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Ford Taurus SHO 

Thanks to Sheriff Buford T. Justice:


Better the Second Time Around
By Douglas Knott
Road & Track -July 1996

SET FREE WITH a big-bore exhaust, the high-strung resonance of the Yamaha-designed V6 seemed so out of place, yet so sweet as it ripped through the Taurus' interior after each of Bob Bondurant's up-shifts. The occasion was the 1994 Phoenix introduction of the "pre-modular" SVT Mustang Cobra, but at this moment I was riding shotgun in a school - car Taurus SHO with Bondurant, who was demonstrating the line around his driving school road course as only he could, in a family sedan moving far quicker than its designers ever envisioned. Memories of the Mustang have dimmed but those of the Taurus - and Bondurant's easy mastery of it at speed stand out in bold relief.

Two years have passed, and the Cobra now has a modular 4-cam V-8 with 305 bhp. The Taurus has gone through sweeping styling and structural changes, and has a fine new over head-cam, 200-bhp Duratec V-6 as standard that replaces the pushrod 3.8-liter Vulcan. And, joy of joys, the performance-variant SHO returns, this time with a 235 bhp 3.4-liter 4-cam V-8 throbbing beneath its futuristically sculpted hood.

But this SHO is a changed animal; same genus, perhaps, but different species, its evolutionary path altered by forces of the marketplace. Where there once sprouted a lever that moved through an H-pattern, there is now a handle that selects among P-R-N-D 3-2-L (a manual transmission will not he offered). Where before there were seats with sharply defined side bolsters, there are now broader, softer seats (still unique to the SHO, and still supportive) aimed at people who themselves, I suspect, have broader softer seats. And now it's possible for the truly attention - starved to check the option box for - evil of evils! - chrome-plated wheels: We prefer the cast-finish ones that let the design of the wheel do the talking, not the glitzy finish.

We can't blame Ford for softening the focus of the SHO for wider appeal; we've seen several Japanese sports cars fade into oblivion because they were a little too focused, and the buyers simply weren't there.

There is a silver lining here, because what the new SHO takes away from the hard-core apex-clippers, it returns in civility, balance and overall polish.

Take the engine, another Ford/Yamaha joint effort that's a marvel of compactness and refinement. The steel-sleeved aluminum powerplant is space efficient out of necessity because, according to product design engineer Ted L. Byers, the V-8 had to be designed to fit the Taurus' V-6-size bay without changing any sheet metal. It's based on the Duratec 2.5-liter V-6 and shares its bore (82.4 mm), stroke (79.5 mm) and bore spacing, as well as its pistons and connecting rods. For extra rigidity, a stressed aluminum oil pan bolts to the underside of a girdle that supports the crankshaft's main bearings and forms the lower part of the block "Everything from the head gaskets down is Ford," beams Byers.

And almost, everything above that was the responsibility of Yamaha, which machines and assembles the engines in Japan. Those familiar with the original SHO's V-6 will recognize the tightly intertwined array of intake runners, each with its own double-hose-clamped rubber coupling, that dominate the engine compartment. They feed into Yamaha 4-valve-per-cylinder heads whose four chain-driven cam shafts actuate those valves in a time-honored way via aluminum bucket tappets with lash adjustment through steel shims. It's a light, simple system that shouldn't need adjustment for 100,000 miles. There are other features worthy of note: a balance shaft in the vee, driven off the timing chain; coil-on-plug ignition; a water pump on the flywheel side of the engine, belt-driven off the forward intake camshaft; and reverse-flow cooling, where the cylinder heads receive coolant first in the interest of efficiency and cleaner emissions.

It's an absolute jewel of an engine whose purr at idle transitions to the chunky mellow burble as revs climb - all the way to 6800 rpm before fuel shut-off or an upshift crashes the party. There's plenty of torque to boot you off the line (it peaks at 230 lb.-ft. at 4800 rpm), yet the curve isn't steep enough to blow the inside front tire loose when exiting a tight corner, a happy sort of natural traction control. In cold, hard acceleration numbers, the new SHO is more than a match for the V-6 automatic version we tested in July 1993 darting to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds (versus 7.5) and to 90 in 15.6 (vs. 15.8). In one of those seat-of-the pants sensory contradictions, the old SHO felt quicker, its more tightly wound, harder-working V-6 no doubt adding to the sense of acceleration. The upshot? The V-8 is more tractable, more relaxed, more powerful; but by its very nature, it's less exciting.

To the chassis' credit, there's' no darting or lightness of the front suspension during full-throttle runs, though the telltale tug of torque steer is felt. Said Executive Editor Richard Homan, "It's' nice to at least feel something in the Taurus' steering." And though the ratio is a bit on the slow side, Ford has seen fit to specify ZF rack-and-pinion gears as a SHO exclusive. They do pay off in a feeling of precision, though the credit must be shared with a slightly larger front, anti-roll bar and a set of grippy Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires, size P225/55VR-16. Also at work in the SHO's chassis are "reactive" shock absorbers, controlled by a microprocessor that takes inputs from suspension position sensors at each corner, which effectively limit body roll, squat on acceleration and dive under braking. And on the subject of stopping, the SHO gets half-inch-larger front rotors (now 11.5 in.) and special-composition pads that lend an uncharacteristically firm-and satisfying-feel to the Taurus pedal. "Peruse the, data panel, and you'll see skidpad, slalom and braking numbers that outdo the very, capable earlier car by a small margin. There's a decisive, solidly planted feel about the Taurus' every move, helped no doubt by its much-improved structure. But there's too much weight here (3510 lb.) and, too much bulk (a nearly 200-in, overall length) for any real feeling of nimbleness; it doesn't dare you to really throw it into a corner and gather it up at the exit. It's obviously a family sedan first, with sports-sedan trimmings applied later; it doesn't pretend to be anything else. Within the realm of these limitations, it works marvelously.

Ford should have no trouble moving SHOs out of showrooms, with 1996's output pegged at 4900 cars, increasing to 12,000 per year in 1997, a piddling 3 percent of total Taurus production. And with a sticker of just $25,930- actually the same as last year's V-6 model-the SHO represents a lot of performance for the money. But, likes any sequel that follows a blockbuster, this second-generation SHO needs to try that much harder just to equal the impact of the original, a task made more, difficult because its relative performance advantage over the base Taurus is much smaller this time. For the most part, SHO II succeeds. I'm sure it will play to rave reviews from a slightly different audience.


Performance Test Result Comparison

Car And Driver

Road & Track

July-96

July-96

ACCELERATION

Seconds

Seconds

Zero to 30 mph

2.8

2.7

40 mph

4.1

3.9

50 mph

5.9

5.5

60 mph

7.9

7.4

70 mph

10.3

9.5

80 mph

13.2

12.4

90 mph

17.1

15.6

100 mph

21.8

19.2

110 mph

24.2

120 mph

27.5

130 mph

42

Street start 5-60 mph

8.2

Top gear acceleration,

3050 mph

4.1

5070 mph

5.1

Time to distance

0100 ft.

3.3

0500 ft.

8.6

Standing 1/4-mile 01320 ft.

16.1 sec

15.7 sec

87 mph

90.1 mph

Top speed (governor limited)

137 mph

140 est

BRAKING

600 mph

134 ft

700 mph @ impending lockup

196 ft

Fade

light

800 mph

242 ft

Control

excellent

Pedal effort for 0.5g stop

13 lb

Fade, effort after six 0.5g stops from 60mph

30 lb

Brake feel

very good

Overall brake rating

very good

HANDLING

Roadholding. 300-f t-dia skidpad .

0.79 g

Understeer

moderate

Roadholding. 200-f t-dia skidpad .

0.81 g

Balance

heavy understeer

Speed thur 700 ft slalom

61.0 mph

Balance

mild understeer

FUEL ECONOMY

EPA city driving

17 mpg

17 mpg

EPA highway driving

26 mpg

26 mpg

observed fuel economy

17 mpg

14.1 mpg

INTERIOR SOUND LEVEL

Idle

45 dBA

44 dBA

Full-throttle acceleration

77 dBA

73 dBA

70-mph cruising

75 dBA

70-mph coasting

74 dBA

74 dBA

50-mph cruising

65 dBA

Curb Weight

3580 lb

3510 lb

Test Weight

3690 lb

 

 

 


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