Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

Ford Motor Co. is resurrecting the performance-oriented Taurus Super High Output (SHO) in an effort to differentiate itself from competitors in the fullsize sedan market.

“It telegraphs how important driving-feel and performance is to Ford,” Jim Farley, director-marketing and communications, tells Ward’s. “There are a lot of appliances, and how Ford will execute our passenger cars is different than competitors.”

Ford unveils the all-wheel-drive ’10 Taurus SHO sedan later today at the Chicago Auto Show.

Ford offered the first SHO in 1989 and pulled the plug on the performance sedan a decade later after selling 100,000 units. While the car never was a volume product for Ford, it served its role well as a “halo” vehicle and spurred the creation of a number of SHO enthusiast groups.

“The SHO was pretty mythical,” Farley says.

Ford decided to reintroduce the SHO about a year ago, as work was progressing on the all-new ’10 Taurus flagship sedan that debuted at last month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

In developing the ’10 SHO, Ford turned to enthusiasts groups and a handful of automotive writers for advice. “Both (enthusiasts and writers) helped us define what a SHO is,” Farley says.

Arriving in U.S. showrooms this summer, the Taurus SHO will be powered by a 3.5L V-6 EcoBoost gasoline engine, which combines direct-injection with turbochargers to deliver the performance of a V-8 with 6-cyl. fuel economy.

The new SHO makes an estimated 365 hp and 350 lb.-ft (475 Nm) of torque and is expected to achieve 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) on the highway, which Farley says tops many of Ford’s premium competitors.

“The car has better performance and better gas mileage than the BMW 550i, which uses a 4.8L V-8,” he says.

The EcoBoost V-6 comes mated to a 6-speed SelectShift transmission that transmits power to all four wheels. Paddle shifters allow “match-rev” downshifts and will hold manually selected gears, Ford says.

The SHO also benefits from a number of performance enhancements, including a sport-tuned suspension with stiffer shock absorbers, springs, stabilizer bars and strut-mount bushings to enhance the car’s road holding, cornering agility and steering responsiveness, Ford says.

The Taurus’ standard electronic power-assisted steering system also is tweaked to enhance road feel and on-center balance.

“We’re going to differentiate ourselves with fun-to-drive (vehicles), and a lot of that is going to take the knowledge we have in Europe and our Special Vehicle Team (SVT) and put that into all of our core products,” Farley says, noting the SHO was a result of global collaboration among Ford engineers.

A performance package that includes upgraded brake pads, recalibrated steering for even more responsiveness, a “sport mode” setting for the car’s standard AdvanceTrac electronic stability control and a shorter 3.16:1 final-drive ratio for faster acceleration also will be available.

Journalists and enthusiasts cautioned Ford against creating an exterior that was “over the top.” So the design features are subtle, with just a few badges, unique 19-in. wheels, chrome exhaust tips, special parking lamp bezels and a small spoiler differentiating it from the standard Taurus.

“And the one quote that came away from that, which I think we’re using in a lot of our (marketing) materials is it’s a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing,’” Chief Engineer Pete Reyes says. “Our focus groups said, ‘If it looks outlandish, if you have a lot of cladding and it changes the look too much, I don’t want it, because I want a Taurus.’”

The interior was another story, as focus groups suggested more changes were needed from the base car, Reyes says.

As a result, the SHO boasts leather-trimmed seats with Miko suede inserts, a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, aluminum-trimmed accelerator/brake pedals, unique floor mats and aluminum appliqués on the console, instrument panel and door inners.

Ford isn’t aiming at any one particular customer demographic, nor is it setting volume expectations. Rather, the car simply will round out the Taurus lineup and offer consumers a domestic performance sedan, Reyes says.

“A Taurus without a SHO is like a half Taurus; it’s that one step above umbrella vehicle on the performance scale that you have to do,” he says.

The base Taurus SHO will sticker at $37,995, including destination charges. Pricing for the performance package has yet to be announced. The car will be built alongside the standard Taurus at Ford’s Chicago assembly plant.

bpope@wardsauto.com