lack of an automatic, but technical considerations precluded the choice in the new model, and that is unfortunate. The most unfortunate aspect of the automatic is it means throttle response is not immediate. The engine is very willing, but the torque converter does not ally itself with you in this process. And one thing the Taurus SHO does not have is a good turning radius.

We also found that -- as with lesser Tauri -- the steering wheel could be adjusted either a little too high for comfort or a little too low to see all the gauges properly. The bow wave off an 18 wheeler moves the Taurus around a surprising amount. The cruise control lacks a cancel feature. And, unfortunately, the Taurus SHO locks the doors for you when you drive away, which torques us off right proper.

The House: Shame! Shame!

The Prime Minister: Nonetheless, Mr. Speaker, these are but nitpicks in a car that impresses more with each passing mile. In the words of my distinguished colleague, the Splendid Co-Driver, "This is another one of those cars that make it easy to go far too fast."

Perhaps this is a compliment to the friction control in the Taurus, but when you get off the accelerator, it does not back off. Speed does not bleed quickly. I suspect that's mostly because there's a lot more weight here than one thinks. Because the power-to-weight ratio is good it's somewhat deceptive about the mass of the vehicle. Yet it returns 22 miles to a US gallon of petrol in the city, and 24 on the highway, even when driven vigorously.

(The Leader of the Opposition rises.)

The Leader of the Opposition: Mr. Speaker! A point of personal privilege.

The Speaker: To what point does the gentleman rise?

The Leader of the Opposition: I fear that I and my colleagues are being played for fools. By his argument, by claiming that this is the best sedan built in America, the Right Honorable gentleman implies that we are unaware that BMW now build sedans in the United States. Surely this fact alone is sufficient to defeat the resolution.

The Speaker: The point is accurate, but is argumentative and not well taken. Pray continue.

The Prime Minister: The learned gentleman opposite raises a fair point. This Government freely grants that BMW make magnificent cars. Were all the world twisty country roads, we would not stand for the current resolution. But I remind my friend that some of us drive on interstate highways, where the BMW's world beating handling is not at a premium. Further, some of us occasionally wish to carry others in our car, which may require roomy back seats. The SHO is capacious in the extreme, while even he could hardly characterize those of the 3-series in such terms. And I bid the gentleman consider the price of the SHO. With the V-8, with the vast interior, with the competent handling, and with build quality of which Americans may be justly proud, this car costs $25,930. Add leather seats, a Ford/JBL audio system, air conditioning, a power moonroof, and other extras, and the price comes out at $28,995.

I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether the Leader of the Opposition would care to figure the cost of a comparable BMW.

Indeed, sir, to look beyond America's shores for a moment, I should think that the makers of Infinitis and Acuras and Lexuses -- if that is indeed the plural -- I should think that they ought to be mightily concerned about this car at this price. Having recently driven the Infiniti I-30, I can attest that the SHO is comparable in terms of comfort. I believe it beats the Infiniti in terms of interior space and it's certainly a better drive -- all for less money.

We have said for a long time that Ford is doing the best American cars, but they've also been priced like it. They charged more for the equivalent vehicle. No more. Mr. Speaker, this car at $25,930 is a steal. And it carries the additional benefit that one could just tell one's in-laws that you bought a Ford Taurus. You'll sound sensible, level headed, financially prudent. Only you will know. Well, and your in-laws, at least if you take them for a ride.

And that by itself is conclusive proof that the resolution should pass: The Ford Taurus SHO is the best sedan built in America.

1996 Ford Taurus SHO
Base price $25,930 Price as tested $28,995

Tested price includes preferred equipment package (power moon roof, keyless entry, perimeter anti-theft system, air conditioning, Ford/JBL audio system, 1325); leather seats, 1190; delivery, 550.)

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