Hot Ford No Longer Flies Under the Radar

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TESTED 2013 Ford Taurus SHO

WHAT IS IT? A higher-performance version of the generic Taurus sedan.

HOW MUCH? Base price $39,995 including shipping. As tested, $46,075 including Package 402A ($3,000) with heated and cooled seats, blind-spot monitors, heated rear seats, self-parking feature and heated steering wheel; navigation system ($795); adaptive cruise control and collision warning ($1,195); Ruby Red metallic paint ($395); and 20-inch wheels ($695).

WHAT MAKES IT RUN? Twin-turbo direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 365 horsepower; 6-speed automatic; and all-wheel drive.

IS IT THIRSTY? Not bad if you want a lot of power: the E.P.A. rating is 17 m.p.g. city and 25 m.p.g. highway.

IN the Ford master plan, the Taurus SHO is for driving enthusiasts who, as victims of circumstance, need the everyday practicality of a large sedan.

To appeal to that group Ford has updated the SHO for 2013, for the first time since the 2010 model.

The goal was a more refined vehicle that also handles better, said Bill Gubing, chief engineer of the Taurus.

Until now, the SHO was sneaky, a sedan designed for traveling at high speeds with a low profile.

But Mr. Gubing says that customer research suggested an emerging bravado, a desire for some attention, and that led to some styling changes.

Up front there is what Ford calls a "performance-inspired grille in black mesh," a description that invites juvenile comments involving undergarments.

And there is a rowdy, chest-thumping proliferation of SHO badges almost everywhere, including the wheels. This makes it impossible for even the most oblivious to ignore the hot Taurus.

Mr. Gubing says other changes range from improving the appearance of the interior to stronger braking.

What remains largely unchanged is the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, and that is just fine. During relaxed driving the transmission often keeps the engine speed under 2,000 r.p.m., which helps fuel economy.

The SHO's 17/25 m.p.g. rating compares with 18/26 for the regular Taurus with all-wheel drive -- and 77 fewer horsepower.

The SHO's fuel economy beats the Chrysler 300C with all-wheel drive and a 363-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8. The Chrysler is rated at 15 m.p.g. in the city and 23 on the highway.

The SHO's maximum torque is available at only 1,500 r.p.m., so acceleration is strong and instantaneous.

In testing by Edmunds.com, the SHO took 5.8 seconds to reach 60 m.p.h. Given the car's substantial weight -- more than 4,300 pounds -- that's not bad.

Going fast in a straight line is the SHO's strength. But things aren't quite so positive when it comes to the pesky necessity of changing direction.

The SHO straight-shooter easily handled sweeping turns at speeds that the drivers of the normal Taurus would probably consider ill-advised if not reckless. But the SHO was less successful as the turns became sharper and the physics of directional change grew more challenging.

To help, Ford has equipped the SHO with Curve Control, an electronic system that can selectively apply different amounts of pressure to different brakes to reduce understeer and nudge the nose around the turn.

But even with this electronic deus ex machina, there is no escaping the conclusion that this is a large, heavy sedan with a lot of weight plopped down over the front wheels. Consequently the SHO simply lacks the athletic balance of a well-done rear-drive sedan.

The steering has weight and is relatively quick, with a reassuring, tight feel when the SHO is pointed straight. But like many steering systems with electric power assist, it fails to make a strong connection with the driver, which is the point of a sport sedan.

On a rough surface, the SHO's body impresses with its quiver-free solidity. And the suspension takes the sharpest edge off impacts. Still, there are plenty of jerks and jolts, as is the case with many sport sedans. And while the driver is having a good time, the passengers must simply endure.

Interior improvements include more sound-deadening material and attention to precise assembly, Ford says. The look falls short of the Audi A6, which Mr. Gubing called the benchmark during the SHO's development. But it is an acceptable setting.

The rear seat remains merely adequate for two adults, with a so-so 38.1 inches of rear legroom. In a corporate misstep unmatched until the adoption of MyFord Touch, Ford gave up three inches of rear legroom, a substantial amount, when it updated the Taurus for the 2010 model year.

The car's 20 cubic feet of trunk space is impressive, however.

It is not easy to transform a conventional large sedan into a world-class sport sedan, and while the SHO is, over all, a relatively fast large car, it is likely to disappoint serious enthusiasts. They'll want more communicative steering in a vehicle that feels lighter and more eager: something with a lot more sport and a lot less sedan.

autonews

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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