Ford's SHO Taurus knocked other American sedans for a loop when it came out two years ago. It has since become even better.

This special Taurus is as fast as all but a handful of sedans in the world, thanks to a beautiful double-overhead cam, 24-valve, V-6 engine built for Ford by Yamaha.The SHO, which stands for Super High Output, may not be as radical as BMW's rocket M5 sedan, but it is nevertheless a car with many of the same traits - power, deceptive speed, room for four people and balanced road-holding.

The first-year SHO lacked anti-lock brakes, fancy wheels and an automatic transmission. The seats were a bit short in underthigh support, and the instrumentation was fairly plain.

Now the SHO has anti-lock brakes, new 16-inch wheels and an all-new dashboard. Ford still doesn't offer an automatic because it doesn't have a front-wheel-drive transmission capable of withstanding the 220 horsepower output of the special engine. The seats' bottom cushions could be longer, but all in all the SHO continues to rank as a first-rate example of a sports sedan.

SHO sales have been slower than Ford expected, and many say it's because of the lack of an automatic transmission. But I think the five-speed perfectly complements the engine, which loves rpm more than a dieter likes ice cream.

Even though the basic Taurus shape is getting pretty familiar by now, it still looks smart enough to catch most folks' eye, aided by the subdued, monochrome paint scheme. In the past, you couldn't tell the SHO from the standard model without looking closely, and wheels were mostly to blame. For 1991 a new set of six-spoke alloy wheels spruces up the exterior and adds to the handling.

Handling has always been a strength of the SHO. Its firm ride gives it excellent high-speed road manners, and it's equally at home on freeways or twisty back roads. Despite having front-wheel drive, it is extremely well-balanced.

I had the car in a period of wintry weather, with patchy snow or thawing grime on the streets. It never once felt skittish.

Since 1989, the dashboard and door panels have been redesigned to give the interior a more modern look. Analog gauges at night mimic the light green numerals and pink needles of the Thunderbird, and they are not only easy to read but handsome. This unusual color combination is especially easy on the eyes in night driving.

On the door panels, buttons for windows and locks have been relocated. The inside looks a lot like a Thunderbird.

The heart of this car is its engine, which looks as good as it goes fast. The fuel-injection system is topped off by a sprawling bundle of air intake runners that comprise the dual air intake system that gives this engine its high performance. By using two runners for each cylinder, both high- and low-speed needs are tended to. Dual runners give the engine its split personality: docile when driven slowly, fierce when driven hard.

The SHO Taurus is truly remarkable in the way it packs so much high-speed German spirit into an American sedan.

Base price of the test car was $22,071. Equipped with an excellent JBL stereo radio, a cassette deck, a compact disc player, automatic climate control, a leather interior, a power moonroof, six-way power seats, keyless entry, cruise control, power windows and locks, electric outside mirrors and a tilt steering wheel, it had a sticker price of $25,696.