Driven: 2010 Ford Taurus SHO

By Rex Roy

June 25, 2009

Charging into any of a thousand deep green tunnels of trees, twin turbos spin 170,000 rpm just in front of the firewall. The all-wheel-drive bites into the asphalt tossed across North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. Only way deep, way hot into the corner do the tires begin to sound off. Nanoseconds before, the steering already communicated the impending understeer. The paddle shifter calls for a three-to-two downshift. It engages with a rev-match in 0.75 milliseconds. Nail the throttle for instant power. Clipping a leaf-strewn apex just for effect. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Because you've already read the headline and seen the picture, you know that we're writing about the full-size 2010 Ford Taurus. Doesn't that strike you as weird? Or unexpected? Or at least improbable? With slightly different mechanical particulars, your mind's eye could picture the above in an article about an Audi TTS, a BMW 3er, or a Subaru WRX STI.

But a Taurus? The former pariah of rental car fleets? The car Ford so ignored for so many years that it went from being the pride of the corporation to banished from the company roster? Yup, that would be the same nameplate.


A Different Breed of Bull
At some point in the 1990s, Ford Motor Company forgot what was important about cars. At some other point in more recent times, the corporation rediscovered what was lost, not only about cars, but about itself.

In a conversation with Moray Callum, Ford's Executive Director for American design, he reflected on that process and said, "There comes a time when a company has to step away from trends and design for their brand." Referencing out outgoing Taurus/Five Hundred, he said, "Just because we could design a car to look German, doesn't mean that was a good idea. The outgoing Taurus had a more Teutonic theme to it -- meaning it was intentionally clean and frill-free. It didn't work. We wanted the new Taurus to be American, and I believe it is."

Ford's corporate rediscovery didn't just play out in the design studios. Engineers got the message too. Crissy Rodriguez tuned the suspension for the Taurus and Taurus SHO. When talking about calibrations and responses, she was quick to point out what a Ford should drive like, and it's nothing like a Toyota. Rodriguez said, "We're sporty, they're relaxed. The Taurus needs to be engaging." Adding details about the Taurus, she said, "It can't be stiff like a (Mustang) Shelby GT500, but it also can't be too soft like a Camry. We wanted to keep most of the suppleness of the Lincoln MKS sedan, but make it more responsive and direct."

Truth or PR pablum? We would test the reality of Rodriguez's description.


Out of the Bullpen
Until recently, we had only seen the 2010 Taurus in Ford studios or on turntables at auto shows. Those idealized environs unnaturally accentuate what the manufacturer wants you notice, so it's always a revelation to see the showpiece on the road or a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Callum's team succeeded in creating a design that looks good in the harsh light of day. It communicates its American roots with a different vocabulary than one of its articulate cross-town rivals, the Chrysler 300. The Taurus features interesting detailing and lines that holds one's attention.

While the standard 2010 Taurus is handsome, it takes a keen eye to distinguish a SHO Taurus from its mainstream brothers. The modesty is intentional because the SHO has never been about being showy. Look for the trunk spoiler and standard nineteen-inch rims with P255/45VR19 tires (base Taurus models wear seventeen-inch rims). To our eyes, the Taurus will never be confused with any Nissan, Volkswagen, or Toyota. It's a sedan that doesn't disappear into the asphalt.

The 365-horsepower, twin-turbo, direct-injected, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 fires innocuously to life with the press of a button. The leather-wrapped wheel feels good, but the black plastic paddle shifters behind the three-and-nine bar look a little cheap compared to the balance of the rich interior. Carbon fiber or aluminum would have been a better material for the shift actuators.

Scanning the deeply recessed gauges, the tach doesn't have a red-line and that there's no boost gauge. Fixes are under consideration. The front seats comfortably position the driver within this big sedan. If you can't get comfortable using the power seat, adjustable pedals, and the tilt/telescopic steering column, you must surely be an oddly shaped person.

Shifting the console-mounted gear selector into A or M gets things in motion. In Auto, the heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and without fuss. Throttle tip-in is gentle, making the Taurus easy to drive smoothly. The car isn't high strung, and cruises quietly offering no telltales about its performance potential. Wind and tire noise at highway speeds are subdued. The feeling is refined.

But the original 1989 SHO Taurus hasn't become a legend because of refinement. They were about power and speed and handling and fun.

So is the 2010 Taurus SHO.


Slam the throttle open and the big Ford sedan rockets forward, no waiting required. There is no turbo lag because the Garrett turbos are so small, that almost any time the engine is running, the blowers are ready to produce instant -- INSTANT -- boost. The max fed into the manifold is 12 psi.

Modern engine electronics give the SHO 350 pound-feet torque from 1500 revs on up to near the horsepower peak (5250 rpm). The torque curve really isn't a curve, it's a broad, flat plateau that results in effortless acceleration at any speed. Unlike some other performance cars we know and like, the SHO's rate of acceleration doesn't really build. It's a linear delivery.

Under full power, the SHO's chassis remains rock-solid. Thank the all-wheel drive. It's a Haldex system that sends more power rearward than on the related systems under a Lincoln MKS or MKT. There will be no adolescent burnouts from this car. Putting 365 horsepower to the pavement through four contact patches is a piece of cake for this powertrain, so even during all-out acceleration runs, the car never feels stressed, strained, or directionally challenged.

Burnouts or not, the 2010 Taurus SHO should be able to rip off 0-60 miles per hour in under six seconds and run through the quarter-mile lights in a bit over 14 seconds at close to 100 mph.

Through the hills of North Carolina, we charged the SHO up and down twisting ribbons of asphalt. The pavement wasn't perfect, but the even with a sport-calibrated suspension (about 10-percent stiffer than a standard Taurus), there wasn't any significant ride harshness from sharp impacts.  Big pavement swells were also easily absorbed. The steering's turn-in feel was spot on, and the electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion gear (with SHO-specific calibrations) fed just the right amount of information up the steering column. Electric steering systems are getting better, and the SHO's is among the best we've driven.

Hustling through any corner, the SHO leans before taking a bite. Once set, the feeling is balanced with a bias toward understeer. Pushed hard, the front tires squeal, an audible "Hey, Stupid!" warning Ford engineers provided to signal the outer edge of the handling envelope for those with too little skill or sense to notice otherwise.

Curiously, the SHO uses the same brakes as the standard Taurus. While we never felt them fade, we drove hard enough to successfully get the brakes smoking, stinking up acres of the North Carolina countryside. Heavy-duty brake pads are part of the Performance Pack, but aren't part of the standard SHO package.

On our drive route, the SHO's paddle shifters were a definite asset. The right and left paddles work the same way; pull for an upshift, push for a downshift. In manual mode, the gearbox won't upshift even at redline, a characteristic we like. It will, however, down shift automatically under certain circumstances. The logic may seem inconsistent, but it works well in real-world driving.

According to its engineers, Ford's Select Shift transmission rips off cog-swaps faster than the automatic in a BMW 335i. The sensation during full-throttle shifts is different from other cars. While some powertrains limit or even reduce engine power during upshifts (making the shifts feel soggy), Ford engineers designed a torque-matching shift algorithm that delivers identical torque before and after the shift event. The result is quick but fluid shifts delivered without harshness.

Compared to the standard front-wheel-drive Taurus with its naturally-aspirated 263-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6, the SHO rightfully earns its position as Ford's new flagship. It delivers a much higher level of performance in a package that works well for the general enthusiast.

Somewhere, deep inside the culture at Ford Motor Company, some people still knew what a Taurus could be. Ford has found itself again. Welcome back.