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New Car Review: 2005 Ford Freestyle AWD

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2005 Ford Freestyle Limited

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2005 Ford Freestyle Limited Dash

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Ford

MODEL: Ford Freestyle AWD
ENGINE: 3.0-liter Duratec V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 203 hp @ 5,750 rpm/207 lb.-ft. @ 4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: ZF-Batavia Continuously Variable
WHEELBASE: 112.9 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 199.8 x 74.4 x 68.2 in.
TIRES: P225/60R18
CARGO CAPACITY: 22.5 cubic feet (behind third seat)
ECONOMY: 20.3 mpg (test)
PRICE: $30,000 (est.)

I threw a hissy fit when I heard that the Ford Freestyle I had scheduled for our annual Christmas trip to visit the grandchildren (and their parents, of course) was being pulled due to insufficient mileage and was being replaced by a much smaller vehicle. Manufacturers don't like to let journalists drive their vehicles unless they've been properly broken in.

Fortunately, I've been in the business long enough to recognize "new car blues" and ignore them for being what they are and concentrate on the vehicle's characteristics themselves. So, after sufficient whining, they let me have the Freestyle for Christmas. It now has sufficient mileage on it.

We needed the Freestyle's cargo volume for the number of gifts we were bringing to the grandbabies, as well as loads of clothes that were being transferred from one location to another. Freestyle is Ford's crossover vehicle, although it's really a large station wagon. I guess the all-wheel-drive capability that was included on our tester) makes it a crossover between a "standard" wagon and a SUV, but in my mind it's still a wagon.

At the Freestyle's introduction in Dearborn, Ford impressed us all with its capabilities. In one demonstration, they took a fully loaded Freestyle, unloaded it to show us the various seating combinations, and tried to put the cargo in a Chrysler Pacifica that just happened to be on hand. All the gear wouldn't fit in the Pacifica, which was Ford's aim, of course.

What I liked about the Freestyle was the ease that it converted from a six- or seven-passenger people carrier to a full cargo vehicle. My wife and I didn't need more than two seats for our trip, so we folded the seats. The rear seats required pulling on a series of straps in the correct order (and the instructions are printed on the seat back) to fold the rear seats flat into a well behind them. The second-row seats also fold flat by releasing the lever near the seat. There's no need to remove the headrests. Even with the second row seats folded flat, there is still a lot of floor space available for cargo. I put my briefcase there, plus a couple of soft-sided cases.

This left the main cargo area free to pack away. It's at least eight feet long (with all seats folded) and four feet wide and three feet high. It was so big there were echoes when we tried to talk when it was unloaded.

Up front, the driver and front passenger ride in individual bucket seats that reminded me of the Ford Five Hundred sedan. It's good that the two resemble each other because it gives the Freestyle driver the feeling of being in a sedan and not the feeling of being in a big bad (to some) SUV. The instrument panel and dash were essentially identical to the five Hundred's as well. Under the hood is the same powerplant as in the sedan. It's a 3.0-liter Duratec V6 that delivers 203 horsepower. While I might have liked more, I didn't need more. We took a 300-mile trip and were never at a loss for power. In addition, we averaged more than 20 mpg, one mpg better than we did in the Five Hundred.

Power reached the wheels through a ZF Continuously Variable Transmission that offered almost seamless shifts through the range. CVT transmissions have become much more practical since the first time I drove one in a Subaru Justy many years ago.

We had all-wheel drive in the Freestyle as well. The Freestyle platform is "inspired" from a Volvo design, and the all-wheel-drive system is an electronically controlled, electro-hydraulic Haldex limited-slip coupling positioned just ahead of the rear differential. Normally, Freestyle is front-wheel drive.

We took the Freestyle over a couple of snow-covered fields (usually to get better views of Christmas lights). It was nice having AWD capability, which gave us the knowledge that we weren't going to get hung up somewhere. This system isn't designed for hard-nosed off-roading, but it will keep you out of trouble in slippery conditions and snow.

Constant readers know that I have spent a lot of time driving a full-size van. The one we had took us from Brownies through college. It was able to carry almost anything (it held a piano once). The penalty was that my wife and daughters never learned to pack efficiently because there was always enough room.

The Freestyle is that type of vehicle. While it doesn't have the clumsiness of the big van, it has the same useful cargo capacity (okay, it won't carry a piano), with a much more practical vehicle size and capability.

2005 The Auto Page Syndicate