Ford, Road Test Reviews, Vehicles

2011 Ford Taurus SHO – Road Test

The Taurus SHO has always been about subtlety and stealth – no need to draw undue attention from the long arm of the law (or Revenue Generation Force as I like to call them). To that end the new 2010/2011 Taurus SHO follows the same formula that first made it desirable back in 1989.  After a break of about 10 years or so, it’s back and it ain’t anything like the original once you get under the skin. Previously the SHO (pronounced “show” by everyone but Ford) came with a unique Super High Output Yamaha engine (3.0 Litre V-6 with 164Kw (220 hp), 5-speed manual), the new version however, is all Ford – Powered by a Super High Output (SHO) 3.5L EcoBoost twin-turbocharged engine (272 Kw (365 hp), 6-speed auto), and it continues to build on the legacy of the original discreet performance-oriented sports sedan … but then it turns up the heat!

First Impressions
The first thing I noticed was the key fob… it’s all black and the buttons are not colour coded or even different in their shape – they all look the same… so anyone that has the slightest issue with failing eyesight (me) is going to have to memorize these buttons and their locations pretty quick!

With standard low-profile 19-inch Goodyear Eagle or optional 20-inch Michelin high-performance tires, a decklid-mounted spoiler and twin chrome exhaust tips as well as a unique version of the three-bar grille, the SHO is still very subtle and discreet. There’s enough chrome on it to make it look different, but not so much that it looks like an old-man’s car.

According to Ford, “The car is attracting younger, more diverse and affluent customers than it has in the past” and is outselling its immediate completion quite handily. I’m probably well within Ford’s demographics for this car (late 40’s) and I just love the look of it!

So what makes the SHO so special when compared to the run-of-the-mill Ford Taurus?

Other than looks – however subtle – power has always been its selling feature. The SHO version of Ford’s flagship sedan offers premium performance and fuel economy with the 3.5-Litre EcoBoost V-6. This engine delivers normally aspirated V-8 levels of power, while returning V-6 fuel economy. The 2011 Taurus SHO comes with an enhanced SelectShift 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel, along with a sophisticated torque-sensing all-wheel-drive system that engages automatically and unobtrusively. The SHO also gets a specifically tuned suspension and unique interior appointments (a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum accelerator and brake pedals, the console, instrument and door panels feature SHO-specific authentic aluminum appliqués and unique floor mats).

What makes the EcoBoost engine so different is direct injection – fuel is injected directly into the cylinder during the intake stroke, resulting in improved throttle response, reduced cold start emissions and improved fuel economy. The EcoBoost V-6 uses twin turbochargers as opposed to a single unit, which helps in avoiding the “turbo lag” so often prevalent in turbocharged engines.

With peak torque coming on-line at a very low 1,500 rpm, the power delivery is linear right across the torque band – all the way to 5,500 rpm. Shifts are crisp and quick, with no sense of urgency even though the speedometer needle swings quickly into illegal territory. SelectShift provides conventional automatic operation, or a manual shift mode that gives the driver more control using the paddle shifters. The transmission allows “match-rev” downshifts and holds the selected gears for more driver control. At first it felt a bit odd to use… naturally, you pull on the left paddle to gear down and on the right one to up-shift… that’s what every other manufacturer does….but the Ford version is different because you push the shifter (located at your thumbs) to downshift, and pull on them to up-shift. It works the same way with either paddle shift. It’s actually quite good, because you can’t make a mistake and click the wrong paddle and therefore miss-shift the transmission. The one downside though is that you have to move the gear selector from “D” to “S” before it will work – you can’t just flick the paddle shift and it’ll work for you. What that means is you have to plan ahead to use the paddle shift option – a little redundant if you ask me – I want to just downshift when I feel I want to /need to without having to remember to shift the gear lever first. One saving grace is the fact that Ford has placed the gear selector right where your hand naturally falls when you’re using the centre armrest, so that helps enormously.

Stomping on the throttle to pass slower-moving vehicles is exhilarating… the SHO just races ahead with very little sound coming from under the hood, but looking at the speedometer and the trees fly by tells a different story! WOW this car is fast… I clocked a couple of 5.3 and 5.4-second dashes to 100 km/h with nothing more than just releasing the brake at a point that the revs were up around 1,500. I’m sure with a little more time and practice I could have gotten it down to 5 seconds. Slowing things down a wee bit and cruising along at 120 km/h had the engine turning over at an impressively low and quiet 1,700 rpm.

Inside, the SHO gets a power moonroof, Multi-Contour seats leather-trimmed seats with Miko suede inserts (made from recycled post-consumer yarns produced from plastic soft drink bottles) which are very comfortable and luxurious. The front seats are 10-way power adjustable and include a terrific lumbar adjustment as well as a segment-first: “Active Motion” messaging seat and back that is a real treat! After driving for extended periods it’s nice to get a mini-bum/back rub to help ease any aches and pains or fatigue. The seats are also heated and cooled – can it get better than that?! While very comfortable, one thing I did notice was that they didn’t offer much in the way of support under the knees. I’m pretty short – 170 cm (5″7″) and felt I needed more seat extending out beneath my knees – what would a tall person think about this seat?

While I haven’t driven the regular Taurus, I can say that the SHO is outstanding at sharp corners and bends as well as when going over very rough railway tracks. The electric steering is light and communicative, but not over-boosted.  The suspension is sport-tuned with unique shock absorbers, springs, stabilizer bars and strut mount bushings specifically developed for the SHO.

The audio system is a superb 10 GB hard drive Sony AM/FM/6-disc Changer with 12 speakers, a digital amplifier providing 390 watts and Dolby Pro Logic II Surround Sound. We couldn’t get it to play my wife’s mp3 player (USB) and CD’s that I knew had album and songs labelled – they would play, but no information was displayed – very disappointing. Once again the Sync system lets me down!

The Ford Taurus and SHO are stuffed to the gills with technology and safety features – many are unique and many are class-exclusive – among them are: SYNC voice-activated communications and entertainment system with traffic, directions & information; the ever useless SIRIUS satellite radio; voice-activated navigation with SIRIUS Travel Link and HD Radio, including iTunes song-tagging ability (I never did find out how that worked); integrated blind spot mirrors for better blind-spot visibility (works well); rear view camera system (works very well – the rear view mirror becomes a video display screen when the reverse gear is engaged); steering wheel audio controls and Intelligent  Access with push button start.

The Taurus is a very safe car to drive, boasting a long list of unique features including: Side Protection And Cabin Enhancement (SPACE) Architecture (an hydroformed cross-car beam embedded in the floor between the door frames, providing additional strength to the side of the vehicle); AdvanceTrac with ESC; SOS Post-Crash Alert ( an integrated system that automatically unlocks the doors, sounds the horn and activates the emergency flashers in the event of an airbag deployment); the superb MyKey™ programmable vehicle key (lets parents encourage their teens to drive safer with top speed and audio limits, as well as a “no belts, no tunes” feature that mutes the audio system if front seat belts are not buckled) and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System.

The Taurus also features some of the industry’s first side air bags that use pressure pulses from a side impact to deploy up to 30 percent faster than traditional air bags. Pressure-based sensors more accurately measure crash severity to better differentiate between a potentially serious air bag-deployable crash and a less serious accident that would not require air bag protection. The Ford-exclusive Safety Canopy® features side curtain air bags that help protect front and rear outboard passengers in both rollover and side-impact crashes.

Taurus also uses BLIS® (Blind Spot Information System) that uses two multiple-beam radar modules to detect and warn drivers of an approaching vehicle entering the defined blind spot zone. I loved the Cross Traffic Alert (CTA) system that uses the BLIS radar modules to sense oncoming traffic when slowly backing out of a parking spot. It senses cars approaching from either side and warns you that they are there (in some cases it even picked up on pedestrians and dogs -an absolutely amazing and invaluable feature).

The test vehicle featured the optional ($1,500) crash-avoidance technologies radar-based forward-collision warning system (a segment-first), that helps drivers avoid accidents. The system, enabled by Adaptive Cruise Control, uses a radar sensor to detect moving vehicles ahead and provides a visual “heads-up” warning signal (a bank of red lights along the bottom of the windshield) and an audible warning when slower-moving traffic is detected ahead. It works really well and isn’t overly intrusive – you can actually get quite close to the vehicle in front before the bells and whistles go off – ideal in stop and go traffic. In cruise control mode, the system’s radar monitors traffic as far as 182 metres ahead and adjusts the speed automatically. Should the driver ignore the warnings, the car pre-charges the brakes in preparation of stopping.

The Ford Motor Company has more IIHS “Top Safety Picks” and NHTSA five-star ratings than any other automaker. The 2010 Ford Taurus earned the U.S. government’s top five-star ratings (NHTSA) for driver and passenger in front and side crash tests, as well as an advanced crash safety structure, a standard suite of advanced restraint and air bag technologies that earned it the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) “Top Safety Pick.”

Rear seat accommodation is plentiful as you’d expect from a car of this size. Sitting in the middle position isn’t too bad because the tunnel that runs the length of the floor is quite low and not very wide, so it’s not an issue as to where the middle person’s feet would rest. As for the outboard occupants, there’s plenty of space to share their floor with the middle person. The back and the seat is a bit firmer, but not unduly uncomfortable for the middle occupant. When only two people are back there it’s almost luxurious with plenty of knee, foot, shoulder and hip room. The centre armrest folds down revealing two cup holders. As a nice bonus for those of us in cold climates, the rear seats are also heated with three degrees of heat that can be chosen.

The trunk/boot space is enormous – as you’d expect from a car this size. With 569 Litres (20.1 cu.ft) of cargo space it swallows just about anything you can throw at it. Additionally, the rear seats fold forward 60/40 for even more cargo space or to accommodate longer items.

Not enough SHO – want more?

Taurus SHO offers an available SHO Performance Package consisting of upgraded brake pads, recalibrated EPAS for even more responsiveness, a sport mode setting for the standard AdvanceTrac® with ESC (Electronic Stability Control) and a shorter 3.16 to 1 final drive ratio for faster acceleration. Summer-compound 20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 performance tires on premium painted wheels also are included. And just recently Ford have hinted that the 2012 SHO will have at least 298 Kw (400 hp)!!!

The Conclusion
The Taurus SHO is an amazing car. It’s large, but fits like a glove when you’re behind the wheel. The safety equipment is first-rate. My wife thought it was an old geezer car with nice rims… that just means that Ford has produced the ultimate stealth vehicle. It also means that it’s nowhere near as flashy or inconspicuous as a BMW or Merc – that’s just what I’d want. Price-wise it’s $25 – 30,000 LESS than either of those vehicles – that’s a no-brainer in my book. I love everything about this car… but it didn’t get my heart racing until I actually started to drive it aggressively… then it came alive like an entirely different vehicle… talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing!

Gobs of power effortlessly applied to the road
Amazing amount of safety features built into a car that you just wouldn’t expect!
Cross Traffic Alert is an amazing and very useful safety feature – only found on Ford vehicles

Terrible key fob
Mediocre fuel economy

Immediate Competition:
Acura RL/TL, BMW 5 Series, Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, Mercedes E Class, Toyota Avalon

By The Numbers…
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Powertrain:                  3.5 L Super High Output (SHO) EcoBoost twin-turbocharged  V-6; SelectShift 6-speed automatic transmission; AWD
Horsepower (Kw):       365 (272) @ 5,500 rpm
Torque lb-ft (N.m.):     350 (474) @ 3,500 rpm
0-100 kph:                   5.3 seconds
Cargo Capacity:           569L (20.1 cu.ft)
Towing capacity:          454kg (1,001lbs)

Fuel Consumption:  (Premium / 91 Octane)
City: 12.3 L/100 kms  //  Highway: 8.0 L/100 kms
I averaged 14.3 L/100 kms during combined driving – not too impressive considering I wasn’t burying the throttle all day long.

Pricing for the 2011 Ford Taurus SHO ($ Cdn)
Base Price: $48,199
As Tested: $49,699  (Options: Adaptive Cruise Control / Collision Warning – $1,500)
Destination & Delivery: $1,650

The basic warranty covers the vehicle for 3 years/60,000 kms that includes a 5 year/100,000 kms Powertrain warranty and Roadside Assistance is 5 years/100,000 kms.

Copyright © 2011 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland