The 1990 Ford Taurus SHO was never really in Ford's plan. Instead, Ford had things lined up for a two-seat sports car, but the project died and the company found itself with a bunch of snarling Yamaha V6 engines on its hands.
Unable to send them back, Ford did what any hot-rodder with a pulse would do. It wedged the V6 into its mainstream four-door sedan, tweaked the suspension and beefed up the tires, and thereby created a factory-built sleeper, a high-performance car in civilian clothes.
Of course it worked. Sales of the 1990 Taurus SHO were surprisingly strong and the SHO variant earned a regular place in the Taurus lineup.
But an undercurrent of hot-rod cool is an essential part of the sleeper formula, and Ford broke the spell when the third-generation 1996 Taurus came out looking like a Dr. Seuss contraption from Whoville. Annual SHO sales slumped to 3,000 units by the time it all ended in 1999.
But now there's a new 2010 Ford Taurus, with fresh sheet metal and a new interior designed to resuscitate the cool factor. And this time the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO has been part of the Taurus recovery plan from Day One.
SHO stands for super high output, of course, and the debate over whether it's cooler to pronounce it "S-H-O" or "show" will no doubt begin anew. Either way, the standard-issue, 263-horsepower 3.5-liter Duratec V6 found in the regular 2010 Taurus doesn't have sufficient sauce for such a car.
Enter the first production application of Ford's EcoBoost V6 engine. "EcoBoost" is Ford-speak for the use of smaller turbocharged engines instead of thirstier, normally aspirated ones of a larger displacement; a turbo-4 in place of a V6 or, in the case of the Taurus SHO, a twin-turbo, direct-injection V6 in place of a V8.
It's by no means a new idea, as one staffer we know well purchased a Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe with a turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-4 back in 1983.
New and Vastly Improved
But this time around the concept benefits greatly from two decades of engine control advancement and turbocharger development.
Each bank of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 gets its own Honeywell GT15 water-cooled turbocharger and electronically controlled wastegate. They're set to pressurize the intake charge up to 12 psi above atmospheric before handing it off to an air-to-air intercooler for additional densification. Meanwhile, a direct fuel-injection system squirts a fine mist of unleaded into the combustion chambers at the most opportune moment, further cooling the intake charge and allowing a healthy 10:1 compression ratio.
The result is 365 hp — just over 104 hp per liter — on 93 octane. Ford claims the system isn't running on the ragged edge, so even those of us in deprived 91-octane states should hit this number. The EcoBoost mill will run on 87 octane regular, too, but the output will fall off a bit.
You could argue that the EcoBoost V6's torque curve is an even bigger deal, as the peak of 350 pound-feet arrives way down at 1,500 revs and holds steady all the way up to 5,250 rpm. Turbo lag? What lag?
Lest we forget the "Eco" side of the balance sheet, we should point out that the new engine is claimed to use fuel at 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway — the same mpg rating as a standard AWD Taurus with the 3.5-liter Duratec that makes 102 fewer horses.
Power to the Pavement
No previous SHO could have put this much power and torque to the ground without wrenching the steering wheel out of the driver's hands. (In fact, the previous iterations of the SHO accomplished this feat with more than 100 horsepower less.)
But here the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO gains an advantage from the dowdy Ford Five Hundred on which its chassis is based, and that's because the new SHO has all-wheel drive. The Haldex system is nominally set to a torque split of 55 percent front/45 percent rear, but it can shift 100 percent to the front or rear wheels as necessary.
It also has a new six-speed "select-shift" 6F55 automatic transmission with shift paddles on the steering wheel. The standard SHO final-drive ratio is 2.77:1, but a shorter 3.16:1 gear is available with the optional SHO Performance package.
Our first taste comes in the rain on narrow, wet roads, but this only serves to highlight how well it all works. Acceleration is impressive, whether launching from a standstill or booting the throttle out of slippery corners. The SHO simply hooks up and goes, pressing our backsides deeper into the seatbacks than any previous SHO could.
Another IL staffer has driven the EcoBoost V6 in a Lincoln MKS on a drag strip, and the combination produced a quarter-mile run of 14.1 seconds at 103 mph. This makes us believe the SHO might be good for high 13s and a 0-60-mph run in the range of 5.5 seconds. Time will tell, of course, but the SHO might prove quicker than a BMW 535i xDrive, another all-wheel-drive machine with a twin-turbo, six-cylinder engine.
Bigger and Heavier
At the same time, the sheer size and weight of the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO flies in the face of the "Eco" part of this car's equation. At 202.9 inches long and 76.2 inches wide, the 2010 SHO is a true full-size sedan wearing size 14 double-wide shoes. It also weighs 4,368 pounds, between 100 and 400 pounds more than its AWD competition.
We were plagued by wet weather during our drive, making it difficult to judge the SHO's limits. It seems to follow commands obediently and remains bang-on the desired line. There's a hint of understeer and we get an occasional sense of the SHO's substantial mass, but the picture gains no further clarity from the electric power steering (EPS), an SHO exclusive. The EPS generates an appropriate level of steering effort in corners, but the buildup feels somewhat artificial.
Nevertheless, the body doesn't roll very much and cornering stays pleasingly flat thanks to springs that are 15 percent firmer, new damper tuning and a front antiroll bar that's 1mm thicker, but none of this makes rough roads tiresome, even though our test car wears the optional 245/45R20 summer tires instead of the standard 19-inch all-season rubber.
A SHO with the Performance package was unavailable, but its even firmer rear springs, even firmer dampers and larger rear antiroll bar should make the rear end more cooperative when you toss this car into a corner.
Every 2010 Taurus gets upgraded brakes, with larger front rotors, complemented by bigger calipers and a more powerful master cylinder. Measurements of the SHO's stopping distance will have to wait until we get a test car, but the pedal feels firm and sure in hard stops, while the enhanced antidive front suspension geometry keeps the SHO's nose from sniffing the pavement.
Equipment to Match
The 2010 Ford Taurus has an extensive list of available goodies, and the SHO's standard equipment list includes everything found on the top-level Taurus Limited, plus more. You'll find Sync, 10-way-adjustable leather seats with suede inserts, dual-zone automatic climate control, HID headlamps, dual exhaust, push-button start and more. It takes $37,995 to get in the door.
Of course you can get a navigation system for $1,995, and a moonroof, Sony surround-sound stereo upgrade and heated and cooled front seats are packaged for $2,000. Plunk down $1,700 more to get rain-sensing wipers, auto high-beams, a back-up camera, a power sunshade and a radar-based blind-spot monitoring system. Adaptive cruise control and massaging seats are also available.
The SHO Performance package arrives later in the year, but the price is tentatively set at $995. For that you get the aforementioned rear suspension tweaks, shorter 3.16 final-drive ratio and the 20-inch tires, plus tighter EPS tuning, aggressive front brake pads and a full-defeat mode for the standard stability control system. The 20-inch tires are available without the rest of it for $695.
What It All Means
Like the 2010 Ford Taurus itself, the Taurus SHO has grown into a larger, more substantial car with an options list that would flatter any German executive sedan. The EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 engine seems to be the real deal, too, both in terms of horsepower, drivability and thriftiness.
But there's no denying that the 2010 Ford Taurus is large and hefty at precisely the wrong moment. Whether that holds it back or not is a determination that'll have to wait until we test one on home soil in typical conditions.
Still, what we've seen so far makes us certain that the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO is by far the best SHO to date, and it seems to be yet another sign that Ford has its act together.
And that's no happy accident. Let's hope the current economic reality gives the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO the boost it needs.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2010 Ford Taurus in NJ is: