SHO-time at Ford

February 10, 2010, 9:08 PM UTC

My friend the Car Fanatic was impressed. “This car rocks,” he declared after we cruised briskly over our usual trooper-free test route in a 2010 Taurus SHO.

Car Fanatic is worth listening to. He maintains a portfolio of half-dozen cars that he trades like baseball cards, and he harbors deeply held opinions about automobiles based on personal experience.

Did I mention that he is also a Ford Fanatic who once owned an original SHO?

Introduced in 1989, the SHO was heralded as “the American BMW” because of its sporty handling, manual shifter, and top-tier performance. Its 24-valve V-6 Yamaha engine produced 220 horsepower and rocketed the Taurus from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.6 seconds.

Despite its speed, the first SHO felt a little crude compared to the BMW’s of the day, with a sticky shifter and a rough ride. Sales dwindled and Ford ended production ten years later.

Now, as the Dearborn automaker rides a crest of public approval and investor enthusiasm, Ford has reintroduced the SHO with some major upgrades that drive it much closer to its Bavarian benchmark.

The car on which it is based, the old Five Hundred, owes its solid structural components to the Swedish engineers at Volvo. All-wheel-drive has been made standard equipment. And this time the engine is pure Ford. It is the first production example of the turbo-charged EcoBoost engine that will power Ford through the rest of the decade. The SHO’s six-cylinder version puts out 365 horsepower and hustles the car to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds.

The SHO shines in the passenger cabin, with the finest instrument panel of any domestic car, smartly laid out and attractive to the eye. Following the philosophy of CEO Alan Mulally, the controls are in the same place on every Ford, so if you can pilot one, you can pilot them all.

Outside, the SHO cloaks its “super high output” in attractive if anonymous garb. A decklid spoiler, chromed exhaust tips, and some discrete badging are among the only signs that serious automotive machinery resides beneath the skin of the everyday Taurus.

Underway, the SHO delivers on its promise of its specifications. Performance is brisk, and the engine produces appropriately satisfying noises when pushed. The Taurus’ ride is stiff and well controlled — though never harsh — the steering is precise, and the cornering deft.

Yet the SHO will never be confused with a go-kart because this is a big, heavy car. Despite being only five inches longer and four inches wider than the 1999 Taurus, it weighs a thousand pounds more. Blame some of the extra weight on all-wheel-drive, and some on safety gear and electronic systems.

Nobody is arguing for fewer airbags, but it should embarrass Ford engineers to know that their new SHO also weighs some 190 pounds more than the Chrysler 300 SRT-8 that came out several years ago. Ford blames the extra weight on the SHO’s larger size, bigger wheels, and its turbocharged engine.

All that 2010 technology comes with a base sticker price of $37,770. That compares with $33,620 for the normally aspirated, non-SHO Taurus. Both versions carry the same mileage rating: 17 mpg city/25 highway. During my test drive, mostly on highways, I notched 23 mpg.

Loaded with accessories including a moon roof, multi-contoured seats, and 20” aluminum wheels, my test car came in $41,585. That’s a lot for a Ford but inexpensive for a domestic BMW. At around $9.50 a pound, the SHO is comparable in price to a good Omaha steak — USDA prime. In fact, the Taurus SHO is a prime example of the American sports sedan — the kind that should appeal to any car fanatic.