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2011 Ford Taurus SHO (Ford Motor Company Ford)
2011 Ford Taurus SHO (Ford Motor Company Ford)

2011 Ford Taurus SHO

Secret SHO stopper won't impress the neighbours Add to ...

The flip side to Ford’s fuel economy claims around EcoBoost – direct fuel injection combined with turbocharging – is the system’s high-performance potential.

And in Ford’s world, only a handful of specialty Mustangs are as high-performance as the Taurus SHO ($48,199). This car is fast. It should be. The SHO stands for Super High Output, though this sedan is a little paunchy and perhaps overloaded with a few too many high-tech gadgets.

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The horsepower story from this souped-up V-6 is strong – 365 hp, and all that power comes on with a furious urgency. Better still, the standard all-wheel-drive system forces all that oomph to the road. Yes, you can burn rubber if you turn off the standard electronic stability control, but that’s only if you’re a show-off.

Show-off types should not apply here, though. Not that the 3.5-litre V-6 with its two turbos and fancy fuel injection doesn’t scream, “Oohhhh, wow!” (and 350 lb-ft of torque). The thing is, the SHO’s understated looks make it a sleeper. Your neighbours will never know you have gasoline running through your veins unless you tell them or, as I said, lay a patch down Main Street.

Frankly, this car seems more like a throwback to the old days at the Blue Oval, to a time when every Ford executive wore a bland blue suit and never displayed any sort of cockiness whatsoever. Not in public, anyway.

The new Ford – the one now making fat profits and still quietly strutting about enjoying the afterglow of a turnaround not funded with government money – has a few senior executives who are unabashedly competitive and just a little bit aggressive. Global marketing boss Jim Farley is among them.

Farley isn’t a designer, though, nor is he a product planner. He didn’t make the call to produce a limited-production Taurus with stealth looks – a street racer with a high beltline and acres of sheet metal. Translation: the SHO has small windows. As a design feature, the windows are “Batmobile-ish,” though they do hurt outward visibility.

Someone will care about that, I suppose. But they’d never buy a Taurus SHO. If you are among the handful with a yen to SHO-off, then you’ll crave the car’s tight ride and big brakes and you’ll get some satisfaction out of windows that in other cars would be scary to look at.

Quite honestly, it’s hard to massage any real body roll out of this sedan and the brakes scrape speed in an instant. The electric power-assist steering is properly weighted, too. All told, we’re pointing to a Ford sedan with a big-car ride on the highway (smooth, quiet, stout), but with nimble legs.

This is all the product of some solid engineering. The SHO weighs a hefty 1,916 kg, yet it carves corners like Stephen Harper’s Conservatives dip and roll around Parliamentary traditions. All that with 0-100 km/h times in the six-second range. Impressive.

The problem is, the Taurus SHO suffers from what I’ll call the Reverse Toyota Prius Effect. That is, the Prius has been a successful gasoline-electric hybrid, but Toyota’s other hybrid offerings have been sales duds – as have hybrids from all other auto makers –and the reason why is simple: in the Prius, all your green-tinted neighbours know what a hero of the planet you are. But if you’re saving the world in a stealth hybrid, whether it’s a Toyota or a Hyundai or a Ford – it’s not so obvious which means you get no image kick from the extra money spent.

In the Taurus SHO, no one knows you’re driving a monster performance car; there is no image boost, which means those of you with low self-esteem need to apply. The uninitiated and the unobservant won’t know you’re roaring about in a killer automobile.

Truth is, the regular Taurus and the SHO are darn near identical, aside from the specially painted rims with high-performance tires, a deck lid spoiler, two chrome exhaust tips and new grille. If you’re picky, you’ll also point to the SHO’s unique parking lamp bezels and there are a handful of SHO badges sprinkled about the car. The point is, if you’re buying an SHO Taurus to boost your image as a racy car buy, don’t bother.

Yes, the people who know what lurks beneath will know what you’re driving and be suitably impressed. Really, this car is quite the impressive performance package, right down to the paddle shifters that manage the smooth six-speed automatic transmission with downshifting rev matches.

Yes, here we’re talking an upscale Taurus with SHO-y add-ons inside and out. The interior is, in fact, almost all Taurus, other than the aluminum pedals and leather-trimmed seats with suede inserts. It’s a cabin roomy enough for five adults and excellent front buckets – supportive and comfortably padded. But nothing overly special.

That goes for the gizmos, too. The Taurus SHO offers a lot of them but you can get them on other Fords, too. Most are standard on the SHO, though extras include adaptive cruise control ($1,500) and voice-activated navigation ($2,300). The former adjusts the car's speed to those in front of it and the latter delivers an upgraded version of Ford’s Sync system.

The Taurus SHO delivers on the promise of Main Street sedan with Daytona 500 looks. What show-off wants that?

2012 Ford Taurus SHO

Type: large performance sedan

Base price: $48,199 ($1,450 freight)

Engine: 3.5-litre V-6, turbocharged

Horsepower/torque: 365 hp/350 lb-ft.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.5 city/8.1 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Acura TL AWD, Dodge Charger R/T AWD, Chrysler 300C AWD, Lincoln MKZ AWD, Subaru Legacy GT AWD, Volkswagen CC 4MOTION, Volvo S60 T6 AWD

jcato@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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