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2005 Ford Freestyle AWD SEL Review

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2005 Ford Freestyle AWD SEL

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Ford

A generation ago, the new Ford Freestyle wouldn't have existed. Instead, its place would have been taken by a Five Hundred wagon. For the Freestyle is built on the same platform as the Five Hundred and so could logically be thought of as the Five Hundred wagon, but the two cars use no common sheetmetal. The Freestyle's styling cues are unmistakably Ford SUV, but even a few minutes behind the wheel reveals it to most definitely not be any sort of truck. It fits into that nebulous catch-all category of ``crossover vehicle.'' In the Ford extended family, the vehicle closest to the Freestyle in intent and execution is the Volvo XC70.

Which should not be all that surprising, as the two are cousins under the skin. Ford had good reasons for buying Volvo Cars a few years back, Volvo's large car platform and its research and engineering in automotive safety among them. The Five Hundred - Freestyle platform is based on the large Volvo platform, although few if any parts directly interchange. The Freestyle uses the same 3.0-liter ``Duratec'' V6 as the Five Hundred, and the same continuously-variable transmission. Three trim levels - SE, SEL, and Limited - are offered. The Freestyle is a moderately uplevel vehicle, and even the SE is well-equipped, with antilock brakes, traction control, 17-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, a power driver's seat, and many other often-optional features standard equipment. The other levels only add to that spec. Both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive models are available.

According to Ford, the descriptive word for the Freestyle is ``versatility.'' And after a week with an all-wheel drive SEL, I can say that that's not advertising hype. The Freestyle is at least as roomy as an Explorer, lacking only the Explorer's cargo area height, and not by much. In seven-passenger configuration, like my test vehicle, all seats but the driver's can be folded for cargo duty, in various combinations. Although the Freestyle is a touch higher than a regular car, giving benefits in visibility, it's much easier to get and out of than a ``real'' SUV. And, best, it has the ride and handling of a car, not a truck, because it is really a car. It's the best of both worlds, and a good choice for people who need space but don't want an SUV or minivan.

APPEARANCE: There can be little doubt as to the Freestyle's manufacturer, even disregarding the blue oval in the center of the grille. The contours of gently-rounded two-box body shape, the rounded-trapezoid grille, and even the shape of the headlights more than hint at the Ford Explorer. The proportions are significantly different, as the Freestyle is about ten inches longer, two inches wider, and four inches lower than an Explorer. And since the Freestyle's roof is raised a couple of inches at the rear, for style and passenger headroom, it looks, and is, considerably lower than an Explorer. If an Explorer was a car, it would look like a Freestyle, and there's nothing wrong with that. Product identity is good. And the Freestyle's conservative but good-looking styling not only got positive comments from onlookers, it should wear well over time. Interestingly, live or in photographs, it looks smaller than it actually is. The SE and SEL have SUV-like dark lower body cladding, while the Limited has body-colored cladding. The roof rack is standard on all models.

COMFORT: Space is why people buy SUVs, or wagons, or crossovers. And there is no shortage of space inside of a Freestyle - most passenger dimensions are slightly greater than in an Explorer. There is room for up to seven people, depending on configuration - and there is still useful cargo space with the third-row seat in place. The 50/50 split folding third row is optional on the SEL and standard on the Limited, and can comfortably hold two people up to about five foot six in height. It folds flat into the load floor when desired. The 60/40 split-folding second row is contoured for two but wide enough for three, and has very good leg and head room. Each side folds and flips forward for third-row access. Second-row captain's chairs are also available. The raised rear roof section allows progressively-raised ``theater seating'' for the rear rows and very good headroom. Need to stow something long inside? As in the Five Hundred, the front passenger seatback folds forward to help carry long ladders or pieces of lumber. The front seats provide good comfort and support. Cloth is standard, with leather available, as are options to increase the amenity level. Although the main instrument pod is similar to that of the Five Hundred, and the same useful covered storage box is found at the top center of the dash, the design of the Freestyle's dash, and the rest of its interior, is very different. Large round climate-control system vents and a grab bar over the glovebox give a sporty (or is that sport-utility?) appearance. Numerous storage spaces and cupholders are found throughout the cabin, even for third-row passengers. The Freestyle's high eyepoint and theater-style seating ensure a good view for everyone, whether it be of the scenery or the available rear-seat DVD entertainment system.

SAFETY: The original Volvo version of the platform had noteworthy crash performance, and the Freestyle 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: Although the wheelbase and track are the same, and most chassis stampings are shared, the Freestyle is about 300 lbs heavier than an equivalent Five Hundred because of its larger body and interior. To compensate, the Freestyle's fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension is tuned more firmly. It's not all that firm, and is quite comfortable. It is also an improvement over the Five Hundred from a cornering and fun-to-drive standpoint, and it is quiet on the highway. It may not be a sport wagon, but the Freestyle is no ponderous sport-utility, either. The available all-wheel-drive system, with which my test car was equipped, normally operates in front-wheel drive mode, for familiar driving characteristics. When front wheelslip is detected, the Haldex electro-hydraulic limited-slip center coupling directs power to the rear wheels. The traction control system takes care of side-to-side power distribution. This is not an off-road 4WD system, but is meant for all-weather traction on civilized surfaces.

PERFORMANCE: Unsurprisingly, the Freestyle shares its engine and drivetrain with the Five Hundred. You can get anything you want, as long as it's the 3.0-liter twincam alloy Duratec V6 and a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). Acceleration is better than you might think, given the available 203 horsepower at 5750 rpm, 207 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm, and 4100-lb curb weight. The CVT makes the best use of the engine's power, and keeps it wide open under acceleration as the transmission ratios change. Because of the stepless CVT, there are no discrete shifts, for very smooth operation. At times the engine revs will even drop during acceleration. This is normal operation with a CVT, and you'll get used to it. Fuel economy, at around 20 mpg, is better than an SUV of the same size.

CONCLUSIONS: The Ford Freestyle combines the space and versatility associated with an SUV with the ride and handling of a car. A win-win situation for all.

2005 Ford Freestyle AWD SEL

Base Price			$ 28,045
Price As Tested			$ 33,530
Engine Type			Dual overhead cam 32-valve aluminum 
				  alloy V6
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 182 cu. in.
Horsepower			203 @ 5750 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			207 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission			CVT
Wheelbase / Length		112.9 in. / 199.8 in.
Curb Weight			4112 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		20.3
Fuel Capacity			19 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/65 TR17 Continental
				 Conti Touring Contact
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc, dual-piston calipers /
				  solid disc, ABD and EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			front engine, on-demand all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 24 / 20
0 to 60 mph				8.2  sec

Leather interior			$ 795
Power moonroof				$ 895
50 / 50 split 3rd-row bench		$ 115
Front row Comfort Package		$ 495
Safety Package				$ 695
Auxiliary Climate Control		$ 595
Reverse Sensing System			$ 250
Family Entertainment DVD system		$ 995
Destination charge			$ 650