By Warren Brown
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 20, 2009; F01
Conventional wisdom congratulates Ford for forgoing last year's feast of federal bailouts, as if Ford's absence from that table of taxpayers' money signaled extraordinary competence and virtue in a time of corporate recklessness and greed.
The truth is less heroic, which is that Ford was well on its way to ruin long before General Motors and Chrysler traveled that road.
But unlike its Detroit brethren, Ford was urgent and straightforward in admitting that it had lost its way and that it needed a fast turnaround in pursuit of a prosperous "Way Forward," which was the corporate name of its self-initiated recovery program.
It was a teachable moment missed by GM and Chrysler. Put simply: When you're lost, don't stay lost for long. Admit that you don't know where you're going, or what you're doing. Seek help, which is what Ford did in 2006 in choosing former Boeing executive Alan Mulally as its president and chief executive.
Mulally did not waste time or sentiment. He did away with Ford's costly, underperforming darlings -- Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover. He scrapped assembly and supplier plants that were manufacturing more debt than quality products. He streamlined corporate management, and he overturned one of Ford management's worst decisions -- the 2006 scrapping of the Taurus car brand.
Mulally brought back the Taurus name in the 2008 model year, arguing that the only thing wrong with the car was what had gone wrong with the company. Ford had forgotten that it was in the car business. Cars, as a result, went by the boards in favor of what Ford management construed as more lucrative trucks. The Taurus, originally introduced in 1986 to consumer and critical acclaim, did not fail. Instead, Mulally argued, Ford management had failed the Taurus.
He said the company and the Taurus brand needed the same thing -- better cars, much better cars. And he delivered.
The proof is in a variety of new Ford automobiles: the Fusion Hybrid, the reworked Ford Focus, the Lincoln MKZ, the new Fiesta, and this week's subject car, the 2010 Taurus SHO (Super High Output).
When introduced in 1989, the Taurus SHO, equipped with a 3-liter, 220-horsepower Yamaha V-6 engine, quickly became a favorite among married men with children. It was a car suitable for a holiday trip to grandma's house and a weekend on local racing circuits. That it was priced a tad below $20,000 was a bonus, affording high-performance driving on a shoestring budget.
The 2010 Taurus SHO follows much the same formula as the original -- with 365 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque in a twin-turbocharged V-6 engine -- in a car that otherwise has all of the character and accommodations of a big family sedan.
But though it is measurably more affordable than its foreign high-performance rivals, the new Taurus SHO is by no means cheap. Pricing now starts at $37,770 on a car that requires premium unleaded fuel for "best performance."
The new Taurus SHO also differs from the old in that the new is full-size and leans more toward luxury, as opposed to the mid-size measurement and middling appointments of the old.
The changes can be disconcerting to people who grew up with up with the old Taurus. Ria Manglapus, my Washington Post assistant for vehicle evaluations, was taken aback by the size of the new Taurus and the complexity of its instrument panel. "Too big with too many buttons," she said.
But if you can get past those things, as I did the moment I keyed the ignition, you'll find lots to love. Fit, finish and overall comfort easily are among the best in business. Overall performance in acceleration and handling rivals that of more expensive cars -- and that includes Audi, BMW and Lexus.
Delivering 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 miles per gallon on the highway won't impress motorists who measure automotive value by how far they can drive on a gallon of fuel. But for those of us who remain easily seduced by horsepower and torque, it's a pretty neat trick, accomplished in this case by Ford's 3.5-liter "EcoBoost" V-6, which uses a combination of direct fuel injection and larger volumes of forced air to create maximum power without a commensurate increase in fuel consumption.