2005 Ford Freestyle Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 3, 2004




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2005 Ford Freestyle

2005 Ford Freestyle

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Okay, so, did you know it was the year of the car? Funny, my psychic said it was the year of the monkey. TV news is telling us it’s the year of the Olympics, of the election, and of plaid (it’s the new pink). And last night Mom called and said it’s the year I'm finally supposed to grow up. (C’mon, Ma!)

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.

Crossovers 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.

Nice package

2005 Ford Freestyle

2005 Ford Freestyle

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The Freestyle and the Five Hundred (as well as the Mercury Montego, future Lincoln and Mercury crossovers based on the same architecture, and if you believe current rumors, a new Lincoln LS and Town Car) are based on Volvo’s P2 architecture, which underpins the S80 and XC90 over at the Swedish brand’s showrooms. Ford refers to the evolution of this architecture as D3.

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 Pacifica has a wheelbase nearly four inches longer and is about six inches wider, but is marginally shorter. Ford trumpets the Freestyle’s packaging versus the Pacifica, its closest competitor; Ford says the Freestyle has a much more usable third-row seat while delivering more cargo area when the third-row seat is in use.

I can attest to that pretty vividly, after volunteering to be wedged into the third-row seat on a short trip from the Milwaukee airport to downtown. In the Pacifica, my six-foot frame could not get comfortable in the Pacifica bench — in fact, I couldn’t even sit upright without thinking about scheduling an appointment with the chiropractor. The tailgate of the Pacifica sits uncomfortably close to the headrests of the third-row seat too, and in general, its more pronounced tumblehome (the way a vehicle’s sides curves from wheel wells to roofline) gives up useful space to the Freestyle’s more upright positioning. The debate will center on who you decide to shove all the way in the back and how large a human they are.

2005 Ford Freestyle

2005 Ford Freestyle

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The Freestyle’s other two rows of seating are superior to the Pacifica’s, too. The front seats have taken a lesson from the thrones found in most Volvos: they’re firm, upright, and need little adjustment to feel comfy for hours. And the second row offers up good choices: a bench seat is standard, but twin buckets can be ordered, with or without a console separating them. All seats except the driver’s fold forward and flat (nearly flat in the case of the front passenger seat), creating a huge cargo area that’s large enough to swallow about ten linear feet of cargo. However, the last couple feet should be soft and rounded: the front-passenger seatback is pliable, tearable vinyl that a Home Depot ladder would just love to have for lunch.

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 Pacifica.

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 Pacifica or even Honda’s Pilot.

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 Pacifica takes 9.6 seconds in their estimate. Rated top speed is 110 mph. Both the Pacifica and Freestyle could use more power and less noise from the engine bay, however. The Pacifica strains at the top of each of its gears — and the Freestyle growls too, and does it more since the CVT pushes the engine to work in a higher powerband for more of its on-road time. Passing power seems good, though, and though there’s a bit of a lag while the CVT dials in the proper pulley ratio, it does seem reasonably fleet of foot if not Mercurian.

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, Pacifica, and Buick’s hapless Rendezvous). And coincidentally, Ford expects 40 percent of buyers will opt for the all-weather peace of mind without even caring what a lovely piece of technology they’re buying.

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 Milwaukee and Chicago isn’t filled with the kind of kinks you’d find at Laguna Seca or in the Manhattan underground. The brakes are discs all around, equipped with anti-lock for panic measures such as our discovery of a baked-goods shop in northern Illinois with real cider doughnuts. We’re sure some Freestyle owners will be more adventurous than this, but probably less sugar-happy.

The plain in Jane

2005 Ford Freestyle

2005 Ford Freestyle

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The Freestyle’s styling — seemingly so non-controversial — is already the subject of too many shrimp-cocktail conversations in the auto-writer set. It’s either too plain for its own good (their opinion) or unadorned and better for it (mine). The front end plants the Freestyle squarely in SUV territory, and the side profile echoes Outbacks and Discoverys and other versatile lifestyle vehicles that get way more off-road action.

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

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