Of the domestic three manufacturers, Ford seems to have made the most impressive comeback. Apparently, all are making a profit these days, but Ford did it without taking any bailout money from the government.
And much of the company's renewed good fortune, it could be argued, has been based on the success of its smaller cars; Focus, Fiesta, Edge and so on. Ford, it appears, has gotten the message regarding fuel economy and downsizing.
Not so fast. Just when you think they're on the right track, along comes the Taurus SHO, which is the kind of oversized dinosaur that got them into trouble in the first place.
A little background. The SHO (Super High Output) originally debuted with the first-generation Taurus, in 1989. With engineering and production input from Yamaha, Cosworth and Mercury Marine, it was an intriguing, if flawed, sport sedan that has gone on to become a bit of a collector's item.
It was still far too cumbersome (and unreliable) to be taken seriously, but, nonetheless, Ford sold some 100,000 of them over its 10-year run, and it did demonstrate that they hadn't abandoned their motorsport background.
Despite itself, it was also interesting to drive, with an excellent rpm range, thanks to Yamaha, who co-designed the engine, and an available manual transmission, which helped give it a high-performance flavour. Still, the company dropped the SHO in 1999 with the fourth generation Taurus redesign.
So now here we are some 12 years later and the Taurus SHO is back. Re-introduced in 2010, it's just as big and pointless as ever. It's also kind of expensive, which I'll get to shortly.
Power this time around is provided by Ford's EcoBoost V-6 powerplant, which in this configuration has twin turbochargers and direct fuel injection. This engine has been used elsewhere in Ford's lineup, and here it develops a healthy 365 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic only, with Ford's Selectshift manual shift feature. No complaints with this drivetrain, although, just for the sake of argument, a nicely tuned, small-displacement V-8 engine would probably give you the same kind of performance without the complications of two turbos. The SHO also comes with all-wheel-drive, which is a nice touch.
Among other things, what separates the SHO from the other Tauruses – aside from the engine – is interior and exterior trim, and the fact that it has tweaked suspension and larger 20-inch wheels and tires. Not to mention inferior fuel economy; the SHO is considerably thirstier than its stablemates.
The inside has leather upholstery and the kinds of modcons you'd expect to find in an upscale sedan: power front seats with memory, heated front and rear seats, 12-speaker stereo system, rear-view camera, dual zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, blind spot sensor and so on. It also has Ford's gimmicky interior ambient lighting, which allows drivers (and, presumably passengers) to "change interior lighting colour palette."
And let's not forget Sync. I won't even attempt to explain how much I dislike this system. I found it virtually unusable, and when I did attempt to plumb its depths, I had to pull over and stop driving.
Which is precisely my point: Sync, MyTouch and all the rest of these "driver-vehicle interface" gadgets are distracting and, under certain circumstances, dangerous. Here's a thought: for those tech-heads that simply must have this stuff, make it optional. For the rest of us, get back to simpler and more intuitive controls. And for those who say: "get with it, grampa," my response is that the market this kind of vehicle is aimed at – us baby boomers – hasn't adapted well to these devices, so it's time to get rid of them.
That said, the SHO is pleasant enough behind the wheel. Aside from Sync, most switchgear is readily understandable and there's all kinds of interior elbow room, with excellent ease of entry/exit. During my time with the SHO, I felt like I was piloting a luxury sedan, not a gritty high-performance corner-carver, which is what the original was ostensibly all about. Handling is mediocre, compared to other models in this category; any comparable BMW or Audi will kick the SHO's butt on a track, and the Europeans have better brakes and superior balance.
I guess what I'm saying is that if you want a reasonably powerful, comfortable and roomy luxury sedan, the Taurus SHO might do nicely. But if you're looking for something that's true to the original idea and you like to drive with enthusiasm, with visceral feedback from the car, you may be disappointed. Ford, it seems, has decided to Lincoln-ize the SHO.
About pricing. My tester started at just under $50,000. Add a few extras like adaptive cruise control ($1,500) and a voice-activated navi system ($2,300), and you're up to and over the $52,000 mark. Pass.
My tester was also a 2011 model, but there are no changes for 2012, and it's my understanding that pricing will remain the same.
2011 Ford Taurus SHO
Type: Full-size, four-door sedan
Base Price: $48,199; as tested: $53,549
Engine: Turbocharged, 3.5-litre V6
Horsepower/torque: 365 hp/350 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.4 city/8.1 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: BMW 328 xDrive, Audi A6, Infiniti G37x, Lexus IS350 AWD