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2005 Ford Freestyle Review

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Easy To Live With

By Steve Purdy Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Ford

Is it a car or is it a truck? Is it a sport-utility or a station wagon? Is it a kid hauler or a luxury coach? I guess it’s a bit of all of those.

Ford’s fresh new Freestyle is the square backed version of the mass-market Five Hundred and the Mercury Montego sedans, both of which we tested a few weeks ago. It seems a natural progression to make a station wagon out of a sedan as automakers did many years ago. Only now we do it a bit differently. We’re not limited to sticking with all the elements of our sedan. We can make it a tad taller, a smidge longer and put a rack on the top, if we like. Ford did that and more; and they did a mighty good job.

Our friends at Ford hooked us up with a top-of-the-line Freestyle Limited AWD (All Wheel Drive) in black with a lively and bright interior in “pebble” (read creamy beige) leather. With a base price of $30,245 ours has a power moon roof at $895, auxiliary climate control system at $595, reverse sensing system at $250, a safety package with extra air bags and alarm at $695, adjustable pedals with memory settings at $175 and a universal garage door opener at $115. With a $650 destination charge our sticker shows $33,620.

The list of standard features on our Freestyle Limited is impressive including: AM/FM/CDX6 MP3 radio, Audiophile sound system, anti-lock brakes, 18-inch, 5-spoke aluminum wheels with P 225/60R18 Pirelli P6 tires, heated seats, smart air bags, fog lamps, roof rack, power folding mirrors, and all the other stuff you would expect in a luxury people hauler.

The styling is attractive, though not dramatic in any way. It will probably appeal to the customer to whom it is aimed. Its lines are clean and neat with no surprises. Modern but conservative. Without paying close attention it is easy to mistake a Freestyle for Ford’s ubiquitous Explorer or even the smaller Escape. Styling queues are virtually identical. Stance and demeanor are difficult to distinguish one from another at first glance. Explorer, of course, is a body-on-frame truck while Freestyle and the Escape are unibody. The platform upon which the Freestyle is based is shared with the Volvo XC90 cross-over vehicle, winner of many design awards. There’s no mistaking the Ford heritage in any of these modern boxes.

Inside, the Freestyle is appealing with an up-to-date look and good (not great) materials. A wood-grain center control pod organizes functions nicely. We need to look nothing up in the book. Seats are firm and comfortable with little of the lateral support some would consider restrictive. The door panel has a hard plastic storage compartment with a rounded bulge at the front for a water bottle that I found my leg banging against rather too often.

The Chicago-built Freestyle and its siblings, Montego and Five Hundred, taut Ford’s trademarked “Command Seating Position”, the upright, high-off-the-ground position everyone inside the vehicle finds themselves in. I like it. All three cars are easy to get into and out of through wide, light-weight doors. We slip easily into the inviting seats, front or back, which are just the right height and the back seat folds well out of the way for third-seaters to slip in.

The Freestyle adds significantly to the already generous cargo capacity of the other two and has a third seat for all those rug rats that constantly need schlepping somewhere. Cargo capacity is amazing. With all three rows of seats full of people there is still over 20 cubic feet of stowage space in the rear. With the third seat folded flat into the floor 47.3 cu-ft becomes available. All passenger seats fold flat allowing cargo up to 10 feet long.

Under the hood is the 3.0-litre, 203-hp, Duratec V-6, which turns out 207 lb.-ft. of torque. The CVT, or Continuously Variable Transmission, gets the power from engine to wheels quite smoothly and efficiently. There are no other engine options but a six-speed automatic transmission is available in lesser models. Ford claims a 0-60 time of 8.65 seconds, somewhat better than the Chrysler Pacifica’s 250-hp engine. I find the drive train to be entirely adequate although my demands were meager - no mountains near me.

The fuel tank holds 19 gallons and the book says to expect 19 mpg city and 24 highway on unleaded regular. My observed mileage for a mixture of conditions was 20.5. Not bad.

Suspension is fully independent with a multi-link rear system. With 30 bushings back there road noise and bumps are cushioned nicely. On my way into town I have a couple of coarse railroad crossings that test suspensions thoroughly. I hit them hard with the Freestyle and could feel the rigidity of the chassis as well as the well-dampened suspension. Hard cornering takes a bit of courage because of body lean but it holds well. For a station wagon I cannot fault it.

We weren’t able this time to test the “seamlessness” claimed by Ford when bragging on the automatic All-Wheel-Drive system. Though I was impressed during my testing of the Montego last month by the straight-line acceleration in about six inches of wet snow with frozen surface below. I thrashed it gently side-to-side without disturbing it in the least – an excellent job, indeed, by the HALDEX coupling, just forward of the rear axle, that is responsible for distributing the torque to the wheel where it is needed.

I found the release straps for the rear seat less than fully friendly. A pair of straps must be pulled one at a time while giving a little push in the desired direction. It takes two hands to make it work. A minimal spring load would make it a one handed job for those of us who usually have hands full of stuff.

Being fresh designs these cars are ahead of the curve in crash protection as Ford earned the coveted NHTSA 5-Star crash test rating in four categories – a really good thing considering the ongoing problems of the Explorer. The energy from a frontal impact is neatly dissipated away from the passenger compartment. They already meet 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. Well done, Ford!

Warrantee is 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 Freestyle will be dependable and reasonably trouble free but, of course, only time will tell.

Now, as an objective journalist I need to find something to criticize. Hummm . . . let’s see . . . Oh, I know. How about the hood? Seems to me that the hood of a $30,000 car ought to hold itself up, don’t you agree? The Freestyle has a prop rod. Maybe during the mid-cycle update Ford will fix that.

Over all, I think anyone will find the Freestyle easy to live with.