Picking a car of the year
is not a scientific business. It's about priorities. If you're a single guy with an unlimited amount of dough, you should get an Audi R8. If you hate fun as much as you love patchouli, buy a hybrid. (Or for a green car that actually kicks ass, see the BMW 335d
.) And if you're a subscriber of Mexican Drug Lord Quarterly
, your car of the year would definitely be the Knight XV, a $295,000 armored SUV that looks like something you'd buy if DMX were mad at you.
Here at Esquire, we have our own set of priorities. First and foremost, we believe the car of the year should be able to stir the ol' loins — you need to feel a little tingle of excitement every time you grab those keys. Yet, unlike the $115,000 R8, it should also be attainable for most men. Our car should be sharp enough to impress a date and restrained enough to park next to your boss. It's a vehicle that is thrilling but not profligate, handsome but not faddish. We wanted to select a car that fulfills the mundane, practical needs of year-round transportation but also packs enough beans under the hood to give you a queasy feeling when you realize the guy in the Porsche is instigating a race — and you're about to take him up on it.
After much driving and much debate, there was only one conclusion: The Esquire Car of the Year is the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO.
We were as surprised as you are.
This new SHO — which stands for Super High Output — comes from a company that's in a far different place than the firm that designed the Taurus of your rental-car memory. Ford used to build Jaguars, Aston Martins, Land Rovers, and Volvos. With all the premium brands except Volvo sold off (and Volvo most definitely on the auction block), the company is rapidly heading to a place in which its most advanced technological efforts aren't directed toward Aston V-8 Vantages or Range Rovers but actual Fords. Imagine that.
A few years back, Ford might've thought twice about putting massage seats in a Taurus when such an option wasn't available for Jaguars. Or it might've detuned the top-spec motor to keep a respectful distance between the lowly Taurus and the Volvo S80. But now this is it. This is the flagship. So Ford came at it with both barrels.
The SHO offers massage seats that improve on Mercedes's system by including the whole seat, not just the back. (They're heated and cooled, too.) It has a blind-spot warning system on the outside rearview mirrors. Adaptive cruise control flashes a heads-up warning on the windshield when you run up on slower traffic, and another radar system scans for cross traffic when you're backing out of a parking space. That's all quite nice, but you don't buy a car strictly because it has massage seats. (Okay, maybe you do.) The reason we care about the new Taurus can be boiled down to four words: Looks good, goes fast.
Here we have an affordable American sedan that benchmarks not the Chevy Impala or Hyundai Sonata but the Audi A6 and BMW 535xi. The BMW, for instance, offers all-wheel drive and a twin-turbocharged, direct-injected 300 hp six-cylinder for about $54,000. The SHO also uses all-wheel drive and a twin-turbo, direct-injection six-cylinder, but it puts out more power — 365 hp — and costs $16,000 less than the 535xi. The fact that a Taurus is cheaper than a 5-Series isn't news. But the fact that it plays on the same field technologically is crazy.
And this is also the best-looking Taurus since the 1980s original, which was so radical that it promptly showed up in RoboCop
. The SHO recalls the crisp, badass Ford Interceptor concept car of a few years back. It looks strong and well proportioned, a shape that implies power.
And this time around, the power is definitely there. Ford considered putting a V-8 in the SHO (likely the Yamaha-built number found in the Volvo XC90) but ultimately decided to go with its own 3.5-liter turbo V-6, dubbed EcoBoost. The rationale was simple: With turbos on a direct-injected V-6, you get V-8 power with V-6 fuel economy. Floor the gas on the SHO and you're smoothly squeezed back in the seat as the motor builds power, the turbos whistling faintly in the background. The all-wheel-drive system and six-speed automatic put the power down with no wheelspin. It's all very refined. This is deceptive speed, the kind where you look down at the speedometer and realize that ten seconds with your foot to the floor will amount to jail time if you ever get caught. The SHO is a sleeper — a vehicle you can live with every day that happens to have a secret under the hood.
Divested of its luxury brands, Ford is all-in on the business of building Fords, and the SHO is one of the first results of that newfound focus — a $38,000 American sedan that stacks up against the big-money German autobahn slayers. It's almost too bad, in a way: The Taurus SHO would've made a pretty good Jaguar.