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2010 Ford Taurus and Taurus SHO — The return of the great American sedan.

Photographs by Jack Baruth It would be poetic to say that the return of the Great American Sedan was announced as the speedometer of the 2010 Taurus SHO swept past the one-hundred-and-twenty-mile-per-hour mark with the insouciant prowess of a young Mark McGwire taking practice swings in the batter's box. And it would be more than delightful to describe the way this big sedan trail-braked into an off-camber hairpin, smoking in sideways and providing my dry-heaving fellow member of The Press As A Whole the most panoramic view possible of the Great Smoky Mountains above the spectacular dashboard and sculpted bonnet while the steering spoke to me with crystalline clarity and the transmission snapped off two flawless downshifts. Or I could describe how, on a hill so steep walking it would be a challenge, the twin-turbo SHO squeaked its front tires for a nearly imperceptible moment before swapping drive to the back wheels and rocketing us up the slope with the force of a small-block Chevy. The truth of the matter, however, is that I knew everything I needed to know about the 2010 Taurus when I was handed a floppy-looking interior door skin. 10taurussho_69 There are more ways to skin a door than there are to skin a cat, you see. Entry-level cars use cheap plastics in big undifferentiated slabs. Camcords and Maltimas use a slightly better grade of material in a manner that does nothing to hide the essential plastic-ness of the interior. BMWs and Audis use mass-produced leather or Naugahyde panels set into a soft plastic door. If there's stitching, it's done by machine, and the leather is usually relatively low-cost stuff. Finally, Rolls-Royces and other high-end cars use top-end leather, stitched by hand and pulled around "forming blocks" to create a completely unique appearance for each panel. For the 2010 Taurus, Ford hand-stitched cost-no-object leather around individual blocks and assembled a multi-piece, hand-stitched leather door equal to the very best. Once. Then they used a very high-resolution sort of mold to capture every last individual detail, from ragged hand stitching to the way each individual door featured slightly different wrinkles from the leather around the corners of the armrest. With that done, they sprayed a special polyurethane compound into the mold. Presto! A precise copy of a hand-sewn door, right down to the way the stitches feel on the "leather". 10taurussho_65 It's an outstanding way to bring the interior appointments of quarter-million-dollar cars into a vehicle that starts at $25,995, and it's in a way emblematic of how the Taurus was developed. The car is positively slathered with new or new-in-the-class technologies, some obvious (the MyKey system that allows you to set a maximum speed for the valet key) and some not so obvious (the fact that the Alcantara-esque seat inserts of the SHO are made from recycled bottecaps). The styling is absolutely unique in the class, particularly from the rear, and the interior is a solid step above what you'll find in the competition, both in feature count and general aesthetics. What is the competition? It isn't the Accord or Camry, even though those cars have traditionally been the mortal enemies of Ford's mechanical bull. Fighting that battle is the Fusion's job now. Rather, think Avalon and Maxima on the Japanese side and Audi A4 and Mercedes C300 from the Germans. Ford uses the Audi A6 for benchmarking and comparison, but in terms of price this is an A4 competitor. The 1986 Taurus was a volume sedan that eventually became the best-selling car in America, but thisTaurus is something else. It's a premium car, aimed at the older consumer or the more style-conscious one. Boomers whose retirement savings have shrunk beyond comprehension lately will find that the Taurus, particularly in Limited trim, offers room, power, and aesthetics similar to that found in more expensive foreign sedans. Think of it as a budget indulgence.

We tested two cars: a white Limited FWD and a red SHO Ecoboost. The Limited was quiet, comfy, and stable well past the hundred-mile-per-hour mark on roads shiny with standing water. Deliberate attempts on our part to induce instability during high-speed hydroplaning were dealt with easily by simple design; the big lump under the trunk pulls the car straight and the suspension, which features a new "1:1 geometry" that allows the engineers to use equally-tuned shocks front and rear, is stable by default. What's the Taurus like to drive? Well, it's like a Lincoln MKS. Haven't driven one of those? Your loss, but let's use a few other examples. Think Audi A6, Nissan Maxima, or perhaps a nearly perfected variant of the underrated Chrysler LH cars. This is a well-sorted, quiet, rattle-free big sedan which easily matches the big Japanese front-drivers on NVH measurements. The real difference between Taurus and the competition comes from the interior, which has a wide, sloping dashboard, premium-looking instruments stuffed full of backlit, glass-like acrylics, and Ford's outstanding current generation of switchgear. It's easily the most upscale experience available anywhere for short of thirty grand, and this is even true of the cloth-seated cars, which have deep, characterful fabric of the type that was once seen occasionally on Mercedes-Benzes imported through the so-called "grey market". Rear-seat room, a particular virtue of the previous-generation Five Hundred/Taurus, continues to be excellent, while the front-seat passengers have the option of selecting BMW-style massaging seats with both heating and cooling functions. 10taurussho_64   The best front seat available in the Taurus lineup is the aforementioned bottlecap-suede variant in the SHO; not because it's any comfier than the others, but because it connects the driver to Ford's stunning new EcoBoost engine. This twin-turbo marvel, largely based on the existing Duratec but with changes designed to promote durability and heat resistance, turns the Taurus from a pleasant sedan to an electrifying one. In a straight line, there are very few other thirty-eight-thousand-dollar cars that won't be immediately presented with the SHO's tail lamps. Our drive through the twisty roads of North Carolina revealed the SHO's considerable strengths and not inconsiderable weakness. Let's start with the good stuff. Although the bones of the Taurus are somewhat related to the first-gen Volvo S80, there's very little Swedish reserve in the Ford's chassis. Instead, we have that rarest of things: a front-drive-platform (with all-wheel-drive added) big sedan that is light on its feet at speed. The EPAS wacky-electro-steering works pretty well at all speeds, providing trustworthy information about the road below. The all-wheel-drive is fundamentally a hack, being more or less the same transverse adaptation that sits under my wife's Ford Flex, but the transmission response has been sharpened and the result is a car that scampers out of corners regardless of steering-wheel position. It's no Mitsubishi Evolution, but it has torque that no stock Evo will ever have and the manumatic will run against the rev limiter all day without making an unwanted upshift. On back roads, it's a fast car despite the size. One black mark: the wheel-mounted shifter paddles are abysmal. The design isn't bad, and BMW uses something similar. The difference is that Ford's paddles are made of flimsy plastic, making it difficult to tell under stress whether the shift request actually clicked through. The good news: the computer is too smart to blow up the engine, so a motivated driver can slap them five or six times on every corner entry in the confidence that the car will grab the lowest appropriate gear for corner exit.


Our backroad drive was the very definition of frustration. We started at the back of the pack and had to pass pretty much every poky journo in the group before pulling off for photos and repeating the process. It's just so easy to pass untalented drivers in the SHO: let the engine bring you past the next car ahead, point the nose, rotate the car into the corner on the brakes, floor the throttle early, let the AWD sort it out. The SHO's suspension is remarkably decent, although a triple-digit attack of a camber-changing corner combination exceeded the available damping and allowed both rear wheels to leave the ground for a terrifying moment while we struggled to control more than two tons of speeding Ford. The reality is that this isn't a razor-sharp cafe racer in the vein of the 1989 original. That car took its inspiration from the BMW M3, where this one is very much a 335i type of car: big power, big weight, luxury as the primary goal. And just like a 335i, it doesn't stop. The brakes are miserable. Let's restate that, just so nobody misses it. The brakes on the SHO are in no way up to the task. It's not just they aren't track-worthy. They aren't even ready for a fast road. This is a thirteen-second car with the same kind of brake hardware one might find on a Camry, and the mismatch is egregious. There is a "Performance Pack" coming with better brake pads, but what this car needs is the Brembos from the Shelby GT500, stat. Faced with fifty miles of fast road, a splendid EcoBoost motivator, and brakes that quickly let the pedal sink to the floor on corner entry, we cut pace between corners and used lighter, sharper applications to minimize heat buildup. But we still hoovered up traffic like the world's biggest Dyson. This is a very rapid car in the real world, made more so by the fact that the experience behind the wheel is just so soothing. Snuggled in the SHO's massaging seats, listening to the superb sound system, visually amused by the yes-it's-real-metal trim on the dashboard, it's easy to not realize that the speedometer is quickly creeping up into go-to-jail-for-a-long-time areas. This car would be faster from point to point than a Ferrari Testarossa, at least as long as the brakes held up, but it's as big as an S-Class. Think about that.

The 1986 Taurus carried the hopes of the Ford Motor Company on its shoulders. This 2010 model has a far more modest mission: to provide sedan buyers an affordable premium choice and to restore a bit of the tarnished luster to Ford's American passenger-car business. It's a small goal, but it's an important one. For more than half a century, the American Dream was symbolized by a stylish, powerful, domestic sedan in one's driveway. If any car can bring those days back, this is the one to do it. Don't believe me? Open a door and take a look.

2009 Chicago Auto Show In Review: Rockers, suckers, snoozers.

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Story and photos by Jack Baruth

The Chicago Auto Show makes no apologies for being a consumer-oriented event. At Tuesday morning's media breakfast, the point was made again and again: we're here to raise customer interest, to get people into their dealers, to move the metal. This is not an "international" auto show in the traditional sense of the word. The world media doesn't show up, there are very few "major" revelations, and the bulk of the press events happen in just a single day.

Yet there was an underlying optimism to Chicago's show that was entirely missing from the North American International Auto Show just a month ago. It's entirely possible that there will be fewer than ten million new cars sold in the United States this year, but that's still a heck of a lot of cars, and there are a lot of people who are still eager to put a new vehicle in their driveway this year. For those nine-million-plus people, and for the rest of our readers here at Speed:Sport:Life, we took the time to travel to the show and pick our usual Rockers, Suckers, and Snoozers. Our photography crew couldn't make it, which accounts for the "Loch Ness Monster" nature of these shots, but rest assured they'll be back on the job in the future. In the meantime, enjoy the highlights from America's longest continually-operating motor show.

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Rocker: Taurus SHO. We named the normally aspirated Taurus as our "Car of the Detroit Show" last month, and adding a 365-horsepower twin-turbo six, two-tone Alcantara-esque interior fittings, and aggressive suspension tuning to the package doesn't do anything to diminish our enthusiasm for Ford's breakout big sedan. The pricing -- $37,995 -- is no giveaway, but it's still significantly below Chrysler's SRT-8 sedans and it's far, far less than the Euro-sedans with which it competes in size, power, and feature count. Most importantly, with this car and the revised 2010 Mustang, Ford is reaffirming its commitment to the performance enthusiast, even in the midst of a recession/depression/whatever.

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Sucker: Acura TSX V6. The first-generation Acura TSX was a fascinating idea, as it was fundamentally a Euro-market Accord aimed at consumers who thought the North American Accord and its Acura TL sibling were too fat and lazy. With that limited market in mind, the TSX was a reasonable success and made a lot of fairly enthusiastic friends in this country. The current TSX, which debuted in the second half of 2008, was considerably fatter and lazier than its predecessor, perhaps too much so for its modest 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. What's the solution? Why not put in the V6 from the TL? And that's what Acura did. So now Acura offers three V6-engined sedans -- the TSX, TL, and RL -- of approximately the same size, power, and feature set. What's the point?

It's difficult not to conclude that Acura has completely lost its way in the past decade, and this overweight, overpowered TSX doesn't help matters. The company which made it reputation among American enthusiasts with a top-notch four-cylinder car and a class-leading big sedan now provides neither. It's time for Honda/Acura enthusiasts to demand better, more focused products, and time for Acura to provide them. An aggressive Integra successor would be a good place to start. In the meantime, if you want a wacky-beaked V6 honda sedan, here's another one.

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Snoozer: General Motors. Hey! There's a new Transformers movie! And we're in it! Let's look at the cars that will be in the movie: the new Camaro (which has now managed to appear in two Transformers movies without making it to the dealership floor), the "Beat" and "Trax" concepts, a new Corvette StingRay concept, and a Chevy Volt that is named "Jolt" in the movie but is actually, and rather, ahem, shockingly, an old Malibu under the skin. And they're all rolling on fake-brake-disc wheels! Okay then! See you at the movies!

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Rockers: Nissan dealers. When Nissan announced that they were just gonna skip the Detroit and Chicago shows, their dealers didn't take it lying down, and in the case of the Chicago Nissan Dealers, they were able to successfully bully/blackmail/threaten Nissan into bringing some cars to show. This was a big win for the dealers, who have solid product to show their local buyers this year. We're most impressed with the $13,880 Cube, which should do a nice job of picking up the market share utterly abandoned by Scion's super-sized second-gen xB. Sucker: Hyundai and Kia press conferences. John Krafcik's speech at the MAMA Media Breakfast was an odd one, combining blithe praise for the Chinese government with a double helping of hubris regarding Hyundai's ability to pull ahead of its Japanese and American competitors in the current state of the economy. Compared to the Kia Forte reveal, which was so painful and awkward that we won't torture you with any direct quotes, however, it was a veritable masterpiece of clarity. Let's just say that there's no effective way to compare a cheap new Korean sedan with "the blues", and it's not a good idea to try. Shame, really, because the new Forte looks like a very solid replacement for the Spectra, and there's a pretty neat 174-horsepower four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual available. We're looking forward to getting one on the road, preferably sans any more direct interaction with Hyundai or Kia management.

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Snoozer: Mitsubishi Ralliart Sportback. Okay. This isn't the cheap Lancer, and it isn't the fast Evolution, but it's a hatchback. So all of you people who thought that Subaru went completely nuts with their new hatchback-only STi, well, there's another dumpy hatchback available for you to consider. We're pretty sure that the first Lancer Sportback was a wagon -- it doesn't exactly burn in our memories -- but this one's a hatch. No word if Mitsubishi will void your warranty if you take this one to an autocross, but we don't recommend that you press your luck on the issue.

Moments after the underwhelming Acura press event -- okay, a V6 in the TSX, we get it -- we were on the road, hustling at max-warp to escape Chicago before the traffic brought the city to its usual afternoon standstill. As we crawled from one unnecessary toll booth to the next, we still had to smile. It was a decent show, punctuated by a fantastic SHO, and if you find that particular turn of phrase unsatisfying... hey, at least you didn't have to threaten to sue us to get us to show up. Perhaps that should be our new slogan: "Speed:Sport:Life -- We Love You More Than Nissan Does."