Road Test

2011 Ford Taurus

Big AWD sedan earns the SHO nameplate with performance that is blistering

2011 Ford Taurus

The original SHO was based on the Taurus and had a definite performance edge. It was 1989 and Ford turned to Yamaha to develop and provide a high-output V-6 unique to the SHO. Producing 212-horsepower, it launched a string of SHO models that came to an end a decade later.

Now here we are, a decade further on in Taurus history, and SHO is back – this time with a 365-horsepower V-6 developed in-house. And this Taurus truly earns the SHO name, which was originally defined as Super High Output.

In addition to having a lot more power, this SHO has made huge gains in a number of other areas related not only to performance, but also technology and refinement. As before, it starts out as a Taurus, but by the time it rolls off the end of the assembly line a whole range of non-standard-Taurus features has been added.

Just as that Yamaha-developed engine defined the original SHO, the EcoBoost V-6 is the heart of this beast. Ford engineers have taken the stance that they can provide horsepower without the weight and waste of a larger engine, replacing displacement with forced induction.

Ford has some pretty slick V-8s available, producing 300 and more horsepower, that would fit and they would work. But that would not showcase the company's ability to provide similar if not more power from a V-6 – combining the performance of an eight with the fuel economy and emissions of a six.

The aluminum 3.5-litre engine boasts direct injection and a separate exhaust-driven, water-cooled turbocharger for each bank of cylinders. There is practically no lag between ask and answer, thanks to some clever electronics.

The ratios of the six-speed automatic have been well chosen and the electronics programmed for lighting-like crisp shifts. Despite having 102 more horsepower than the V-6 in the normal Taurus, the SHO provides identical fuel economy – provided it is driven in the same manner!

The performance is blistering. Not only will this big Ford accelerate from rest with considerable authority, it will pass and tackle hills with ridiculous ease. But this is more than a hot rod – it is a thoroughly engineered and complete package with steering suspension and brakes to match.

The first and most important contribution to this completeness is a full-time AWD system. Having twice as many contact patches to handle all that power allows more of it to be used at any time.

This is a large car by any standards and all the safety equipment and other features add to that. The 2000-plus kg (4,500 pound) vehicle is a lot to be stopped and turned. And it does so with alacrity and ease.

The springs are 15% stiffer than the normal Taurus, the anti-roll bars thicker and massive 19-inch tires provide added grip whether turning or stopping. Despite this the ride is quite pleasant – not pillow-soft, but tight and well controlled as you’d expect from a car with this much potential.

The brakes have been similarly upgraded with larger rotors, calipers and master cylinder.

Visually there is little to differentiate the SHO from the normal Taurus. Instead of screaming decals and gigantic spoilers tacked on everywhere, there is a subtle turned- up lip on the deck lid, a few subdued SHO badges and dual exhaust outlets, 19-inch wheels and black brake calipers.

On the inside things are different. The SHO is loaded and has an extensive list of standard equipment that includes

10-way adjustable leather seats with pseudo-suede inserts, dual-zone climate control and HID lights.

Quality materials, expertly-applied cover most surfaces. The instrument panel has patterned metal-look inserts and the steering wheel and shift lever have a heft to them that befit a performance vehicle. The wheel also contains controls for the SYNC and other systems. An LCD touch-screen for the optional navigation system also controls the audio and climate controls functions

The front seats are, heated and cooled, big and comfy with lots of support whether for long highways hauls or banzai back road sessions.

The high belt line makes the interior slightly claustrophobic and vision to the rear is somewhat restricted, but this is countered by a vault-like solidity. The solid chassis also results in extremely low levels of wind or road noise. In fact it would be nice to hear a little more from the potent engine.

Depending on whom you ask at Ford, it is pronounced S-H-O or "show." In either case it is a fast, well-developed big Ford sedan. At close to $50,000 it isn’t inexpensive. But compared to anything else with this much room and performance, it could be considered a bargain.

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