2005 Ford Five Hundred Limited AWD - Review


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2005 Ford Five Hundred Limited AWD

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Ford

It seemed like the ink was barely dry on the paperwork for Ford's buyout of Volvo Cars in 1999 when I first heard the rumor: the next-generation Taurus would be based on the Volvo S80. As automotive industry rumors go, that was a pretty wild one - the norm when a large company acquires a smaller one is that the smaller manufacturer's products disappear as separate entities, and become versions of the larger company's offerings. But Ford has an admirable record of leaving its acquisitions alone to do what they do best in the manner they do best, and even of helping them to do so. Volvo went on to use the basic platform for the S80 in the smaller S60 sedan and V70 wagon, and the larger XC90 SUV. The Ford Taurus soldiered on with minor styling freshenings. It looked like the Ford-uses-Volvo-platform rumor was just another bit of the misinformation, disinformation, and just plain fantasy that keep the automotive rumor mill so entertaining.

Wrong. It was correct, except that the ``next-generation Taurus'' wasn't called Taurus. Ford's new flagship sedan is called Five Hundred, and underneath it is a modified version of the platform originally used for the S80. ``Platform'' in this case means basic structural architecture and suspension design, some of the most expensive parts of a car to develop.

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Ford did its homework, and did it well. The Volvo platform is a very good one. But, basic architecture and stampings aside, the Five Hundred is a Ford, not a Volvo. Nowhere will you find a ``Made in Sweden'' sticker, it is born in the Chicago, IL plant that used to build Tauruses. The engine is the 3.0-liter ``Duratec'' V6 familiar from the Taurus and a host of other
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Ford and Ford family products. The Five Hundred is positioned more upscale than the Taurus, and three trim levels are offered - value-leader SE, midlevel SEL, and premium Limited. Standard equipment levels are high even in the SE. Interestingly, the standard transmission in the SE and all-wheel drive (AWD) versions of the others is a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). The AWD system is the same as is used by Volvo for the S80, designed for all-weather pavement driving. Front-wheel drive SELs and Limiteds have a six-speed automatic.

One reason for SUV popularity and the decline of the sedan has been space.

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A mid-sized sedan only has so much space, and it just isn't enough for many people. But the downside of SUV space and size is fuel economy - 15mpg is expensive with the current and projected future price of gasoline. The Five Hundred has far more interior space than the Taurus - almost as much as the larger Crown Victoria, and in fact more trunk room than a Crown Vic - combined with the sort of cargo-passenger arrangement versatility expected in an SUV. And it has a relatively high driver eyepoint, for good visibility. But it's a car, with the ride and handling and fuel economy of a car, not a heavier, thirstier truck.

So, with available all-wheel drive and interior versatility, is the Ford Five Hundred is designed to be an SUV replacement? Well, yes, except for the small minority of SUV owners who actually do need serious off-road ability. As I discovered in a recent week with an all-wheel drive Limited, it has an amazing amount of space, especially in the trunk, and is a solid, comfortable car that is pleasant to drive. At just over 20 mpg for mostly around-town driving, it may not be as economical as a hybrid, but beats any SUV with a similar amount of useful space hands-down.

APPEARANCE: All of the current Ford passenger car styling themes are exemplified in the Five Hundred - meaning that it's a conservative, European-influenced design that strikes a balance between the overly-rounded 1996 Taurus and the subsequent ``New Edge'' angularity of the 2000 Focus. There is a more-than-passing resemblance to the current Focus in the grille and headlight styling, but the Five Hundred is considerably larger. Considerably. It bests a Taurus by three inches in length, an inch and a half in width, and five and a half inches in height, and the conservative lines, dominance of the passenger cabin, and large wheels and tires make it look even bigger. It's still a foot shorter and four inches narrower than a Crown Vic, although it looks nearly as large.

COMFORT: The most important part of the Five Hundred is its interior. It offers ample room for five, and, according to Ford, trunk space for eight sets of golf clubs.

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I didn't try that, but I did get a three-by-five foot table top into the trunk easily, and without need to open up the rear seat passthrough. And not only does the rear seat fold with the standard 60/40 split, the front passenger seats also folds flat
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(forward) allowing an eight-foot ladder to be stored inside if necessary. (I got that demonstration at a Ford event a few months back.) Interior volume is three cubic feet more than a Taurus sedan, and about four cubic feet less than in a Crown Victoria, but the Five Hundred's 21.2 cubic foot trunk dwarfs the Taurus's 17 cft and even beats the Crown Vic's 20.6. And the trunk opening is large enough for bulky items that are usually hard to fit in a mid-sized sedan.
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Interior styling and appointment for the Limited level are best described as ``contemporary upper-middle class''. It's not quite luxury level, but close, with a monochrome color scheme and woodgrain trim. Leather-trimmed seats are standard in the Limited, and place the passengers in a more upright, high-eyepoint position - called ``Command Seating'' - than is usual for a sedan. If the eyepoint isn't quite SUV, neither is the low, easy step-in. Leg and head room are excellent, especially in the oft-forgotten rear seat. The only way to improve on rear seat legroom is to buy a stretch limo.

SAFETY: The original S80 version of the platform had noteworthy crash performance, and the Five Hundred continues this with front and rear crush zones designed to distribute crash energy around the central safety-cage cabin in a controlled fashion. Side impacts are controlled both structurally and by available side and side-curtain airbags. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard, with twin-piston front calipers.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Given its rigid chassis and softly-sprung but well-damped fully-independent suspension, the Ford Five Hundred is meant for comfort. But it is surprisingly enjoyable to drive on the scenic route as well as the Interstate. The all-wheel drive system operates in front-wheel drive mode most of the time, sending power to the rear wheels when necessary. Interestingly, the tires on my test car were Pirelli P6es, at one time Pirelli's number two high-performance tire. All-wheel drive and good tires? This is not your basic late-60s large family sedan!

PERFORMANCE: With the trusty 3.0-liter aluminum alloy twincam Duratec V6 producing 203 horsepower at 5750 rpm and 207 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm, the Five Hundred won't set any acceleration records, although at under 9 seconds zero-to-60 it is perfectly adequate in daily life and quicker than many an SUV. It is, after all, a family sedan, not a sports car. The CVT may take a little getting used to, but does its job well. Engine and road speed acceleration may not be directly related. It's strange at first, then normal - and no transmission shifts more smoothly than one that has no discrete shifting. A wide ratio spread in the ZF-Batavia CVT makes allows both a low initial ratio for good acceleration and a high overdrive for economical cruising. Chain, not belt, drive in the CVT should give it good durability.

CONCLUSIONS: You say you like the space and versatility of an SUV but not the high step-in and thirst? Try the new Ford Five Hundred sedan - it offers the space and interior versatility with more comfort, better handling, and better fuel economy.

SPECIFICATIONS
2005 Ford Five Hundred Limited AWD

Base Price				    $ 27,845
Price As Tested		            $ 30,525
Engine Type			    aluminum alloy dual overhead cam
24-valve V6
Engine Size			    3.0 liters / 182 cu. in.
Horsepower			    203 @ 5750 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 		            207 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission			    wide-ratio continuously-variable
Wheelbase / Length		    112.9 in. / 200.7 in.
Curb Weight			    3815 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	            18.8
Fuel Capacity		            19 gal.
Fuel Requirement			    87-octane unleaded regular
gasoline
Tires				    P225/55 TR18 Pirelli P6
Brakes, front/rear			    vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear		    independent MacPherson strut / 
				            independent multilink
Drivetrain		            front engine, all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		    19 / 26 / 21
0 to 60 mph			       8.8  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Universal garage door opener         $ 115
Power moonroof	                    $ 895
Safety package - includes:
  driver & front passenger side airbags,
  side curtain airbags		    $ 595
Reverse sensing system	            $ 250
Memory adjustable pedals           $ 175
Destination charge		    $ 650

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Complete specifications on these and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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