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2006 Ford Freestyle

by Martha Hindes

Ford Freestyle
Ford Freestyle Interior

As newbie status wears off, Ford's Freestyle moves into its second year all grown up. Its biggest news for '06 is the eagerly anticipated nav system increasingly demanded by crossover vehicle buyers. That refines the "Goes Anywhere, Holds Everything" tough attitude of Ford's front-drive utility.

The midsize Freestyle fills a crossover gap already populated by other auto makers' vehicles. Now this utility with wagon flexibility fills a needed spot in the lineup between smaller Escape and its true sport utility brother Explorer. The SUV-inspired Freestyle is car-based, but has sufficient ground clearance and grunt for legit off-pavement duty or perhaps more.

Demeanor is important with Freestyle. There's nothing sissy about the bold, handsome face, roof rack trim and wide glass-topped tailgate that keep "sporty" a top priority. Open the door and there's easy-in/easy-out seating. Seat height is slightly raised with a low step-in for free-footed access. Interiors are roomy, especially with seats folded flat. Exterior styling cues lend a deceptively lean look. Silver Birch joins exterior colors for '06.

Inside, the instrument cluster and trim give a strong sport utility sense, anchored by a passenger side "rough off-roading" grab handle and handsome controls with center console-mounted floor shifter. Freestyle can comfortably hold seven, with leg-wiggling comfort even for full size adults in row three.

Available all-wheel-drive, passenger avoiding crash force redirector, adaptive two-stage steering column with seatbelt use detector, and Side Canopy side curtain airbag keep driving security and safety center stage. During its first year, the Freestyle won top safety honors in governmental rollover stability tests. Powered by Ford's 203-HP aluminum Duratec 3.0-liter V-6, with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), it rides on an independent suspension for quiet, supple ride.

Freestyle comes in three versions, starting in the mid-$20K range -- base SE, mid-model SEL and top model Limited, with lots of amenities for each. Among them, optional adjustable pedals with memory, DVD family entertainment system with two wireless headphones, reverse sensor and auxiliary climate control that ensure flexibility of use for this crossover staple.