PORTLAND, Ore. -- Once upon a time, the Taurus was the star of Ford's car stable and the sporty SHO (for Super High Output) version was a niche version geared to a handful of enthusiasts who liked its powerful Yamaha engine and manual gearbox.
But the mid-sized Fusion has long since eclipsed the full-sized Taurus as Ford Motor Co.'s best-selling car.
So Ford is trying to move the facelifted 2013 Taurus upmarket. The company is counting on the top-of-the-line SHO version to win customers who normally would buy performance sedans from BMW, Audi or other luxury brands.
"We're going to use the SHO in our advertising to do the heavy lifting" as a halo car for the Taurus nameplate, Amy Marentic, group marketing manager for cars and utilities, said at the media launch here.
When Ford starts advertising the 2013 Taurus next month, TV commercials will only highlight the sporty flagship SHO. Other Taurus models, including the SEL and base SE, will be advertised in print or online but not on TV.
The SHO commercials will feature Ford customers and Ford engineers. But the star of the ads will be "someone who knows how to drive a car like most people do not," she said: NASCAR driver Carl Edwards.
Marentic says Ford was pleasantly surprised by research that found that the No. 1 car cross-shopped by SHO customers is the BMW 5 series. She said customers are attracted to the SHO's lower price compared to the 5 series. But there's another factor, she said: Some luxury customers want to buy American-made cars.
Marentic expects the SHO to account for about 25 percent of Taurus sales.
Taurus prices start at $27,395, while SHO prices start at $39,200. Both prices include shipping.
Ford also will go after luxury customers more aggressively with a new lease package, Marentic said. "We will be offering more leases," she said, starting with a $399 per month offer with 10 percent down on the SHO.
With the 2013 Taurus, which has just begun arriving in dealerships, Ford will be working to reverse a slide in Taurus sales.
From 1986 through 2004 Ford sold more than 200,000 Tauruses a year in the United States, and sales peaked at 409,751 in 1992. That dipped to the 100,000 range in 2005 and 2006 and then fell sharply to a low of 45,617 in the recession year 2009.
In 2010 sales rebounded 51 percent to 68,859. But they fell 8 percent in 2011, even as total industry sales rose 10 percent. In the first two months of this year, sales slid 9 percent to 7,776.
The Taurus lineup gets better fuel economy, a long list of new technology and improved driving dynamics for 2013.
The SHO is powered by Ford's twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, which generates 365 hp and 350 pounds-feet of torque. The engine is teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission that can be operated with paddle shifters.
The standard Taurus engine is a 3.5-liter Ti-VCT -- for "twin independent variable camshaft timing" -- V-6 that puts out 288 hp -- 25 hp more than the previous base engine -- and delivers up to 29 mpg highway and 19 mpg city.
Ford also will offer the Taurus with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder 240-hp EcoBoost engine at a $995 premium.