The SHO version of Ford's full-size Taurus sedan tries hard to do a lot of things, but it doesn't excel at any of them.
It wants to be a performance car, but comes up short in a few critical areas. It could be a family car, thanks to its large exterior, but it's too cramped inside. It's comfortable cruising down the highway, but it's a pain on narrow city streets.
The SHO is the high-performance model, but there are several versions of the Taurus on the road. The models are, in ascending price order, SE, SEL, Limited and SHO. The SHO is available only with all-wheel drive, and the SE is available only with front-wheel drive, but the other trims can be had with either front- or all-wheel drive.
We tested a 2011 Taurus SHO. Not much has changed between the 2010 and 2011, but judge for yourself here.
As a Performance Car
The best part of the SHO is its drivetrain. It comes with a 365-horsepower, turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 that Ford calls an EcoBoost engine. It's paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The engine and transmission are well-matched, so you get good power pulling away from the line and while passing.
Some turbocharged engines have a lag before they start making acceleration power, and this can mean the engine first feels like it isn't doing anything, then like it's doing everything too fast. In short, they can be jerky. The SHO's EcoBoost engine displayed none of that. There was a slight hesitation passing at highway speeds as the transmission kicked down a gear or two, but it wasn't bad compared with most cars; it's only noticeable if you compare it with other performance cars. Mostly there was just a good sense of pulling power across the rev range.
The all-wheel-drive system deserves praise, too, because I really had the sense that the car was hunkering down — in a good way — and grabbing the road to propel me forward, whether I was accelerating in a straight line or in a curve. Also, the SHO has a sport-tuned suspension, but it didn't beat me up over rough roads.
The SHO comes with paddle shifters, and while they're no substitute for a true manual transmission (which isn't available on the SHO), they did make the engine/transmission even more enjoyable. I could hold gears longer when I wanted to really accelerate, and I could pass much more quickly.
For my money, getting the SHO going is where the enjoyment ends. The problems start with getting the SHO stopped.
A good performance car will have a brake pedal that's a bit firm, so it's easier to feel how you're stopping the car. The process should also be direct and linear, so the harder you press the pedal, the more vigorously the car stops. The SHO's brakes didn't deliver. The pedal was too mushy to inspire confidence, and I never got a handle on just how hard to press the pedal to make a quick stop.
From a performance standpoint, turning the SHO isn't the greatest experience, either. Cruising around parking lots, the initial signs were encouraging: There was a bit of resistance, and I had a good sense of how the car was moving. Once you top about 10 mph, though, it all goes to heck because the steering gets too light and there's not enough feedback. It wouldn't be atrocious in a normal car, but if this is supposed to be a performance car, it's just too light.
Finally, the seats are too soft. A good sport seat should cradle and support you. Some are more firm than a normal seat, yes, but they don't have to be, provided the bolstering is high and supportive enough to hold you in place. The only thing holding me in place in the Taurus was the weight of my rear end.
While that is substantial, during turns at speed I had to brace myself with my legs and arms, and tense up my abdominal muscles to keep from flopping over in the seat. Again: This isn't terrible if you're cruising around, but it's exactly the opposite of what you want when you're trying to drive fast.
My overall impression was that I would never want to take the SHO on a racetrack. I never had any sense of what the car was trying to tell me.
As a Daily Driver
In this realm, the Taurus SHO does better. The engine is strong, and as I've said, the steering is well-tuned for parking lots and cruising at low speeds, as you would on city streets.
The same lack of support that damns the SHO's seats as a performance car can make them more comfortable for longer drives. (Personally, I find a softer seat to be more tiring on a long drive, but I don't think most people would take issue with sitting in the SHO on a long road trip.)
In fact, long highway drives are a strength of the Taurus. The engine makes passing on the highway a breeze, and the sport suspension isn't too firm for fast driving over bad roads. Having all-wheel drive will provide a bit more security when the weather gets bad on your trip.
Just don't bring too many people on that trip. True, all Taurus models (SHO or not) are large cars on the outside. How large? The Taurus is 202.9 inches long, about 18 inches longer than the Ford Edge SUV and only about 4 inches shorter than a full-size Ford Expedition SUV. It's about the same width as the Edge and, again, only about 2 inches narrower than the Expedition.
Having a car that's almost as big as a full-size SUV isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the problem here is that while both the Edge and especially the Expedition can carry more than two people comfortably, the Taurus struggles with that. One of my taller rear-seat passengers said she was cramped for headroom and that legroom wasn't so great. And she was sitting behind a shorter person in the front seat; she couldn't sit behind me because there just wasn't enough room.
What's really interesting is that the Taurus has a mammoth trunk. It's one of the biggest I've seen in a car lately, and it was impressive. Still, I kept thinking, "Great, I've got enough room to carry guns for the entire Russian Army, but I can only take one soldier."
Finally, the Taurus' exterior size means you have more to squeeze into parking spaces, which was a constant source of frustration. I admit I'm pretty rotten at parking, but usually after having a few tries in a car I get a sense of how to park it. This wasn't the case with the Taurus. Side-to-side visibility is a problem thanks to the high windowsills, and the high hood made it difficult to judge where the front end was. I was often sorry to see my journeys end, if only for the fact that it meant I'd have to park it again.
To paraphrase a line from the movie "The Searchers," the Taurus is both too much car and not enough.
Exterior & Interior
The full-size version of the Taurus started out as the Five Hundred, but the name was eventually changed, and new styling, which substantially improved its looks, followed.
It's a handsome car from the outside and one of very few that manage to make the fender side vents so common these days actually look good. I also like this car's adoption of Ford's three-blade grille, as it doesn't look like something I shave my face with in the morning.
On the inside, the interior is well-laid-out, and I never found myself hunting or reaching uncomfortably for the buttons and controls I needed. I also thought the interior looked good and that there was a nice mix of materials.
Safety, Reliability & Mileage
Reliability is predicted to be above average. The 2011 (and 2010) Ford Taurus is designated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, meaning it scored the institute's highest rating (Good) in front, side and rear crash tests and a roof-strength test, and that it comes with a standard electronic stability system. Mileage is estimated at 17/25 mpg city/highway, which is the same as non-turbo models.
Taurus SHO in the Market
The Taurus SHO is at its best on the highway or in the suburbs, but it's not what I'd want to drive on a twisty road or a narrow city street. Visibility is OK on the highway, but bad while parking. The ride and handling made me want to drive the car all the way to Nebraska, but I wouldn't want to take it around a racetrack.
I think your affection for this car will be directly proportional to how many long highway drives you undertake. The more you travel that way, the more you'll like the Taurus SHO.
It can't really compete with other large, high-performance sedans, though it does offer a nice ride and a decent engine. In the end, I kept coming back to the same idea: If this were the base Taurus and not intended in any way to be a performance variant, I'd be happier. It would still be big and in some ways hard to live with, but at least I wouldn't feel like I'd spent my money on a sporty car that wasn't.
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