2010 Ford Taurus SHO

Not everything needs to come with a warning label. A bag of peanuts shouldn't have Warning: contains nuts on it. You know what I'm talking about here. But when I shyly asked the infamous Agent 001 of Autospies to be my co-driver for the next day's 2010 Taurus SHO twisty-road press preview, perhaps I should have had excerpts from my Maximum Street Speed editorials stapled to the functional sleeves of my Gulf Blue Kiton linen jacket. Kind of a warning label, you see. It would have saved him more than a little worry the next day . . . to say nothing of the dry heaves. But don't worry: Ford's latest SHOmobile isn't nausea-inducing. Unless, that is, you are sensitive to the odor of disc brakes when their pads catch on fire.

My time in the 2010 Taurus Limited had given me plenty of reason to hope that the twin-turbo EcoBoost variant would be a world-beater. The original 1989 SHO was a ass-kicking sedan that polished the big Ford's faux-Audi-5000 demeanor to a razor's edge. Applying the same treatment to the stock Taurus would create the perfect tool with which to humiliate Honda S2000 drivers on a back road or a particularly wide-open road course. A thirteen-second car with a family-friendly face and actual metal on the dashboard. What's not to like?

Following an unusually comprehensive product presentation in the courtyard of Asheville's brand-new Grand Bohemian hotel, we set off in our blood-red SHO-but not until the rest of the journalists were twenty minutes down the road. Why are we waiting? Agent 001 asked me.

Cause we're gonna catch 'em ten minutes into the backroad drive, was the cocky response. Alas, it wasn't cocky enough: the first of the poky journo-driven SHOs came into view after just five minutes of pedaling Ford's stout-hearted turbomotor at full chat along North Carolina's twisty lanes. This is one of the all-time great passenger-car engines. The standard Duratec 3.5 is a snoozer of the first order, but adding some beefier hardware and a pair of hairdryers pointed at the intake turns this Sleeping Beauty into a wicked witch.

Across North Carolina's wandering countryside, the EcoBoost fired the big Ford past loitering traffic like the railgun in the new Transformers movie. Virtually no passing zone is too short for the fortified six-speed to snap down two gears and strain the four contact patches to their limit under acceleration. This is major-league thrust, enough to make a 335i owner feel slightly inadequate. Even better, the electric power steering is usable and efficient, allowing the inside tire to be placed within inches of the road's edge time and time again.

Ford's provided shifter paddles on the SEL, Limited, and SHO models. They are abysmal. I have never operated a worse manumatic shifter, period, point blank. Snapping a downshift requires placing one's thumb on a tiny button above the steering spoke and pressing it hard enough to flex the plastic before the paddle actually rotates and makes the request. Everybody else I spoke to on the press drive gave up on them immediately, but I continued working with the wobbly paddles, just because the manual-selection mode works just as it's supposed to, holding the EcoBoost at the limiter without an involuntary upshift.

You'll want to hold those gears when you can, because after the first five corners you'll want the engine-braking effect. Finally, someone has challenged BMW in the critical area of providing suck-tastic brakes on very fast cars. (They aren't called the Bayerische BrakeWerke, you know.) Ford's aware of the problem and is offering an upgraded-pad Performance Package. But really, just unbolt the calipers and put something else on. A set of Boxster brakes. A set of Shelby GT500 brakes. A set of bicycle brakes. It doesn't matter.

Had I been the only driver to smoke the calipers, I'd have put it down to my relentless and indefensible desire to use the road as my private racetrack. But I watched the other journos do it, and their pace, to a man (and woman), can only be described as pathetic beyond reason. This is a big problem and it spoils the usability of an otherwise outstanding performance sedan.

There's that word: outstanding. This SHO truly is an outstanding car, but is it really a SHO? The answer, sadly, is probably not.

It's fundamentally a Taurus Limited with the view through the windshield set to fast-forward. The iconic original SHO had a manual transmission, a suspension optimized for handling over comfort, and an aggressiveness that left no doubt in anyone's mind as to its mission. This SHO goes but doesn't stop, corners but doesn't claw at the road, is fast but is never furious. It's an engine in search of a chassis and a car in search of a mission. SHOgoers in search in a sequel to the 1989 original should read this warning label: Should have been called Limited Ecoboost.

[Ford provided Mr. Baruth's travel, accommodation, meals, libations, the vehicle reviewed, gas and insurance.]