1997 Ford Taurus SHO
Base price: $26,640.
Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, side-impact protection, daytime running lights, front and rear crumple zones.
Price as tested: $30,380.
EPA rating: 17 mpg city/26 mpg highway.
Truett's tip: The Taurus SHO is quick, comfortable, well-equipped and tightly assembled. It handles well and is a pleasure to drive. However, it may be priced too high.
By Richard Truett
In 1995, Ford officials told me that the shape of the new Taurus would grow on me over time. Well, two years down the road has proved Ford correct. I dislike the Taurus' design quite a bit less than I did. Perhaps all the Taurus really needs is a redesign of the rear end, some nicer-looking taillights and a more cleanly designed trunk lid. In any case, I almost like it. The avant-garde styling is starting to look familiar.
Even though some people still consider the shape of the Taurus to be controversial, few would argue that Ford engineers smacked a solid hit with the car's performance, handling and quality. Technically, this is an excellent car. And it's hard not to like a car as well-made as the Taurus. I tested the SHO version, which has a high-performance engine, suspension system and brakes. It is designed for those who would like a BMW-like sports sedan but don't have $45,000 or so to spend.
The Taurus SHO is powered by a 3.4-liter, double-overhead cam V-8 engine that has four valves per cylinder. The lightweight engine, which is made of aluminum, develops 235 horsepower. A four-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox available.
The previous generation SHO could be ordered with a five-speed stick shift, but only about 5 percent of SHO buyers ordered the manual transmission, so Ford dropped it from the option list when the new SHO came out last year. By the way, this SHO is the first Taurus to be powered by a V-8, and it's the only Ford vehicle to use the 3.4-liter engine.
Performance is excellent at all speeds. The SHO is fast from a stop, and it delivers plenty of punch all the way to the red line on the tachometer. The smooth-running engine makes a serious snarl as it revs, underscoring the performance nature of the car and giving it plenty of character. The original V-6-powered SHO attracted a cult following for its wonderful high-performance engine and sensible design. The new model takes the SHO to the next level. This is a serious performance sports sedan.
Motor Trend tested an SHO recently and clocked a 0-to-60 mph time of 7.5 seconds. The SHO has just one American-made competitor, the new Pontiac Grand Prix GTP. Chrysler doesn't really offer a true high-performance sports sedan, and neither do any of the Japanese automakers who build cars here. Motor Trend also tested a 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP, which has five more horsepower, costs $5,000 less and races from 0 to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. So the SHO takes a back seat to the Pontiac is several areas.
Though the SHO's acceleration is strong, it does not have the same finesse as the Grand Prix GTP, the best car I tested last year. Under full acceleration from a stop, you can feel what engineers call torque steer, a slight pull to the left or right. You won't feel it unless you hammer the accelerator from a dead stop. It's not dangerous, but it gives the SHO a slightly unrefined feeling. However, there is nothing else about the car's handling performance that is less than excellent.
The powerful four-wheel disc brakes are fabulous. They have a strong confidence-inspiring feel, and the anti-lock system is smooth and quiet. I also like the firm, speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering system. When you turn the wheel, the SHO responds instantly. Ford engineers did a superb job tuning the SHO's four-wheel independent suspension. The car is extremely quiet. When you are driving over the roughest brick roads, you hear only the sound of the tires. The stiff body allows the suspension to absorb the energy from bumps without transmitting much of the ruckus to the interior.
Overall, the SHO got 15 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving. This is far below EPA estimates. But I drove the car with a heavy foot, and the car wasn't broken in (it had only 218 miles on the odometer when it was delivered.) Once a car gets to 2,000 miles or so, the parts loosen up a bit and the mileage improves.
Fit and finish
In many ways the new Taurus is a world-class automobile. The solid way the doors close makes you think that Ford sculpted the SHO from a single block of steel. Ford's interior decorators really sweated the details, making sure all the various trim pieces look good and fit right. The analog instruments, featuring white numbers on a black background, were easy to read and well laid out. The controversial part of the interior is the integrated control panel, or ICP, in the center of the dash. Within the oval area, Ford has placed all the buttons for the air conditioner, defroster and radio. This gives the Taurus a very futuristic look. Unfortunately, form does not follow function very well. Many of the buttons are the same size and shape, so changing the settings can be somewhat distracting. However, after a few days, I learned where each button was located.
The sumptuous tan leather seats didn't take any getting used to at all. I liked them immediately. The front bucket seats were very comfortable and extremely supportive of my lower back and thighs. I made several two-hour trips and felt no fatigue.
Rear passengers will find plenty of head, leg and foot room. The rear seats split and fold forward, which is somewhat unusual for a mid-size car. There is plenty of room to transport long objects.
My major gripe with the SHO is its price - $30,000 is a lot of money for a Ford Taurus, even if it has a high-performance motor and all the bells and whistles of an import. Even though our test car came fully loaded, including such things as a six-disc CD player, an electric sunroof and a full array of power accessories, I feel as if Ford has placed too high a price on the SHO for it to sell in large numbers. Having tested both true mid-size American sports sedans, I feel that the Pontiac Grand Prix GTP is much better looking and that it has the edge on the Taurus SHO when it comes to value for the dollar. With the Grand Prix you pay less and get more than you do with the SHO.