It's no secret to those who already own one: The Ford Taurus SHO is America's best high-performance sports sedan, and by any unit of measure, it's a world-class value.
Although you might bristle a bit at the SHO's $27,000 asking price, you will not find another similar sedan -- foreign or domestic -- that offers an equal level of performance and equipment for the money.
SHO stands for Super High Output. Thanks to an assist from Yamaha of Japan, Ford's regular 3.0-liter V-6 is given a massive increase in horsepower.
Ford enlisted Yamaha to design a high-performance cylinder head, and the result is a double overhead cam, 24-valve aluminum head that boosts horsepower from 140 to 220.
In simple terms, the Yamaha cylinder head improves the engine's efficiency by burning the air and fuel mixture more completely. The exhaust gases flow through the head with less resistance than they do in a standard engine.
The SHO engine, with its beautifully sculpted intake runners and streamlined packaging, is an engineering work of art. It must have been created by engineers who really understand what an enthusiast looks for in a special car like the SHO.
The engine makes all the right noises. There's a turbine-like whoosh at about 1,500 rpm that builds as the engine revs higher. The engine pulls smoothly and consistently all the way to the 6,500 rpm red line.
I found the tachometer needle close to the limit often. The temptation to drive aggressively is heightened because you can get the SHO only with a five-speed manual transmission.
However, Ford plans to introduce a four-speed automatic later in the 1992 model year. Until now, Ford has not had a front-drive automatic that could handle the power of the SHO engine.
Traditionally, higher performance must be paid for at the gas pump. That's not the case with the SHO. In city driving the car is EPA-rated at 18 miles per gallon, which is what I achieved using the air conditioner and driving aggressively. On the highway, the SHO turned in a respectable 25 mpg.
In a recent magazine road test, the SHO clocked a zero-to-60 mph time of 7.6 seconds, putting it in a class by itself when compared with other American sedans.
The SHO can more than hold its own against the finest midpriced autos from Europe and Japan. You are likely to find the road-hugging SHO solid, stable and easy to control in nearly every driving situation.
The four-wheel independent suspension is firm, yet it's forgiving on roads that are poorly paved. Not much road noise is transmitted to the interior, and most small bumps are easily dispensed with. However, large potholes and speed bumps taken quickly will cause the car to shudder slightly.
The SHO is equipped with power-assisted four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. They are strong. The anti-lock feature works well and is not too noisy.
Traction control is the one improvement the SHO should have. This is a safety feature that is gaining popularity in high-powered front-wheel-drive cars.
Think of traction control as the opposite of anti-lock brakes, which prevent the tires from losing grip and skidding during hard braking.
Traction control works when the car is accelerating. The system is controlled by a computer that has sensors at the front wheels. These sensors determine when the tires are about to lose their grip and spin during hard acceleration. The computer applies the brakes to prevent slipping while providing maximum acceleration. Traction control works best on wet or icy roads.
This year's Taurus -- along with its sister ship, the Mercury Sable -- has been restyled. It's bigger, more aerodynamic and more aggressive looking than last year's model.