That's not to say the Taurus handles badly: it's actually quite failsafe and predictable. The SHO's all-wheel-drive system splits the torque 55/45 front to rear, and even carrying high speeds into a 90-degree corner, the handling will quickly neutralize if you abruptly lift the throttle and allow the stability control to interfere. However, enthusiastic use of the throttle on the exit will have the Taurus torque-steering noticeably. What felt the quickest and neatest method through turns is to left-foot brake hard and late to get the weight transferred over the nose of the car at the point of maximum turning, while also keeping the throttle slightly open, ready for brake-release on corner-exit. That's probably not the kindest technique to the mechanicals, but it's made possible by the Taurus' impressively fade-free brakes.
So the Taurus can be made to corner quite rapidly, but the feeling that it has a high c-of-g is amplified by seats that don't have enough lateral support if you want to exploit the car's capabilities. The chairs are very comfortable but, as with Ford's Flex – which handles and grips supremely well for a seven-seater – if you drive it enthusiastically, you'll find yourself holding onto the steering wheel for support as well as to decide trajectory.
Despite narrower tires and only two driven wheels, I'd bet a driver's apex speeds on any twisty route to be higher in the Mercedes. While its steering has less feel than ideal, it is a very quick and precise system, yet doesn't require the driver to fidget with the wheel when on the straight and narrow at freeway speeds. The E350's chassis takes quick direction changes in its stride, and in terms of providing a great compromise between strong body control and a supple ride, it's very close to Jaguar XF standard, and we can't pay a higher compliment than that. Even laden with four people and some heavy luggage, the E350's dampers behave as impeccably over mid-corner undulations as when the driver is alone in the car. There aren't many sedans with that composure in all circumstances.
The chassis' litheness is yet more exploitable due to a completely harmonious relationship between brake and throttle pedals (particularly in the BlueTec model), giving enough travel in both to make it easy to grade the foot pressure necessary for any given circumstance. Throw in that torquey diesel engine and you have a large car that is a true pleasure to thread swiftly through switchbacks.
Both these cars are perception changers, in our opinion. The Ford Taurus SHO proves that a V6 can haul a 4341lb beast with considerable verve but also refinement, while also providing a cosseting cabin that is well built and imaginative. It's a very pleasant car in which to spend long periods of time, no question. Whether this is quite the purpose of vehicles that wear the SHO badge is more debatable. “Super High Output” it has, given that it's only a 3.5-liter engine, but implicit in that badge – as well as in the car's wheels, deep air dam and vents in the front fenders – is sporting intent. And there the Taurus is less convincing, simply because of its sheer bulk. Far better, surely, to go the blatantly refined route of the Lincoln MKS with that same excellent engine. Or see if we can persuade Ford to put this engine in the all-new Ford Fusion. Now that would be a car worthy of the SHO nomenclature. Given that the Fusion is around 1,000lb lighter (it's E-class size), you could have a car that outpaces German rivals of three times its price.
Despite its limitations, though, the Taurus' pace and space make it impossible to ignore its $39,000 price tag. How often in our lives do we get a chance to – or even wish to – drive our cars to their limits? For 95 percent of the time, a Taurus SHO is going to do everything you want from it.
And you have to ask yourself, too, if it's better to have the top end of one model's range than the bottom end of another's, whatever the badge on the grille. Remember, for $12,000 more, you'll get into a “basic” E-class which, unless you spend yet more money, shouts “poverty spec” to the sidewalk snobs. Start speccing the Benz to look as muscular as the Ford, and you'll be maintaining or extending that price gap, no matter how many boxes are checked on the Taurus's option sheet. And if you want an E-class that can match the SHO's straightline performance, you're looking at the E550 – which starts at $60k-plus…
There's no question that the E-class has a greater breadth of ability than the Taurus. But, is it enough to justify that vast price difference? Maybe not for the E350 but for just $1,200 extra outlay, the E350 BlueTec becomes available, and that may be one of the best all-around cars on sale in the U.S. today. I wish its 3-liter turbodiesel V6 was tuned as it is in the S-class BlueTec (240hp and 455lb-ft) and I also wish its exterior had fewer visual quirks and contrivances…and yet I still want one. The current E-class not only possesses all of its creator's traditional values, it also proves that in order to create a rewarding drivers' car, Mercedes-Benz doesn't have to rely on superhero machinery from its AMG plant.