2013 Ford Taurus SHO – Old school muscle is alive and kicking

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Ford’s new Taurus SHO has got all the Right Stuff to get the adrenalin junkies all lathered up – a powerful 365 horsepower twin-turbo V-6 engine, all-wheel-drive, sport suspension and enormous 20-in. alloy wheels with performance summer tires.  Throw in great sheetmetal painted in metallic Ruby Red and our SHO tester attracted more gawkers and “nice car!” comments than any car since we drove the Porsche Cayman R.

Word spread like wildfire among my car friends when Ford’s hot rod sedan had arrived, and the emails poured in, pleading me to bring the tester ‘round for an up close inspection and ride.  That high level of interest is not unexpected.  The original SHO debuted in 1988 and quickly became one of Detroit’s automotive superstars in a decade notable for a virtual drought in high performance vehicles.  The ’88 SHO was a showcase of technology and high performance, boasting a (then) powerful 220 horsepower from a 3.0-litre V-6.

For 2013, the SHO comes prepared for combat with the twin-turbo engine kicking out an impressive 365 horsepower, and this big, 5-passenger sedan has enough power to put any Corvette from the 1980s on the trailer.  Fitted with all-wheel-drive, massive performance summer tires on 20-in. wheels, the new SHO has all the hardware that promises high performance.

My unofficial technical focus group’s initial enthusiasm quickly waned as I drove them around the city.  “I don’t like the suede inserts on the steering wheel”, Rob observed.  “It looks cheesy and out of place.”  And it took only a few potholes for Chris to complain, “This suspension is really hard.”

These first impressions are telling.  The SHO’s suspension IS hard.  Many enthusiasts would find this acceptable if the car rewarded the driver with exquisite handling, but push the Taurus even moderately hard and its demeanour is short on sport.  Steering is vague and the car feels heavy, disconnected and lacking in precision.  The SHO is an unwilling dance partner when the pavement turns twisty.  Adding to that frustration are the front bucket seats, which are flat and don’t have side bolsters to hold occupants securely in hard cornering.  (In a bizarre apples-to-oranges comparison, the Mazda CX-9 GT SUV we tested recently not only had superior ‘sport’ seats, and was more entertaining to drive.)

If Ford’s flagship Taurus doesn’t deliver the high performance goods, I would have hoped it would excel as a fast luxury car, something in the old school, hot rod Lincoln tradition.  But the suspension is too stiff to be a luxury cruiser.  If you’re shopping for a new Taurus, I’d recommend test driving the ‘softer’ Taurus Limited AWD which does not have the ‘sport-tuned’ suspension of the SHO.

Where the Taurus SHO shines is in its powertrain.  The 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 engine is impressively powerful and admirably fuel-efficient to boot.  Mash the throttle and the SHO responds with grin-inducing thrust that shoves you firmly into the seat.  And the six-speed automatic transmission is equally responsive and very smooth shifting.  In many respects, the Taurus SHO is a born-again ‘60s-era muscle car, delivering maximum joy when accelerating hard.

On the highway, the Taurus succeeds at isolating the cabin from intrusive wind noise, but the cabin, while comfortable, creates a sense of enclosure.  “It feels like we’re in an armoured vehicle”, quipped one passenger.  It’s a fair comment; the car’s thick A-pillars and the stylish, high waistline leave less room for windows.  Some will like the feeling of security the cabin design provides, others may feel claustrophobic.

Ford has been criticized regularly for its voice-activated technology Ford SYNC, and I’m sorry to report we had a miserable time trying to operate the SHO’s navigation system with voice commands.  Our test vehicle’s GPS had last been used in the United States.  When we tried to enter a Canadian destination (in Calgary), the GPS continuously instructed us to “Say the country” or “Spell the country”; we could not get the navigation system to switch to Canada after an infuriating fifteen minutes of trying.

The 2013 Taurus SHO is a car I want to love, but find frustrating.  On paper, it has all the right parts for a performance sedan, but it feels like a diamond in the rough, not yet synthesized into a package to realize its full potential.  The SHO’s strong points are its bold styling and very impressive power, and will appeal to loyal Ford performance car fans for those reasons.

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