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2005 Ford Freestyle Review

2005 Ford Freestyle Car Review
Martha Hindes

2005 Ford Freestyle Road Test
Ford's entry into the crossover market: the 2005 Freestyle

Pine boughs bend as the speeding vehicle careens along a double dirt track lane, then slap back at empty air. The blur of steel that sent them in motion is far ahead, unhampered by the rutted ground underneath. A hint of fog shrouded mountains in the distance suggest this is truly the kind of back country trek not for the timid. The fast-paced foray along this wilderness path leaves little doubt this is a display of "no boundaries" capability. Or at least hand-shaking familiarity with it.

OK. So we saw the commercial, too. And Ford can be forgiven for implying there's the same kind of ruggedness it prides its "no boundaries" off-roaders for having. Association for any auto maker is part of the name of the game.

Our test drive of Ford's new "multi-dimensional" Freestyle utility vehicle in Great Lakes country (lotsa water, no mountains) was a kinder, gentler type of foray. Our path encompassed urban roads with wind buffeted traffic signals and Interstate trenches that can make a back country wilderness seem tame by comparison.

Overall, we liked what we tried.

Freestyle is the vehicle from Ford that was a long time coming in the booming crossover category,the latest must-have for any serious vehicle manufacturer. Ford's version is sandwiched comfortably between the smaller, more rugged Escape and larger, Explorer, with an eye obviously cast on achieving the same kind of mass popularity of both with a welcomed vehicle that's been missing from the lineup.

Consumers these days who avoid minivans like the plague and have tired of the rougher ride of many truckier sport utility vehicles still want the punch of owning something that looks like one. Crossovers, mostly on auto underpinnings, have moved in to fill the pipeline with a widely varied range of vehicles from wagon-sized to big boxes that all offer something, but not everything.

2005 Ford Freestyle Exterior
Though SUV in style, the 2005 Freestyle is built on the same chassis as the
Ford 500 sedan.

Freestyle, trumpeted by Ford as "Goes Anywhere," and "Holds Everything," gets close. With Freestyle, what you get is a good looking truck substitute one wouldn't mistake for an auto outfitted as a wagon. With its solid, SUV-type face and sporty accessories, it won't settle into the minivan mold. With its silky driving dynamics we'll get to a bit later there's not a hint of bucking bounce, just the easy driving comfort of a luxurious sedan.

And despite an overload of choices in competitive showrooms (Chrysler's Pacifica is a prime target), Freestyle should elbow its way into a prime, big numbers spot with some real consumer potential. For one thing, its seating height is just right with a low step-in that doesn't look it. It's easy to get into and out of without having to bend down as one would with an automobile, or use a grab handle to hoist oneself into a loftier SUV. Just open the door and scootch across -- freehand at that.

Exterior design is perhaps safer than some Ford offerings of the past, but mighty attractive nonetheless. It has the kind of understated, yet solid styling, trimmed with roof rails and 17- or 18-inch wheels, that promises to wear well over time.

With the trunk area visually sectioned off by a wide, slanted "C" pillar behind the first two rows of seats, its size is deceptive. Its exterior appearance doesn't adequately reveal the surprising amount of easy access hauling space inside, especially with the third row of seating secreted into the rear floor and all other passenger seating folded flat.

Besides maxing out spacewise at just short of 10 feet front-to-back with seats down, it's just loaded with nifty nooks and crannies for stashing stuff. There's a really usable pop-open shallow bin atop the center dash, and a dozen cupholders. Map pockets abound. And you don't mash your cell phone cord if you charge it while you're driving. The front seat's center console with one of three power points has a notch so the lid can be closed.

Behind the wheel, there's evidence of Volvo heritage in the crispness and handling, with a wider stance compensating somewhat for the taller profile. Freestyle's foundation is the same as the new companion Ford Five Hundred sedan. Both are on a derivative of Volvo's XC90 crossover architecture noted for solid handling characteristics. Volvo's presence also is evident in Freestyle's stiff chassis structural safety design, augmented by an available, full-length side "safety canopy" airbag system and a driver sensing adaptive steering column for accident protection. With Ford now owning Volvo, it was only a matter of time before such synergies began to appear.

2005 Ford Freestyle Interior
The interior of the Freestyle is enjoyable and pleasing to both drivers and passengers.

Inside, Ford borrows from the DNA of its true off-roader kin for a sports-capable feel. Instrument panel and gauges have a clean, uncluttered look, anchored by a dash-mounted passenger grab handle and floor console shifter.

The front-drive Freestyle comes in three trim levels, SE, SEL and Limited. All-wheel-drive versions use the same system as Volvo's. Our early production test vehicle was the top-of-the-line front-drive Limited with 18-inch wheels and a base price of $28,545. The total, including $650 in destination and delivery charges, was $30,315. But our test car price included a reverse sensing system ($250), memory adjustable pedals to fit drivers of any size ($175), and safety package ($695) with side curtain airbags. Adding the active all-wheel-drive system would have raised the bar by $1,700.

Depending on version, other amenities available on this crossover include leather trim, heated seats, rear air conditioning, moonroof and electronic message center, and an overhead console with a small convex "conversation" mirror to monitor the brat pack in back.

A word of caution here. Sampling too many goodies at the deli counter could load up the pricetag into a range that would defeat one of the Freestyle's main attractions: A lot of vehicle for a comparitively modest amount of money, with an entry level base at about $25,000.

Ford, riding on the success of its fuel conserving hybrid-powered Escape, has put a different type of conservation into the Freestyle with what it calls the industry's only continuously variable transmission (CVT) in a crossover class vehicle that's expected to help Freestyle meet strict California LEV II low emissions standards.

The automatic transmission system has an infinite number of shifting points so there's no sense of a power surge revving up from one gear to the next. Rather, there's virtually no perceptible change during acceleration, just a smooth move up to speed that lets the newly-refined 3.0-liter Duratec 30, 24-valve engine seamlessly take advantage of every possible fuel-saving gear point. "Awesome," was one tester's initial reaction. The system lets the Freestyle delivers about 20 city/27 highway miles per gallon, or about one mpg less with all-wheel-drive.

If there's a downside to the Freestyle, it's the lack of a larger engine than the 200 horsepower (200 lb. ft. of torque) V-6 that's standard in all models. Expect to hear some grousing about that until the automaker reneges and accommodates (although it could dent Ford's corporate average fuel economy rating). Yes, the AWD model has a tow capability, sort of. Limited to 2000 pounds, you could haul a small, open trailer with a curio cabinet that simply wouldn't fit inside the roomy interior, but not much more.

2005 Ford Freestyle Seating
The Freestyle features Theater-style seating for up to 7 passengers.

But for families of six or seven (depending on second row captain's or bench seating), including a tall teen in row three, or a couple of St. Bernards, or a load of plywood for that basement project, or six months worth of groceries, or -- you get idea. One really couldn't go wrong.

We thoroughly enjoyed the fluid ride, spacious interior, quick seating change ease, and thoughtful amenities that put it ahead of the pack. We didn't log enough miles at one sitting to judge the long range comfort quality, although short-term felt fine. That could be a trip for another day. And with the Volvo underpinnings, we would feel secure in taking it off a pavement-only venue when we did.

Will this crossover get the blood boiling with the same fervor as, say, a new generation Mustang or Ford's pricey screamer GT? Of course not. But given the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Freestyle again for some serious additional test driving, we'd take up the offer in a minute. Heck, we might even take it away from the road long enough to slap aside a few pine boughs.

For More Information Click: Ford Freestyle
For the Ford 2005 Model Guide : Click Here