2010 Ford Taurus SHO Review
By Chris Haak
My first impression of the all-new 2010 Ford Taurus turned out to be half-right. After sitting in the car for the first time at last year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, I felt that the previously cavernous interior of the Five Hundred (Taurus)/Montego (Sable) had been sacrificed in the name of improving those cars’ downright stodgy exterior design, but that interior materials and technology had been improved.
After spending a week in a 2010 Taurus SHO, I now can state that in spite of the 2010 car’s interior measurements being reasonably close to those of the old car, the 2010 Taurus indeed feels surprisingly snug inside. And, lest you forget, this is a giant car outside. The interior materials, however, show some disappointing corner-cutting that I didn’t notice in my first glimpse of the car a year ago. I thought that perhaps my colleague Kevin Miller was being overly critical of the interior 2010 Taurus SEL that he reviewed last year, but unfortunately, it seems that he was spot-on, even for a model that costs an incredible $14,000 more money.
Aside from the surprising lack of spaciousness, the interior looks good. My tester was equipped with heated/cooled front seats with Mico-suede (meaning fake suede) orange inserts. Even the back seats have the orange suede-like seating surfaces and have heating elements in the outboard positions. Some aren’t fans of the dramatic contrasting color treatments in some new-car interiors today, but the car is available without the orange suede and door panels, and the idea mercifully breaks up the monotony of color in most cars’ interiors today. (“Would you like your interior in tan or gray, sir?”)
Technology-wise, the 2010 Taurus abs0lutely improves over previous efforts. My tester had Ford’s (in my opinion) best-in-class SYNC system and best-in-class navigation system. I’ve sung SYNC’s praises since the second-generation was introduced, and love Ford’s large, high-resolution navigation system. It’s easy to use, shows lots of relevant information on the display, and is pleasant to look at, with clear text and attractive colors. SYNC allows streaming Bluetooth audio from devices equipped with the same (such as the iPhone), and in fact, also features nearly all of the entertainment choices that the Acura TL SH-AWD offers, with the exception that the TL offers DVD Audio while the SHO does not, and the TL substitutes XM for the SHO’s Sirius. Considering that 90% of the content between XM and Sirius is identical post-merger, that point is almost a wash.
Other technology present in my test SHO was a very good blind spot detection system, radar adaptive cruise control (neither feature is available in the Acura TL), cross-traffic warning system (lets you know when a vehicle is entering your path when backing out of a parking spot), color-changing ambient lighting, automatic high beam/low beam switching, and Ford’s multi-contoured seat. Overall, the integration of the technology into a single cohesive unit was very good; I didn’t get the impression that Ford just went shopping at various automotive suppliers and plugged various units into the Taurus. For instance, the adaptive cruise control’s sensors can also warn the driver of an impending collision via an audible beep and a warning strip of bright red LEDs across the top of the dash. I had no idea what that strip of lights was for (they illuminate upon startup, but don’t tell you what they’re for, and my pre-production tester had no manuals) until a car quickly entered my lane one morning and the alarm went off.
Also, the cross-traffic alerts are displayed in the vehicle’s information display with messages such as, “vehicle approaching from the left,” which is really helpful. Finally, when the fuel level drops to the point that the car estimates there is less than 50 miles of range remaining, the navigation system automatically activates gas station points of interest on the map; my previously clean map display suddenly had gas station icons speckled everywhere. I thought that was a handy feature, and after adding fuel to the tank, the gas station POI icons again disappear from the navigation display.
One area in which the Taurus fell a bit short – aside from limited interior space for the size of the car – is just a lack of attention to some details. The top of the dashboard is done in soft-touch material, but the entire interior-colored portion of the center console (charcoal in my test vehicle) was constructed of hard, rough, low-gloss plastic. Similar plastic found its way to the bottom of the door panels and in about half of the lower dashboard as well.
Although Ford clearly spent money in some areas of the interior such as the gauges, audio, navigation, and seats, other areas show more apparent cost-cutting. The remote fob in the SHO – which in my test vehicle was equipped with push button start – was not as ugly and pedestrian as the standard Ford key, but is a black plastic mini bar of soap with a chrome Ford logo on one side and a chrome line on the other side. So far, no problem except for the fob’s size – but the four buttons on it have their function illustrated with just a molded-in graphic that has no contrasting color. Aside from memorizing the location of each button (which I still haven’t done for either of my family’s own vehicles), the only way to discern the function of each button is to stare at the fob, squinting your eyes and turning the fob until it catches the glare from a light source.
While the 2010 Taurus is clearly head-and-shoulders above the previous Taurus (nee Five Hundred) in terms of looks, the car has also given up much of the previous car’s practicality in the name of style. The Five Hundred’s dorky, exaggerated roofline that allowed enough headroom to wear a ten gallon hat was replaced by what’s basically a chopped roof that looks much better from the outside, but sacrifices usable headroom inside the car. Making matters worse, the 2010 Taurus throws away the large glass area (and therefore excellent visibility) of the old car and instead has a very narrow daylight opening on each side of the car. The narrow windows make parking in a perpendicular space difficult; I found myself unable to see the line on the driver’s side to gauge the car’s position within the space. Also, the decklid is very high in the 2010 Taurus, making rear visibility difficult (and making my test car’s rear camera a necessity), but at least the high trunk means a giant compartment. The Taurus may have the largest trunk I’ve ever seen in a front wheel drive-based sedan, and that’s a definite plus.
As I observed when I had the chance to spend a week in a Ford Flex EcoBoost several weeks ago, the twin turbo 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6 is a sweetheart of an engine, with minimal turbo lag. In the Taurus SHO, the 3.5 liter EcoBoost is optimized for premium fuel, so it gets a moderate output boost (pardon the pun) from 355 horsepower in the Flex EcoBoost to 365 in the SHO. With the SHO’s extra horsepower, and a curb weight some 400 pounds lighter, it should outperform the family-hauling Flex. And it does, but the seat-of-your-pants impression is that the Taurus SHO is not demonstrably quicker in a straight line than is the Flex EcoBoost. I’ve seen published 0-60 times of 5.2 seconds for the SHO, and 6.0 seconds for the Flex EcoBoost. Incidentally, the Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT previously mentioned does the 0-60 deed in the same 5.2 seconds.
The SHO’s standard all wheel drive does a good job of putting power to the ground in a straight line. My test car, not equipped with the performance package, did not really inspire a lot of confidence in carving corners on back roads. The engine’s immense wave of torque (350 lb-ft available in a plateau beginning at 3500 RPMs) and a six-speed automatic that’s not afraid to kick down a few gears and blast the car around any obstacle (or other car) in front of it. In other words, the SHO has passing power of nearly Biblical proportions. It’s easy to floor the SHO on a two-lane road, blast past the dawdler in front of you, look down, and see much higher numbers than expected on the speedometer.
Ford has justifiably received a lot of criticism over the past few years for the brakes installed on its vehicles. Generally, the criticism is that the brakes are not large enough given the engine’s output, and that they are too prone to fade. Ford has addressed this criticism in the 2011 Mustang, making a Brembo brake package optional. While I didn’t drive the wheels off the SHO during my time with the car, and I’m far from a braking connoisseur, the brake pedal was uncomfortably spongy during application, and didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The performance package available with the SHO (which again, my test car did not have), has the same brakes as my test car, but the pads are made of a higher-friction material. Under normal conditions, the standard SHO brakes are probably fine if you can live with (or get used to) their feel. In the unlikely event that you plan on tracking the car, upgrade the brakes beyond the factory spec. Steering feel was somewhat numb and didn’t feel particularly quick. The performance package includes upgraded electric power steering programming; Ford claimed during its reveal of the 2012 Focus that it has developed best-in-class EPS, so hopefully that has made its way into at least some SHOs.
I believed nothing of the “Eco” part of the EcoBoost name when I observed the SHO’s fuel economy. Simply put, the laws of physics cannot be broken. When a car is saddled with all wheel drive, a big V6, two turbochargers, and a curb weight well over two tons, you shouldn’t expect any 25 mile per gallon miracles. Honestly, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone can achieve the SHO’s 25 mile per gallon highway number at normal (70-75 mph) highway speeds. I had trouble topping 20 mpg without really feather-footing the throttle, and during a week of mixed driving, I averaged about 16 mpg. And if you’re going to go really easy on the throttle in an attempt to meet or exceed the car’s published fuel-economy numbers, what’s the point of having 365 horsepower if you’re only going to use 120 of them? According to the EPA’s fuel economy ratings, though, the SHO has the same fuel economy as its non-boosted brother. If you avoid using the turbochargers, that might be true, but others who have driven the car have also commented on fuel economy that can’t quite match the promises made by the window sticker.
Ford has been positioning the new Taurus as a premium large car (though if the Taurus is a premium choice, what does that make its platform-mate, the Lincoln MKS, aside from $10,000 more expensive?), and the car’s pricing bears that out. Unfortunately, pricing is quite ambitious on the SHO. Building an SHO on Ford’s website the same way my pre-production test car was equipped, the final tally comes to $45,630 including destination, but not including the current $500 cash back offer. The base price of an SHO is $38,595 including destination. My test vehicle had every option except for the $995 SHO Performance Package (which adds grippier brake pads, summer tires, a re-calibrated electric power steering and stability control, and revised final drive ratio). Options it did have included Rapid Spec 402B for $2,800 (heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, power moonroof, 12-speaker Sony audio system, rear window power sunshade, rain sensing wipers, automatic high beams, rear view camera, adjustable pedals, and blind spot monitoring), adaptive cruise control for $1,195, voice-activated navigation for $1,750, multi-contoured seat for $595, and gigantic 20-inch five-spoke luster nickel aluminum wheels for $625. It goes without saying that $45 large is a ton of money for a Ford Taurus, and I don’t care how awesome the EcoBoost V6 is (and that engine is awesome).
TrueDelta says that a loaded Taurus SHO is about $2,200 cheaper than a comparably-equipped Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT. Having just spent a week in that TL, the Taurus does top it in several technologies already noted. But the TL’s interior felt like it was better-screwed together, was nicer to touch, and seemed to have more usable space. The TL also had better brake feel, better observed fuel economy, offers a manual transmission, and more comfortable seats for long distance travel. The TL’s downside, of course, is its looks – and some can’t surmount that obstacle. The SHO has the potential to be an impressive driver’s car with a few relatively minor tweaks, and its drivetrain is impressive (if you can live with poor fuel economy). Given the excellent products that we’ve seen lately from Ford, such as the Fusion Hybrid and Flex, I expected a little more than the Taurus SHO was able to deliver.
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