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2005 Ford Freestyle Review

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

A New Homogenized & Pasteurized SUV

By Marc J. Rauch, Exec. Vice President & Co-Publisher

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Ford

If I call a vehicle homogenized and pasteurized does that mean that I don’t like it, or think it’s not good? No, quite the contrary: I think the Freestyle is a very, very nice car, er wagon, ah, I mean minivan or sport utility vehicle. Wait, wait, wait, that also sounds like I don’t like it, but I do. Really, I do.

To begin with, the Freestyle uses Volvo’s tremendously successful S80 platform, a car that I have always loved, and would love to own. The S80 drives great, is full of excellent safety features, and is beautifully styled. I’ve never made a secret of my admiration for the S80.

Test driving an all-wheel drive Freestyle was a lot like driving an S80. It was smooth, comfortable, sufficiently powered, roomy, not to mention carefree. You could say I was CARE-FREE-STYLIN’ everywhere I went.

However, the problem with the Freestyle is that it’s too white bread; too vanilla for my taste. There’s no distinct personality to the Freestyle, inside or outside (truth be told, interior dash and pillar elements even had mismatched colors). Ostensibly, the Freestyle was designed to be something for everybody: a “crossover” vehicle that would appeal to potential SUV, or minivan, or sedan owners alike. Not too hot and not too cold: just in the middle.

Is vanilla and white bread bad? No, vanilla is the world’s favorite flavoring. White bread is generally the largest selling bread in the industrialized world. What could be wrong with combining two of the world’s great taste sensations? The Freestyle would be a terrific addition to any rental car fleet. I could just imagine rental car lots in Orlando or LA or Las Vegas filled with Ford Freestyles.

Oh! Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh!

Now I get it. Or I think I do, although I’ve never heard or read anything to suggest that Ford intended the Freestyle as a rental everyman-vehicle, in order to fill a rather sizeable niche market. But it sure makes sense, from a marketing perspective: Build a good conveyance that could meet a wide variety of passenger and cargo needs (from skiers and snowboarders packing their required equipment, to families with young children who are schlepping along strollers and baby paraphernalia), and target the distribution channel that can best utilize the product. Such a vehicle should be neutral in design, flexible in seating configuration, and have a chameleon-like identity to fit all situations.

Yeah. YEAH!

After all, you don’t want to be taking your young kids on vacation in an scarily named Avalanche or a Tsunami (reportedly, one carmaker was about to name a new vehicle “Tsunami” until the recent tidal wave in the Indian Ocean changed their mind). And, on the other hand, you don’t want to be hitting the triple black diamond runs in a namby-pamby sounding Rendezvous or a Peugeot Milquetoast (to my knowledge Peugeot has never considered naming a vehicle “Milquetoast” – although with the French anything is possible).

A moniker like FREESTYLE nicely walks the fine line between extremes, and the vehicle is certainly capable of serving the temporary requirements of either end of the spectrum (“temporary” because a rental car is by definition just temporary).

And I have to tell you, given the opportunity the next time I rent a car, which is fairly frequent, I would definitely choose the Freestyle regardless of whether I was alone or traveling with companions. Its three rows of seating (for up to seven passengers), can be configured about a dozen different ways, providing extra comfort and convenience for people and cargo. The second and third row seats fold flat to create a flat load floor, and the front passenger seat folds forward, as well, extending the cargo load length.

The Freestyle is available in both front-wheel- and all-wheel-drive (a Volvo system which is shipped from Sweden) versions. A continuously variable transmission is the only transmission available, but again, if the vehicle is targeted for the rental market, why produce it any other way. All Freestyles are powered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine, which produces 200 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Safety features include an adaptive steering column, dual-level driver and passenger front airbags and optional seat-deployed side airbags for driver and front passenger. Side-impact airbags and a rollover curtain safety canopy that covers all three rows of seating are an option.

Family-oriented features include a DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones and remote control, a reverse-sensing system, adjustable second-row seats (six-passenger only) and an abundance of cupholders, and storage bins.

The Freestyle is not low-priced, but neither is it high priced. Like the rest of the vehicle it hits a reasonable middle ground for a good sized, well equipped SUV-like machine. MSRP ranges from a tad over $26,000 to a bit over $30,000 for the top of the line. The Auto Channel’s Compar-A-Graph shows that the Freestyle stacks up real well against other 6-cylinder competitors – Just CLICK HERE to check it out yourself!