1989 Ford Taurus

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Expert Reviews

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By 

Los Angeles Times

The Taurus SHO begins stalking freeways this month as the fastest, best idea from Ford since the assembly line.

It also is the absolute myth basher.

Myth: Detroit cannot build cars with the pure, easy high performance of European sedans.

Truth: With a top speed of 143 m.p.h., the SHO (for super high output) is an Autobahn burner. It is the fastest four-door in U.S. automotive history. It is quicker than the Mercedes 560SEL and the Tokyo-Osaka bullet train.

Myth: Even when American cars are given muscle, they corner like herniated longhorns.

Truth: In track tests, writers for Automobile magazine found that the SHO was 1.9 seconds-per-lap faster than the BMW 535. It was more nimble during slalom runs.

The SHO has four doors, seats for five adults and enough rear room for a fortnight's groceries. Its wheels are the same ho-hum type found on the more sedate Taurus station wagon. It has PTA and Baskin-Robbins written all over it.

Yet, this bull in Taurus clothing accelerates from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 6.7 seconds and that's quicker than the $58,000 Jaguar XJ-S V12 and the $70,000 Ferrari Mondial.

The SHO costs $20,000.

Dick Landgraff, a program manager for Ford Motor Co., sees the car as a breakthrough "in terms of providing a very quick car with a sophisticated, multivalve, double overhead cam engine . . . at a price about half what anything comparable costs."

The arcanum, of course, is that engine. It is a 24-valve V6 built by Yamaha of Japan. It is as powerful (220 horsepower) as it is efficient (21 to 34 miles per gallon) as it is industrious (the tachometer is redlined at 7,000 r.p.m.).

To some, this use of a Japanese engine by Ford, an American company almost as old as the car itself, is an insult to reason, public taste and major league baseball. To Ford, however, it was the fastest way to deliver what Europe and Japan have sold Americans for years--high speed, Mighty-Mouse engines.

"We weren't sure that we wanted to make a major leap into high-speed engines because they are substantially more costly," Landgraff explained. "So we picked Yamaha to help us out with this engine, to get some experience, to get some market demand."

That demand, he believes, will come from the driver "who has a couple of kids, is 35, wants more of a sports sedan, but doesn't have a lot of money to spend."

The spirited (but garden variety) Taurus was introduced in 1985. It has been an enormous success and production continues.

For the SHO, Ford is geared to a 1989 run of 25,000 cars. If trade press enthusiasm for the car ("America's Best Sedan . . . Ole!" chortled Car and Driver) is any reflection of public passion, Ford will have sold that many before the close of the January White Sales.

Quite simply, at this price, with a performance envelope that stretches from Riverside Raceway to Riverside Drive, there is no compet ition.

Ford did not set out to build a 143-m.p.h. car. It wanted a machine with smooth, instant response through legal speed ranges for today's freeways. Once the mid-range requirements were met, the SHO just happened to have a 143 m.p.h. top end. The company says it fervently hopes that buyers will resist the fatal attraction.

The review car was currant red with extras--leather bucket seats among other upgrades. Disc brakes on all four wheels are standard. So are the Goodyear Eagle GT+4 tires rated for that top speed Ford requests drivers not try. The drive is front-wheel, transmission 5-speed; an automatic is not offered.

One factory option is completely ignored--a warning sticker for those who approach this car with their right foot still tuned to a Nissan mini-truck.

SHO's performance, as Ford decreed, is clumped into the mid-range (it accelerates from 50 to 70 on a par with the Porsche 911 Carrera) and that's sufficient for any daily demands

So the SHO can enter a freeway stream ahead of the flow and be set in the fast lane before the meter light is green for the next guy. On the move, this is a car where better drivers can use the gas pedal, not brakes, to execute position changes in even competitive traffic.

And the car corners flat, forgives stompers and wheel-wrestlers, and has a suspension stiff enough to allow both excesses while retaining full ride comfort.

Torque steer--that nemesis of front-wheel drive, where hard acceleration produces a variety of unwanted steering movements--has been engineered almost to zero.

Yet such performance is not without flaws.

The SHO's shifting is notchier than a 10-speed bike. The car's performance begs an anti-lock brake system. Fit and finish show the gaps and oversights of any first-year car. Dashboard illumination is piddling. Ford says fixes are in the works.

Obviously, at its price, the SHO cannot equal the elegance, mechanical smoothness and five-star luxury of BMW or Mercedes. But there is no doubt that Ford is selling a handful. They have built a 220-horsepower car after many engineers had said 200 was the limit for front-wheel drive.

It is a very fast vehicle with performance limits far beyond the abilities of 99% of its future drivers.

"The car is very quick," Landgraff agreed. "But it is not a touchy car. For the average guy . . . you can push the SHO very hard and not get into trouble."

SHO 'nuff.

1989 Ford Taurus SHO, four-door sedan

The Good Maximum go for minimum money. Mercurial acceleration. Disciplines suspension. Reassuring seating and handling.

The Bad Clockwork gearbox. Instrument panel illumination. Emergency brake positioning.

The Ugly Those station wagon wheels.

Cost Base: $19,739. As reviewed: $21,868.

Engine Yamaha V6, four valves per cylinder, double overhead cams, fuel injection, developing 220 brake horsepower.

Performance Manufacturer's claim, 0-60 m.p.h. in 6.7 second top speed, 143 m.p.h. Fuel Economy, 21 m.p.g. city driving, 34 m.p.g. highway.


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