The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2005 Ford Five Hundred Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By Steve Purdy
Shunpiker Productions

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Ford

You’ve seen the ads. The new Ford Five Hundred smoothly navigates its way down a city street, eerily lit by spotty streetlights, dodging other cars sliding all around. Stability is the message – with tag line something about “the road ahead.” In one context stability could be synonymous with stodginess, but stable handling is an essential element even for a Mom and Pop sedan these days.

Let’s take a closer look.

I picked up a vivid blue Five Hundred at Ford world headquarters in Dearborn last week where the charming Pete Olson, press fleet manager, gave me a walk-around tour of the car before handing me the keys. The folks at Ford are quite proud of this new mid-size - or is it a full-size – sedan, developed off the highly respected Volvo platform that supports, among other products, the award-winning XC90 cross-over. Slated to replace the long-running, successful and ubiquitous Taurus as Ford’s bread and butter sedan, the squared-off Five Hundred is mighty plain at first look, with styling queues reflecting Ford’s corporate “new edge” lines, a stand-up-straight stance and an almost elegant simplicity. There’s certainly no question that it’s related to the other mainstay Ford products.

Mr. Olson points out the cavernous - 21.2 cubic-foot - trunk big enough for eight, count ‘em, eight, golf bags; or as a politically incorrect Ford exec once quipped, “eight dead bodies if you’re from New Jersey.” The Chicago-built Five Hundred is remarkably roomy inside as well. I enter through the driver’s door without bumping my Indy Jones hat. Ford touts the “Command Seating” position that certainly does give one a confident view of the road. The interior is conservatively designed and conveniently laid out. Materials are the quality one might expect in a mid-priced sedan – nothing to find fault with but at the same time nothing to write home about. US and Canadian content is reported to be 70%.

Out on the highway, the Southfield freeway was moving quickly and traffic was dense. The performance, ride and handling initially seemed altogether too tepid, soft and imprecise. Fortunately I reserved judgment since I’d just come off a two-week stint in a high performance BMW X5 with sport suspension – an unfair comparison, indeed. After a week with the Five Hundred I came to the conclusion that all three – performance, ride and handling – are quite adequate and well balanced, particularly considering the target market of this new sedan.

Performance begins with the 3.0-litre, 203-hp, Duratec V-6, which turns out 207 lb.-ft. of torque, mated in this case to a very smooth, Japanese-sourced, 6-speed automatic transmission. Ten years ago those numbers would have been impressive. Today they’re adequate. Aluminum wheels and 17-inches tires along with minimal body overhangs give the Five Hundred a burley stance and a steady feel. Four-wheel disc brakes, with ABS of course, are more than adequate to stop the front-wheel drive car. For 1,700 bucks extra you can have all-wheel-drive and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). But there are no engine options. The fuel tank holds 19 gallons and the book says to expect 21 mpg city and 28 highway on unleaded regular. My observed mileage for a mixture of conditions was 23.5. Not bad.

As I lived with the car for the allotted week, I became quite enamored with its comfort, convenience and poise. Ingress and egress are remarkably easy, even for one of my distinctly portly demeanor. I’m amazed that a car that feels so large inside doesn’t feel cumbersome on the road. It still looks too plain from some angles but it’s growing on me as I discover pleasing design nuances.

The Five Hundred is a tad longer, substantially taller and a touch wider than the long-in-the-tooth Taurus but somewhat smaller than the even-longer-in-the-tooth Crown Vic. Ford has taken none of the styling risks that characterized the Taurus, particularly the second generation, oval-shaped version. My daily driver is a second-generation SHO, so I have some basis of comparison.

Pricing begins at $22,795 for the basic SE front-wheel drive and tops out with a well-equipped all-wheel-drive Limited at $28,720. My test car, with the $595 Safety Package and $250 reverse sensing system, stickered out at $24,145. The list of standard features reads like most others these days; AC, AM/FM stereo with in-dash CD, console, armrest and lots of cup holders, power mirrors, power locks, power one-touch windows, rear window defroster, remote keyless entry, 6-way power seats, cruise control, tilt steering column, CVT transmission and 17-inch painted-aluminum wheels.

Ford is ahead of the curve in crash protection and earned the coveted NHTSA 5-Star crash test rating. The energy from a frontal impact is somehow magically dissuaded from encroaching on the passenger compartment and it meets a 2008 standard that will require the restraint system to automatically adjust to the front-seat passenger. Rear crashworthiness, too, is designed to meet future, not just current, standards. Bravo Ford!

Warrantee is not overly generous at 3-year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper. Safety systems are covered for 5 years and 50,000 miles and corrosion (defined as perforation) is covered for 5 years with unlimited mileage. My recent experience with Ford products leads me to believe that the Five Hundred will be dependable and reasonably trouble free but, of course, only time will tell.

Only a couple of annoying issues need reporting. First, I hate those automatic locks. When you shut off the car, only the driver’s door unlocks itself. I’m always trying to get some cargo out of the back seat having forgotten to unlock those rear doors. Yes, yes, I know – they’re designed that way so the bad guys can’t get in the car when you park at a risky spot. But I’m not a city kid and don’t need or want that level of security. I understand there is some way it can be disabled if your technician can figure it out. But even my dealer hasn’t been able to disable it on my SHO after all these years.

And second – what’s up with the headlight dimmer/brightener? To flash the brights we pull one notch back on the stalk. To turn on the brights, pull back a second notch. To go back to dim, pull back again through both notches. It feels like you’re flashing the oncoming driver when just trying to dim.

CONCLUSIONS I like the Five Hundred. Like the Plane Jane you might meet at a party who turns out to be quite charming and even pretty once you spend a little time with her, the Five Hundred unobtrusively exhibited her charm as I got to know her. I like the high seating position, the cavernous interior and trunk, and the simple, understated design, both inside and out. I also like the broad, shallow stowage compartment in the top center of the dash. Just right for a map or two.

The target market, the demographic toward which this sedan is aimed, I think, will be very happy with it. Performance is plenty adequate, handling is smooth and tight without offensive stiffness, and quality appears excellent. The Five Hundred is a very comfortable and pleasant car to drive. In terms of the domestic competition we can confidently say it’s not the equal of the Chrysler 300C but better than the Chevy Impala, and priced appropriately right in between.

Finally, this suggestion for our friends at Ford: let’s have a V-8 engine option? With minimal effort the Five Hundred could compete nearly head-to-head with the Chrysler 300C Hemi - but not without a V-8. It’s not much of a stretch from a sedate Mom and Pop sedan to a hot-shot, exciting sedan. A bit of horsepower, tighter suspension, and minimal cosmetics would do the trick. Look at the venerable Taurus SHO.

Oh, I forgot, they didn’t sell very many of those, did they? It sure was great for the Taurus’, and for Ford’s, image though.