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Ford Winter Driving - Driving in a Winter Wonderland

Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan - Driving in Winter Wonderland

To say it is cold in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan in the winter is equivalent to saying that Santa Claus is slightly overworked at Christmas. Sometimes things are just too obvious to ignore. As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it must be a duck.

It's a good thing then that the 2005 Ford Five Hundred, Ford Freestyle and the Mercury Montego were kept idling on a continuous basis. Stepping in and out of warm vehicles is preferable to having to cold start them each time.

As a Canadian, I am more than comfortable driving in winter weather. The purpose for this trip was to highlight the advantages of Ford's all-wheel drive system and to show its effectiveness in even the most extreme driving conditions.

The dynamic trio of the recently introduced 2005 Ford Five Hundred, Freestyle and Montego, would be our test vehicles for this particular event.

2005 Mercury Montego AWD Winter Driving

The Five Hundred and Montego go head to head with some of the most respected vehicles in the mid-sized sedan category. While other car companies such as DaimlerChrysler have taken risks by introducing the stylish 300 and 300C sedans, Ford has chosen a less perilous path for the styling of the Five Hundred and Montego, focusing instead on providing the best overall package.

The Ford Freestyle is helping to define a new market for consumers. True, it's not leading edge in outward appearance, but as a proper crossover vehicle, it provides all the roominess and comfort we have come to expect in a van and none of the truck-like qualities inherent with a boxy structure and design.

Having previously experienced both the Five Hundred and Freestyle for a week long test drive, I was well aware of their many good qualities: smooth ride, luxurious appointments, enormous back seat legroom in the Five Hundred and the excellent storage space found in both. What I was not prepared for was how well they would handle in ice and deep snow.

Ford's solution to nasty weather driving is their on-demand Haldex electronic all-wheel-drive system.

In normal driving, it operates as a front-wheel-drive unit. The moment it senses wheel slippage at any of the four corners, it instantly re-directs torque to the wheel with the best grip. The system is seamless and quick, transferring power within 50 milliseconds, the equivalent time it takes for the tires to rotate 1/7th of a wheel.

Ford Winter Driving Courses

To prove the worthiness of their all-wheel-drive, Ford had us test all three vehicles on several unique courses over the span of a day. Most were equipped with AWD, but for comparison sake, some vehicles were front-wheel-drive only.

The first series of tests was conducted on a straight-line snow and ice road section at a regularly used test facility in Sault Ste. Marie. On each side of the football field sized road, high snow banks protected two-way traffic from sliding into each other and offered some protection from the winter elements.

From a standing start in compacted snow, we accelerated to normal city driving speeds and rapidly applied the ABS equipped brakes at various intervals along the track. Stops were quick and, for the most part, controlled. Even with ABS brakes and AWD, it is still possible to lose control of a vehicle, albeit more difficult.

Once through the icy mid-section, it was time to really put the vehicles to a test by placing the front driver's side and rear passenger side wheels on a patch of ice, while the opposite front passenger side and rear driver's side wheels remained in the compacted snow.

The theory behind this test was to try and force the vehicle to lose traction completely and see how fast the Haldex electronic AWD system could react and deliver traction to the opposite side.

In every test, the Ford Five Hundred, Freestyle and Montego performed flawlessly. Reaction times were immediate, and the vehicle never felt out of control. Even under full acceleration, it was only a matter of milliseconds before traction was restored and we were on our way.

The second main test area included a snow covered road course to demonstrate winter cornering and braking, as well as a deep snow driving course to spotlight each vehicles' AWD pulling power.

The winding course through the backwoods of the test track proved both exciting and fun. Yes folks, it is possible to have lots of snow on the ground and still enjoy driving your car.

2005 Toyota 4Runner Road Test

Tight corners and icy conditions were no match for the AWD equipped Ford Five Hundred, which I drove. With Anti-lock brakes and the smooth shifting CVT, (Continuously Variable Transmission) it was exciting controlling the car through the turns and sliding it ever so slightly sideways just before the AWD system could grab hold and straighten the vehicle out.

The deep snow course consisted of mostly powder snow with several compressed areas due to other cars on the track. In some places, the snow was up to nine inches deep. I was amazed at the pulling power of the AWD; never once did it feel like I was going to get stuck in the snow and have to resort to calling a tow truck.

While all of the winter driving was taking place, there was also the opportunity to enjoy the significant interior appointments found in each vehicle.

The driver's seat in both the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego is excellent. A logical dash and 4-spoke steering wheel make driving a pleasure. Add to that a 200 hp 3.0L V6 engine, excellent visibility and state of the art safety features, and you understand how well thought out this vehicle is.

The Ford Freestyle is equally well appointed, and offers the convenience of seven passenger seating to go with its luxury features. In many ways, it drives and feels just like a sedan, but with room to spare.

No matter what conditions you find yourself in, whether its winter driving in Michigan, rain showers in Southern California, or sandy beaches in Florida, having the option of AWD is an added feature many of us are choosing. Ford has developed an excellent system capable of handling the worst conditions. For those of us who love to spend time on the road, it makes driving a whole lot more enjoyable, even if the weather is only fit for a duck.

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