Silvio Calabi: Ford SHOws how it’s done
Everything old is new again. Fortunately, with a few exceptions, “new” invariably beats “old,” at least in automobiles. Ford’s revival of the SHO variant of its Taurus sedan is a case in point. When the original SHOwed up, way, way back in MCMLXXXIX, it had front-wheel drive, a 5-speed manual gearbox and a V-6 rated for 220 horsepower—enough to motivate a 3,300-pound car relatively well. Over the next 10 years the SHO was updated twice, but it never got beyond 235 horsepower.
SHO stands for Super High Output, so that was a bit of hype even then; a 1989 M5 sedan, by contrast, was good for 310 horsepower. (The BMW cost twice as much as the Ford, but never mind.)
The SHO disappeared for a decade and then returned a few years ago as this fourth-generation model. At 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, its output still isn’t “super high” (the new top-end Ferrari makes something like 900 HP), but this engine has to lug around only 12 pounds per horsepower instead of the first SHO’s 15. And the improvements go far beyond power-to-weight ratios. In every way the 2013 SHO is parsecs ahead of the original, although it has gained a whopping 1,100 pounds.
How? It’s a much bigger car, for starters—six inches wider and taller and more than a foot longer, and with an absolutely enormous trunk. The modern SHO’s all-wheel-drive adds weight too, but AWD erases the torque-steer and understeer that plague powerful FWD cars, and it makes the SHO an all-weather fighter-bomber. For 2013, Ford has upgraded its anti-spin electronics too; if the genie believes the car is headed seriously off-axis, something called Curve Control steps in to slow one wheel or another to help straighten it out.
This new SHO also has bigger brakes and brake master cylinders. The car stops hard and true, and its brake pedal is easy to modulate. (The emergency brake is a foot pedal too, so stop fantasizing about handbrake turns.) All Tauruses now have electric power steering; the SHO’s is specially tuned. It feels accurate and lively, if a bit numb. The SR1 suspension, with its SHO-only springs, shock absorbers, bushings and stabilizer bars, gets high marks as well. Our SHO was also equipped with a new Performance Package that includes bigger wheels and better tires, a slightly firmer suspension and even stouter brakes, a true “off” switch for the stability control, and shorter final-drive gearing for extra acceleration.
In a 70/30 mix of interstate and in-town driving, our SHO averaged 21.3 mpg. Thanks to turbocharging, direct fuel injection, that electric steering, grille shutters that close at speed (to improve aerodynamics) and other fuel-economy wizardry, this might climb as high as 25 mpg. But who buys a SHO to save a few bucks at the pump?
Ford puts variations of this twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 motor into a number of its upper-end models; in the SHO it’s hooked up to a 6-speed automatic transmission with shifter paddles on the wheel. However, the transmission needs no help from the driver, especially in Sport mode.
SHO upgrades aren’t limited to athletic prowess. Ford has liberally sprinkled the contents of its toy chest throughout: heated leather seats with available massage; voice-activation for music, telephone, climate control, navigation, news and incoming texts; a rear-view camera and backup sensors; adjustable pedals; blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts; and interactive cruise control with collision warning.
Altogether, the SHO has evolved from a cult car into an unusually well-rounded package that is a pleasure to drive and be driven in. The car feels beautifully planted and controllable on any pavement, and sometimes so quick that it’s hard to believe there’s “only” 350 pounds of torque on tap. The SHO is still well off the M5’s mark — now 560 HP, plus tons of technology and luxury — but it also still costs less than half the German dreadnaught’s $90,000-plus.
Is the BMW more than twice as good? Doubtful; and it’s still only rear-wheel-drive. Now we’re thinking that if Ford built a flashy body around this platform and sexed up the cabin a bit, they’d have a Lincoln that could run with the new generation of Cadillacs.
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.