Truth be told, it’s Ford that’s pronouncing this “Year of the Car.” That’s shorthand for the company’s renewed interest in selling cars like the Taurus, which was truly revolutionary at its mid-1980s debut, and car-based wagons, which seem to be in a renaissance or a revival, depending on your religious bent. But since Ford has made about a bazillion dollars since 1990 selling truck-based SUVs like the Explorer, these new wagons are being bred with SUVs into the latest fancy fashion called a crossover.
are all about pleasing everybody, with SUV room and
all-weather capability, sedan-like handling, and wagon versatility. And, Ford says, the Freestyle
pictured here and not coincidentally also written about here, will eventually be
seen as the standard bearer for crossovers everywhere. The Five Hundred sedan, on
the other hand, will take care of traditionalists who don’t want a wagon
but still want the benefits of the Freestyle’s chassis. You can read more
about the Five Hundred on TCC soon.. Here it’s all Freestyle, from its
seven-seat interior to its unconventional continuously variable transmission to
its clean lines.
Let’s get this out of the way first, though: both the Freestyle and Five Hundred go on sale in the fall. The Freestyle will be priced from $25,595 in front-drive form or $27,295 for the all-wheel-drive model.
In Freestyle terms, the new architecture delivers
seven-passenger seating and tremendous flexibility. The crossover rides on a
long 112.9-inch wheelbase, is 199.8 inches long overall, is 73 inches wide, and
stands 64.9 inches tall. Chrysler’s
I can attest to that pretty vividly, after volunteering to be wedged into
the third-row seat on a short trip from the
In any seating configuration, the deep cargo well behind the rear seats can swallow lots of luggage or groceries or, if you work for TCC, bimonthly new computers and 80-pound press kits.
Geared for change
Ford says the powertrain that propels the Freestyle gives it the power to
overcome the competition and to make buyers forget that it’s an unfamiliar
transmission coupled to an engine with less on-paper power than the
We think the continuously variable transmission will be an interesting
gambit for Ford. CVTs aren’t widespread yet, though they do offer benefits in
fuel economy and performance. The idea is a little complex to visualize, but in
essence, a pair of pulleys and a multi-link chain work together to create an
infinite number of gear ratios. Ford says its CVT has the same multi-link belt
that Audi uses in its CVTs, where it’s also used with a high-torque V-6 engine.
And Ford says the CVT in combination with the Duratec V-6 endows the Freestyle
with the performance to rival the 250-hp
The Duratec gets a workout in the chunky Freestyle. It’s rated at 203
horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque and in tandem with the CVT, Ford
promises it will dash to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds, while the
The Freestyle has available all-wheel drive supplied by Haldex, the same
company that delivers AWD to Volvo. The system can deliver a maximum of 40
percent of available torque to the back wheels when things get slippery (like on
the dirt hills Ford challenged us to crest in the Freestyle,
Dynamically the all-wheel-drive Freestyles we sampled were surprisingly
sweet, in spite of their roughly 4000-pound heft. The steering seems to have
good on-center feel, though the tropopause between
The plain in Jane
Inside the shapes and ergonomics are all appealing. The metallic rings on some trim levels are a nice touch, and given the choice, we’d actually opt for the wood-like panels of the Limited instead of the carbon-fiber-ish design on lesser versions, though both are pretty well done. The best touches are the big control buttons, nice brightwork touches, the wide door panel that doubles as a truly useful armrest, and the big center console. There’s a “conversation mirror” that lets the driver quickly absorb the skirmishes that third-row seats seem to encourage. The DVD entertainment system will be available at launch, but the DVD navigation system will not.
Of course, the Freestyle carries as much safety equipment as most buyers want or will pay for. Anti-lock brakes are standard, as is traction control. All-wheel drive is available on all trim levels for $1700. Side-curtain airbags will be optional too. And though the Freestyle hasn’t been crash-tested yet, Ford officials are hopeful they’ll get the government’s best ratings.
Ford thinks the Freestyle will define the crossover segment like the Taurus did for the American sedan of the 1980s. And they’re pricing it to get strong first looks from all sorts of customers: it starts from $25,595, including the third-row seat, front-wheel drive, ABS, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The SEL is priced from $26,900 and includes fog lamps, a six-disc in-dash CD changer, steering-wheel audio controls and five-spoke alloys. The Limited, at $29,100, gets leather seating, better speakers, a power passenger seat, and 18-inch wheels.
Whether it’s a bellwether development in the short history of crossovers, or just a neatly executed idea, the Freestyle doesn’t need much to be truly captivating. More power is always welcome. But it’s tough to imagine a more useful vehicle for anyone looking to get out of an SUV, a minivan, or a sedan but not quite ready to slam the door behind them.
2005 Ford Freestyle
Base price: $25,595–$29,100
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6, 202 hp/207 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Continuously variable, front- or all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 199.8 x 73.0 x 64.9 in
Wheelbase: 112.9 in
Curb weight: 3959 lb (front-wheel drive); 4112 lb (all-wheel drive)
EPA City/Hwy: 20/27 mpg (FWD); 19/24 mpg (AWD)
Safety equipment: Dual-stage front airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock control, traction control
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, AM/FM/CD player, door keypad, 17-inch wheels
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles