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When performance sold cars – Ford’s 1994 Taurus SHO

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1994 Ford Taurus SHO print ad. Image courtesy

Today’s consumers, we’re told by automakers, don’t want sedans, opting instead to buy (coincidentally) higher-margin SUVs and trucks. The automotive landscape was not always this bleak, and in decades past, it was performance – and the thrill of driving – that helped to sell cars.

In 1994, the year this ad appeared in print, those shopping for a domestic sport sedan could head into their local Ford dealer and plunk down cash on a Taurus SHO with one of two drivetrains. Buyers wishing to row their own gears got a 3.0-liter V-6, rated at 220 hp and 200 lb.ft. of torque and mated to a Mazda-sourced five-speed manual, while those opting for an automatic received a 3.2-liter V-6, rated at 220 hp and 215 lb.ft. of torque and bolted to a four-speed AX4S transmission. In manual guise, Car and Driver reported that the SHO could run from 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 143 mph.

The engine was a thing of beauty, too. Instead of being enshrouded in black plastic like virtually every internal combustion appliance today, the SHO put its wonderfully complex, variable-length intake runners front and center for the world to see. Never mind a “bundle of snakes” exhaust, here was Medusa incarnate, supplying air for the Yamaha-designed, 32-valve, double overhead-camshaft V-6. If that wasn’t enough to impress one’s gearhead friends, a glance at the tachometer, with its 7,000 rpm redline, likely would have done the trick.

Outside, the Taurus SHO was the quintessential Q-ship, with little to reveal its true nature to the uninitiated.  Side skirts were modest, the rear spoiler miniscule, and fender flares largely absent. Sure, it wore alloy wheels, but back in ’94 these were 16-inches in diameter, shod with 215/60R-16 high-performance all-season radials. While the suspension was stiffened enough to enhance handling, it wasn’t dialed-in to produce the lowest lap time on the Nürburgring, at the expense of ride comfort. Ford understood its performance-minded buyers and engineered accordingly.

The latest Ford Taurus SHO, likely still available in dealer inventory at this writing, but riding off into the automotive sunset in 2019, somehow missed the mark. With 365 hp on tap from a 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 – driving all four wheels, instead of just the front – it was fast enough, but not distinctive enough. Nothing on the exterior said “sport sedan,” and a manual transmission was never part of the package. Then there was the mass, thanks in part to the Taurus’s migration to a full-size platform and the addition of two more driven wheels. At nearly 4,400 pounds – over 1,000 more than the original SHO – it’s hard to envision working the car hard on a winding mountain road.

Maybe if today’s automakers worried less about the myth of autonomous cars and focused on building a well-balanced performance sedan at a somewhat reasonable price – complete with an aggressive marketing campaign, promoting the fact that driving can be enjoyable – consumers would once again shop automobiles over SUVs. As long as margins remain significantly higher on pickups and sport-utilities (and as long as Wall Street remains obsessed with a self-driving future that isn’t coming any time soon), don’t expect this sport sedan renaissance to happen any time soon.